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Indianapolis Colts General Manager Chris Ballard loves elite athletes in the draft

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NFL: NOV 10 Dolphins at Colts Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

One of the most time-consuming projects the Stampede Blue writing staff completes each season is the annual draft guide. Watching hours of film on over 200 players takes a team effort and considerable patience, not just from those who are putting scouting reports together but also from their families — I love you Monica.

What is challenging about becoming amateur scouts is that we don’t have the benefit of collaborating with dozens of trained professional scouts all year long, we don’t have the benefit of a travel budget that puts us in front of players and coaches for their input, we don’t even have access to All-22 film for almost any of the prospects we scout for the guide.

Only recently did we start attending the Senior Bowl and this year we earned credentials to cover the NFL Combine. We’re getting there.

Our draft guide production process has imperfections but we are learning along the way. As other young scouts likely do, we gradually realize how we’re limiting our analysis and each year we look to improve our process.

For example, I watch game film and trust my eyes. I’m not a former player, I can’t name a technique just by glancing at it (I’m working on it), I don’t necessarily know the vernacular for each system or scheme or play (I’m working on that too). What I feel that I do know is a good football player when I see one.

I can recognize traits in a player that I feel would translate to an NFL team and certainly feel more comfortable recognizing traits I feel have value for the Colts than any other team in the NFL — because I don’t particularly care to spend much of my time watching, analyzing, or familiarizing myself with other teams. That’s what we have Chris Shepherd for — thanks Chris.

The trouble? College production and college traits simply are not enough. Highly productive college football players never get an opportunity in the NFL. Players with incredible traits against college competition are stifled at the next level.

We use things like Combine numbers and other athletic measurements to help us determine whether a player is a great athlete. My top rated defensive end, AJ Epenesa, is not an elite athlete. Consensus top player in the entire draft Chase Young is an elite athlete.

I saw Young take a ton of plays off. It turned me off to him. Period. End of story. My eyes - the bad on film I saw - was enough for me to push him down, even in the face of obvious criticism coming my way.

But how do we get better as amateur scouts? Kent Lee Platte has developed the Relative Athletic Score (RAS) system, which we feel has a lot of value in our analysis and we intend to test it as we modify our approach to the guide in 2021.

It is worth noting that the draft guide project started with Chris Ballard being named as the team’s new General Manager. We were interested in tracking what he/his team look for and bringing the most meaningful Colts-specific analysis to the NFL draft as can be found anywhere. In time, we hope that we can create a system that is repeatable by any SB Nation writing team so every NFL fan has access to valuable team specific analysis on the draft (over 15M people watched the first round of the draft).

One way we can do this is to not just consider eyes/film but athleticism. Not just 40 times and other raw numbers but a collaborative systematic metric that can be tracked. Here is Chris Ballard’s RAS.

Thank you Kent for producing this graphic for us. It shows that Ballard loves elite athletes. He almost always targets players who are in the above average RAS rating. Going based upon that alone, as much as I like Epenesa on tape, he likely isn’t a Ballard early round target.

Do I think he will vastly outperform his athleticism in the NFL? Yup.

But in future drafts we’ll keep RAS as one of two or three key prongs in our analysis for each player and modify our grades accordingly. It’s exciting to look forward to those improvements and how it translates to improvement each season not just in accuracy for the Colts but in identifying legitimate NFL talent when see it.

If you didn’t already know. Ballard loves them picks and he loves them elite athletes.