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Build-A-Ballard: Who the Colts may target at defensive end in the 2021 NFL Draft

Which defensive ends in the 2021 draft fit Ballard’s preferred mold?

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Reese’s Senior Bowl Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

One of my favorite and most successful series with Stampede Blue is back for another run in 2021. Yes, it’s the return of the Build-A-Ballard series where we look at common themes and traits in past Chris Ballard draft picks and see which players for the upcoming NFL Draft fit the mold for the Colts.

The goal is to use Ballard’s time in Kansas City— where he was the Director of Player Personnel or Director of Football Operations from 2013 to 2016— and his time in Indy to figure out who he may covet come draft time.

We already know Ballard loves athleticism and leadership on and off the field but this series hopes to shed more light on traits he is looking for and help to uncover some of the players he may target in the draft.

The focus today will be on the Colts’ pass rush as we look at the defensive end position. Which defensive ends in this class fit the Ballard mold?


Past Drafted Players

During Ballard’s tenure in Indianapolis and Kansas City, his organizations have drafted seven edge rushers in seven drafts. Although pass rusher hasn’t been the core need in each of those years, Ballard has still elected to use five picks from the first two days of the draft. The top pick used to address the position was a first-round selection in 2014.

We will examine six of the seven prospects to find common traits. The sixth player that we will not be including is Mike Catapano, a defensive end taken in the 7th round out of Princeton in 2013. He only lasted four seasons in the NFL and made little to no impact.


Dee Ford, DE, Auburn (2014)— 1st Round Pick

Size:

6’2” 250 pounds

Arm length: 32.875 inches

Measurables (Pro Day):

40 Time: 4.59 seconds / 10-yard Split: 1.67 seconds / Bench Press: 29 reps / Vertical Jump: 35.5 inches / Broad Jump: 124 inches / 3-Cone: 7.07 seconds

Career Stats (College):

93 total tackles, 27.5 tackles for a loss, 20.5 sacks, and 3 forced fumbles

Overview of Pick:

Ford was one of the better pass rushers in the draft and solidified a spot in the first round with a strong Senior Bowl performance. Nolan Nawrocki of NFL.com stated that Ford has “very good acceleration and burst to beat blockers off the ball” along with having “outstanding energy and work ethic.” His major concerns were trouble disengaging from blockers, bend around the corner, and injury history.

Ford was one of the better pass rushers in football in 2018 and was traded to the 49ers, where he has struggled with staying healthy the past two seasons.


Dadi Nicolas, DE, Virginia Tech (2016)— 6th Round

Size:

6’3” 235 pounds

Arm Size: 34.75

Measurables:

40 Time: 4.74 seconds / 10-yard Split: 1.70 seconds / Bench Press: 14 reps / Vertical Jump: 41 inches / Broad Jump: 116 inches / 3-Cone: 7.04 seconds

Career Stats (College):

165 total tackles, 35.5 tackles for a loss, 17 sacks, and 3 forced fumbles

Overview of Pick:

Nicolas was one of the twitchiest, most athletic pass rushers in the draft and he displayed that ability at the Senior Bowl in 2016. Lance Zierlein of NFL.com talked about how he “has lightning-quick inside moves,­ including spin,­ that can catch slow­-footed tackles sleeping” and “plays with desired upfield burst.” His major concerns were lack of strength (especially in run defense) and inability to disengage from blockers.

Nicolas was waived by multiple teams and is currently a free agent.


Tarell Basham, DE, Ohio (2017)— 3rd Round

Size:

6’4” 269 pounds

Arm Length: 34.25

Measurables:

40 Time: 4.70 seconds / 10-yard Split: 1.68 seconds / Bench Press: 15 reps / Vertical Jump: 31.5 inches / Broad Jump: 119 inches

Career Stats:

152 total tackles, 38.5 tackles for a loss, 27 sacks, and 5 forced fumbles.

Overview of Pick:

Basham was a productive, athletic small school player who performed well at the Senior Bowl. Lance Zierlein mentioned how Basham “shows flashes of explosive twitch in his attack upfield” and how he “plays with good short-area burst to close out running backs and scrambling quarterbacks.” His major concerns coming out were lack of pass rush development and poor bend around the corner.

The Basham pick did not work out as he was cut halfway through his sophomore season and claimed by the Jets. Since then he has been a productive role player for the Jets.


Kemoko Turay, DE, Rutgers (2018)— 2nd Round

Size:

6’5” 253 pounds

Arm Length: 33.375

Measurables:

40 Time: 4.65 seconds / 10-yard Split: 1.62 seconds / Bench Press: 18 reps / Vertical Jump: 34 inches / Broad Jump: 119 inches / 3-Cone: 6.84 seconds

Career Stats:

96 total tackles, 19 tackles for a loss, 14.5 sacks, and 4 pass deflections

Overview of Pick:

Turay was perhaps the most athletic edge rusher in the draft and those traits were on display at the Senior Bowl. Lance Zierlein praised the type of athlete he is by stating that he “plays with good closing burst to the ball”, “moves easily and naturally in space”, and is “rangy with good pursuit motor.” His main issues were raw abilities as a pass rusher, struggles as a run defender, and injury concerns.

Turay broke out the first half of the 2019 regular season before his season ended against the Chiefs, as he suffered a broken ankle. He slowly worked back onto the field in 2020 and was relatively unproductive in the few games he appeared in.


Tyquan Lewis, DE, Ohio State (2018)— 2nd Round

Size:

6’3” 269 pounds

Arm Length: 33.75

Measurables (Pro Day):

40 Time: 4.69 seconds / 10-yard Split: 1.57 seconds / Bench Press: N/A / Vertical Jump: 35.5 inches / Broad Jump: 127 inches / 3-Cone: 7.2 seconds

Career Stats:

112 total tackles, 37 tackles for a loss, 23.5 sacks, and 5 forced fumbles

Overview of Pick:

Lewis was one of the most athletic defensive linemen in the draft and he destroyed the Senior Bowl. Lance Zierlein stated that Lewis has “knee bend (that) helps him flatten to the quarterback sharply once he gets around the edge” and “plays with good hand strength and quickness.” The main issues with his game were that he was not a “force against the run” and he was a bit inconsistent with his rushes on a play-to-play basis.

Lewis struggled to find a role early on in his career but seems to have settled in during year three. He finished the season with a career high of 5.5 sacks in 2020.


Ben Banogu, DE, TCU (2019)— 2nd Round

Size:

6’3” 250 pounds

Arm Length: 33.625

Measurables (Pro Day):

40 Time: 4.62 seconds / 10-yard Split: 1.59 seconds / Bench Press: 23 / Vertical Jump: 40 inches / Broad Jump: 134 inches

Career Stats:

156 total tackles, 45 tackles for a loss, 20 sacks, and 7 forced fumbles

Overview of Pick:

Ben Banogu was a second-round pick of the Indianapolis Colts in the 2019 NFL Draft. An athletic Senior Bowl pass rusher, the Colts passed on a few trade offers in the second round to take this talented player. Lance Zierlein of NFL.com said Banogu “Has foot quickness and agility to alter rush challenges” and “inside-out move forces tackle to squeeze down, opening tighter outside track.” His biggest flaws were his tweener position label and his lack of a pass rush plan when rushing the passer.

Banogu had a solid rookie year for the Colts as he seemed to improve every week despite limited snaps. He then took a step back in 2020 as he was a healthy scratch for most of the season.


Changes From Last Season

While Ballard didn’t take a defensive end in the 2020 NFL Draft, I did some self-reflection and came to the realization that Ballard really loves length in his pass rushers. I did value it in the past but I am going to put even more valuation into it going forward.


Common Traits

Here are the common traits that can help us build a rough mold of what Ballard might look for in rookie defensive ends:

  • Senior edge rusher— has only drafted Senior Bowl defensive ends in his career
  • Excellent burst and explosion— every player had a 10 yard split under 1.7 seconds
  • Strengths: Overall athleticism, great tackling, and burst
  • Weaknesses: Run defense and raw pass rush move set
  • Motor and tenacity— each player had a knack for playing until the whistle
  • LENGTH— Ballard has only taken one DE with arms under 33” (Dee Ford with 32.875”)

2021 Draft Players Who Fit

Given this rough outline, who might Ballard target in the 2020 NFL Draft?


1.) Elerson Smith, Northern Iowa

Size:

6’6” 252 pounds

Arm Length: 33.28”

Measurables:

40 Time: 4.78 seconds / 10-yard Split: 1.6 seconds / Bench Press: 26 / Vertical Jump: 41.5 inches / Broad Jump: 127 inches

Career Stats:

85 tackles, 32.5 tackles for a loss, 22 sacks, and 6 forced fumbles.

Why He Fits:

Smith may not be a household name but he is a really intriguing player in this class. He has the length, production, size, speed, bend... why is he not talked about in higher regard? Well, he didn’t play in 2020 due to Covid canceling the FCS season and when he did play, it was all at the FCS level which doesn’t exactly have a long history of producing big-time pass rushers. However, I do think Smith is my candidate this year for outplaying his likely day three draft spot. He has all of the tools and had a good Senior Bowl, so I love his fit in Indy.


2.) Payton Turner, Houston

Size:

6’5” 270 pounds

Arm Length: 35”

Measurables:

40 Time: N/A / 10-yard Split: N/A / Bench Press: 23 / Vertical Jump: 35.5 inches / Broad Jump: N/A

Career Stats:

114 tackles, 23.5 tackles for a loss, 9.5 sacks, and 1 forced fumble.

Why He Fits:

Another defensive end that checks off every single box. Turner is flying a bit under the radar due to Covid limiting his Senior season but he is a talented rusher who is starting to hit his stride. A versatile player, Turner can play inside or on the outside with his frame and length. He is explosive off of the ball and shockingly bendy for a player of his stature. He does need to refine his moveset as a rusher, even though he has a good base of power and length. On top of that, just like with Smith, Payton Turner was a Senior Bowl player and has the elite length requirement to make him a perfect Ballard fit.


3.) Carlos “Boogie” Basham, Wake Forrest

Size:

6’3” 274 pounds

Arm Length: 32.875”

Career Stats:

173 tackles, 35.5 tackles for a loss, 19.5 sacks, and 7 forced fumbles.

Why He Fits:

Basham is a player who was a tough evaluation for me. He has excellent size and athleticism, and his effort is always apparent on film. He sets a hard edge in the run game and flashes a lot of good traits as a pass rusher from the interior. The biggest issue I have in his game is that he struggles to create pressure off the edge. He reminds me a lot of Denico Autry in that regard. Regardless, he is a high energy, athletic Senior Bowl pass rusher that Ballard probably loves.


Honorable Mentions:

  • Kwity Paye, Michigan: He may not be there at 21 but he is the dream pick. Elite length, athleticism, and high effort on every play.
  • Janarius Robinson, Florida State: Hits every Chris Ballard metric in terms of size, length, explosion and he was at the Senior Bowl. Pretty raw but has the upside.
  • Shaka Toney, Penn State: Not the most powerful player at the point of attack but he is lightning quick with good bend and explosion. Good length as well for a smaller player. Very similar to Kemoko Turay coming out of college.
  • William Bradley-King, Baylor: Underrated pass rusher who transferred to Baylor last season. Has a bit more nuance to his game than expected out of a player getting little buzz.
  • Hamilcar Rashed Jr, Oregon State: Fell off a bit after an outstanding 2019 season. Linear athlete who is explosive and lengthy.

Conclusion

GM Chris Ballard clearly has a type at defensive end. He likes the explosive and bendy projects that he can mold into really good players. It worked to success with Dee Ford and has shown flashes with guys like Turay and Tyquan Lewis as well. Time will tell how Banogu and Turay ultimately develop, but Ballard likes his high-risk, high reward players at defensive end.

It is important to note that this analysis could be entirely wrong as it relies heavily on his time in Kansas City. It is entirely possible that Ballard disagreed with much of the decisions made during his time with the Chiefs’ organization at the defensive end position. For all I know, Ballard could take a stiff run defender in round one. Who knows? However, this series should give some kind of insight into who Chris Ballard may want to target based on his past.