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Build-A-Ballard: Who the Colts may target at wide receiver in the 2021 NFL Draft

Which wide receivers in the 2021 draft fit Ballard’s preferred mold?

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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 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 one of the Colts’ biggest positions of need, wide receiver. Will Chris Ballard add a receiver early in the draft yet again?


Notable Past Drafted Players

During Ballard’s tenure in Indianapolis and in Kansas City, his organization has drafted eight wide receivers in eight drafts. In most of those seasons, wide receiver was a core need for his team but very little draft capital was used to address the need. The top pick used to address the position over that time-frame was a second round selection in 2019 and in 2020.

We will examine six of the eight prospects to find common traits.


Chris Conley, WR, Georgia (2015)— 3rd Round Pick

Size:

6’2” 213 pounds

Measurables:

40 Time: 4.35 seconds / Bench Press: 18 reps / Vertical Jump: 45 inches / Broad Jump: 139 inches / 3-Cone: 7.06 seconds

Career Stats:

117 catches for 1,938 yards with a 16.6 yards per catch average and 20 touchdowns.

Overview of Pick:

Chris Conley was a third round pick for the Kansas City Chiefs in the 2015 NFL Draft. He was known as one of the most athletic players in the draft and his combine showed it. He was billed as a deep ball receiver with all the athletic tools in the book. Lance Zierlein of NFL.com noted how Conley “accelerates through deep balls” and how he is “quick to find ball in flight and make adjustments to seal the deal.” The main flaws in his game were his untimely drops and raw route running, which caused him to drop to the third round.

Conley had a solid few seasons in Kansas City before signing a modest deal in Jacksonville. He has been a decent WR3 type for most of his career.


Tyreek Hill, WR, Oklahoma State (2016)— 5th Round Pick

Size:

5’10” 185 pounds

Measurables:

N/A (No Combine invite due to Domestic Violence and assault charges)

Career Stats:

133 touches for 815 yards with an average of 6.1 yards per touch and 2 touchdowns.

Overview of Pick:

Wide Receiver/ Return Specialist Tyreek Hill was a fifth-round pick for the Chiefs in the 2016 NFL Draft. Hill is a bit of an outlier in terms of traits Ballard looks for in his players but he does share some similarities. He was profiled as having “ridiculous play speed” and as having “the ability to turn one missed tackle into a touchdown” according to Lance Zierlein. His biggest flaws were his poor hands in traffic and raw play as a receiver.

The Chiefs have benefited from this gamble as Hill has turned into an All-Pro and one of the most dangerous receivers in the NFL.


Daurice Fountain, WR, Northern Iowa (2018)— 5th Round

Size:

6’1” 210 pounds

Measurables:

40 Time: 4.46 / Vertical Jump: 42.5 inches / Broad Jump: 134 inches

Career Stats:

150 catches for 2,077 yards with a yards per catch average of 13.8 and 23 touchdowns.

Overview of Pick:

Daurice Fountain was a fifth-round pick for the Indianapolis Colts in the 2018 NFL Draft. He was an intriguing project out of small school Northern Iowa after a dominant Shrine Game. Lance Zierlein mentioned Fountain being an “explosive athlete” who “flashed physical ability to make acrobatic finishes” and is a “capable playmaker after the catch.” His main struggles were how raw he was as a route runner and level of competition concerns coming out of the FCS.

Fountain looked promising during the preseason before breaking his ankle and missing the entire season in 2019. He caught his first NFL reception against the Jets in 2020 but ultimately couldn’t stick on the roster. He is currently a free agent.


Deon Cain, WR, Clemson (2018)— 6th Round Pick

Size:

6’2” 202 pounds

Measurables:

40 Time: 4.43 / Bench Press: 11 Reps / Vertical Jump: 33.5 inches / Broad Jump: 115 inches / 3-Cone: 6.71 seconds

Career Stats:

130 catches for 2,040 yards with a yards per catch of 15.7 and 20 touchdowns.

Overview of Pick:

Deon Cain was a sixth-round pick for the Colts in the 2018 NFL Draft. He was a solid playmaker for Clemson during his college career. Zerlein described Cain as a “legit deep target with jet gear to get vertical once he clears defender’s edge” and as “talented after the catch.” The main flaws in his game were his raw route running and his high drop rate.

Cain was highly coveted by the team coming into 2019 but failed to produce on the field. He was cut and eventually picked up by the Pittsburgh Steelers.


Parris Campbell, WR, Ohio State (2019)— 2nd Round Pick

Size:

5’11” 205 pounds

Measurables:

40 Time: 4.31 / Bench Press: 11 Reps / Vertical Jump: 40.0 inches / Broad Jump: 135 inches / 3-Cone: N/A

Career Stats:

143 catches for 1,786 yards with a yards per catch of 12.4 and 23 touchdowns.

Overview of Pick:

Parris Campbell was a second-round pick for the Colts in the 2019 NFL Draft. Kyle Crabbs of The Draft Network described Campbell as having “elite, blue chip speed as a ball carrier” and being a “terrific open field athlete.” The main flaws in his game were his raw route running, inconsistent hands, and his depth of target in college.

Campbell was brought in with high expectations for 2019 but couldn’t stay healthy throughout his rookie season. After a strong first game in 2020, he yet again suffered a season ending injury in week two. He now heads into a make-or-break third season with the Colts.


Michael Pittman Jr, WR, USC (2020)— 2nd Round Pick

Size:

6’4” 223 pounds

Measurables:

40 Time: 4.52 / Bench Press: 13 Reps / Vertical Jump: 36.5 inches / Broad Jump: 121 inches / 3-Cone: 6.96

Career Stats:

171 catches for 2,519 yards with a yards per catch of 14.7 and 19 touchdowns.

Michael Pittman Jr. was a second-round pick for the Colts in the 2020 NFL Draft. Kyle Crabbs of The Draft Network described Pittman as being “Big, strong and not afraid to drop a shoulder on someone” and having “a large catch radius and hand strength to make plays on ball adjustments.” The main flaws in his game were noted as being a lack of true separation and not being a nuanced route runner.

Pittman Jr had a promising rookie season for the Colts as he was primarily used as an underneath receiver and run after catch player. He looks to have a bigger role going forward into year two.


Changes from last season

A notable change I am looking at is an emphasis on explosion scores and college yards per catch. I put emphasis on this in the past but the common trend of having receivers with high explosion scores and yards per catch needs to be accounted for more. Explosion seems to be more important than even straight-line, pure speed.


Common Traits

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

  • Well built, 200+ pound players (outside of Hill)
  • Strengths: Elite athletes, speed and explosion, vertical threat, ability to adjust to difficult passes, preferably outside receivers
  • Weaknesses: Raw route running, drops, struggles beating press
  • Experienced blocker/willingness to block
  • Leadership/Team Captaincy/Senior Bowl (a Ballard trademark with the Colts)

2021 Draft Players Who Fit

**Disclaimer** This draft class is so deep that we will be breaking this one up into two different sections. One will be for receivers projected in the first three rounds of the draft. The other section will be for day three receivers. This class is so deep that it only seemed fitting to split it like this.

Here are the High End WR’s who fit (players projected in rounds 1-3)


1.) Nico Collins, WR, Michigan

Size:

6’4” 215 pounds

Measurables:

40 Time: 4.45 / Bench Press: 14 Reps / Vertical Jump: 37.5 inches / Broad Jump: 125 inches / 3-Cone: 6.71

Career Stats:

78 catches for 1,388 yards with a 17.8 yards per catch average and 13 touchdowns.

Why He Fits:

Getting back to Ballard’s roots here with a Senior Bowl player to round out this list. Collins wasn’t insanely productive in college, but that was mainly due to an abysmal quarterback situation at Michigan. He is a big-bodied receiver who is explosive and excels vertically down the field. His size allows him to out-muscle defenders at the catch point, but his speed also allows him to fly past unsuspecting defenders as well. He will likely be a mid-day two pick in this upcoming draft, and would be a perfect target if the Colts can trade back out of the first.


2.) Terrace Marshall, WR, LSU

Size:

6’2” 205 pounds

Measurables:

40 Time: 4.4 / Bench Press: 19 Reps / Vertical Jump: 39 inches / Broad Jump: 125 inches / 3-Cone: N/A

Career Stats:

106 catches for 1,594 yards with a 15.0 yards per catch average and 23 touchdowns.

Why He Fits:

Marshall is a bit underrated in this class, mainly due to being the third option at LSU as a sophomore behind Ja’Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson in 2019. He finally got his chance to be the main guy in 2020— albeit with a much worse quarterback— and the production took off. He is a big, explosive receiver who excels at winning vertically down the field. He can climb the ladder and win in contested situations and is above-average after the catch as well. He isn’t an elite speed guy or the most polished route runner but he fits a lot of what Chris Ballard likes.


3.) Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota

Size:

6’0” 190 pounds

Measurables:

40 Time: 4.43 / Bench Press: N/A / Vertical Jump: 36 inches / Broad Jump: 123 inches / 3-Cone: 6.95

Career Stats:

147 catches for 2,395 yards with a 16.3 yards per catch average and 19 touchdowns.

Why He Fits:

Bateman may go higher than the Colts’ first round pick but if he is there, I could see him being a player Ballard likes. Bateman isn’t a burner by any means— that reported 4.38 40 time does not show on film at all— but he wins in so many other ways. He is excellent after the catch and has great footwork at the line of scrimmage. He can win at all levels of the field and can fill just about any role in an offense. I may have more concerns than most when it comes to his game but I have no doubt that he will be a productive pro, especially in the Colts offense.


Honorable Mentions:

  • Dyami Brown, WR, North Carolina: While he is smaller than the typical Ballard receiver, he is an elite vertical threat who averaged 18.7 yards per catch in college.
  • Tylan Wallace, WR, Oklahoma State: An outlier in terms of athleticism and size, I could see Wallace winning Ballard over with his toughness, hands, and willingness to block in the run game.
  • Seth Williams, WR, Auburn: Big-bodied receiver who can go up and get the ball in the air. A slightly lesser version of Nico Collins who could be interesting on late day two.

2021 Draft Players Who Fit

Here are the Low-End WR’s who fit (players projected on day 3)


1.) Josh Imatorbhebhe, WR, Illinois

Size:

6’0” 218 pounds

Measurables:

40 Time: 4.53 / Bench Press: 24 Reps / Vertical Jump: 46.5 inches / Broad Jump: 134 inches / 3-Cone: 7.1

Career Stats:

57 catches for 942 yards with a 16.5 yards per catch average and 12 touchdowns.

Why He Fits:

Really interesting day three player who is stylistically similar to DK Metcalf in my opinion. Imatorbhebhe is an insane athlete who posted a 47.1” vertical as a high school senior. He is strong and powerful after the catch and that insane vertical also allows him to win down the field in the deep passing game. Also, a high character player that his coaches rave about. This fit in Indy makes a ton of sense on day three of the draft.


2.) Josh Palmer, WR, Tennessee

Size:

6’1” 210 pounds

Measurables:

40 Time: 4.51 / Bench Press: N/A / Vertical Jump: 34 inches / Broad Jump: 124 inches / 3-Cone: 6.98

Career Stats:

99 catches for 1,514 yards with a 15.3 yards per catch average and 7 touchdowns.

Why He Fits:

Another Senior Bowl participant who is an excellent vertical receiver that plays with great physicality. He tracks the ball well down the field and his speed is a major plus for a player of his size. Underneath, he is a scrappy receiver who is always mixing it up as a blocker and showcasing his power. He has some things to work on in his game but I love his fit on day three.


3.) Simi Fehoko, WR, Stanford

Size:

6’3” 222 pounds

Measurables:

40 Time: 4.44 / Bench Press: 16 Reps / Vertical Jump: 34.5 inches / Broad Jump: 120 inches / 3-Cone: 6.78

Career Stats:

62 catches for 1,146 yards with a 18.5 yards per catch average and 9 touchdowns.

Why He Fits:

Fehoko is an inexperienced and raw receiver but his combination of height/weight/speed make him an interesting player on day three. He is an absolute burner with insane speed to fly past any defender. He is also powerful and strong after the catch. He needs more refinement but special things happen with the ball in his hands.


Honorable Mentions:

  • Marlon Williams, UCF: Strong receiver with reliable hands and good after the catch. Play style and size are very similar to Zach Pascal.
  • Trevon Grimes, Florida: Raw receiver but he is big and explosive on the field. Could be a strong special teamer while he develops.
  • Jonathan Adams Jr, Arkansas State: Height/weight/speed player who excels in contested catches. Very interesting player who reminds me of Daurice Fountain as a prospect.
  • Jalen Camp, Georgia Tech: Another player with great height/weight/speed. Held back a bit by Georgia Tech’s offense, he is a very interesting project player.

Conclusion

With GM Chris Ballard’s track record for drafting receivers, these are the prospects who might stand out for him during the draft. He tends to like raw players with an All-Pro ceiling who have yet to put it all together. He places a heavy emphasis on speed and play-making while not worrying as much about drops or route running.

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 receiver position. For all I know, Ballard could take a 5’9” slot receiver 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.