One of my favorite and most successful series with Stampede Blue is back for another run in 2020. 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 a position that will have to be addressed this year: offensive tackle. Will Chris Ballard add a tackle early in the draft?
Notable Past Drafted Players
During Ballard’s tenure in Indianapolis and in Kansas City, his organization has drafted four offensive tackles in seven drafts. The top pick used to address the position over that time-frame was a first-round selection in 2013.
Disclaimer: Danny Pinter will not be included in this despite playing OT at Ball State. The Colts drafted him solely to be an interior player and have no desire to try him at OT.
Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan (2013)— 1st Round Pick
6’7” 306 pounds with 34.5-inch arms
40 Time: 5.05 seconds / Bench Press: 27 reps / Vertical Jump: 28.5 inches / Broad Jump: 116 inches / 3-Cone: 7.59 seconds
Overview of Pick:
Eric Fisher was the first overall selection by the Kansas City Chiefs in the 2013 NFL Draft. Fisher was an athletic freak who killed the offseason during his draft-eligible year. Lance Zierlein of NFL.com described him as a “Natural athlete with bend and foot quickness off the snap, can mirror quick ends around the pocket, staying engaged even with tilted shoulders and often finishing the block with a shove” and “Flashes nastiness as a drive blocker, latching on and churning his legs to push his man back a few yards.” The biggest concerns with him were his overall strength and consistency in pass blocking.
Fisher has churned out a nice career up to this point. He is coming off an injury-plagued season with the Chiefs in 2020.
Zach Banner, OT, USC (2017)— 4th Round Pick
6’8” 353 pounds with 34.875-inch arms
40 Time: 5.58 seconds / Bench Press: 22 reps / Vertical Jump: 23.5 inches / Broad Jump: 92 inches / 3-Cone: 8.31 seconds
Overview of Pick:
Zach Banner was a fourth-round selection by the Indianapolis Colts in the 2017 NFL Draft. Lance Zierlein of NFL.com described him as a “Massive man with good upper-body strength” and “Powerful road-grader who blasts holes open as down-blocker and generates movement with his base blocks.” The biggest concerns with him were his weight, lack of athleticism, and overall ability in pass protection.
After being cut by the Colts, Banner found a nice role with the Steelers as their swing tackle/sixth lineman on certain run plays in 2019. He was in line for a starting role in 2020 before suffering a season-ending injury in the first game. He is now set to become a free agent.
Braden Smith, OG/OT, Auburn (2018)— 2nd Round Pick
6’6” 315 pounds with 32.25-inch arms
40 Time: 5.2 seconds / Bench Press: 35 reps / Vertical Jump: 33.5 inches / Broad Jump: 113 inches / 3-Cone: 7.81 seconds
Overview of Pick:
Braden Smith was a second-round selection by the Indianapolis Colts in the 2018 NFL Draft. Originally drafted as a guard, Smith moved to tackle during his rookie season and has been a successful starter since. Lance Zierlein of NFL.com described him as a “Mauler with power at the point of attack” and “Has strong hands and can lock on for the long haul when he gets a strong initial grab.” The biggest concerns with him were his initial transition to tackle and struggles moving laterally in pass protection.
Smith has made the successful transition to offensive tackle and is among the league’s best young right tackles.
Jackson Barton, OT, Utah (2019)— 7th Round Pick
6’7” 310 pounds with 34 inch arms
40 Time: 5.18 seconds / Bench Press: 25 reps / Vertical Jump: 27 inches / Broad Jump: 109 inches / 3-Cone: 7.85 seconds
Overview of Pick:
Jackson Barton was a seventh-round selection by the Indianapolis Colts in the 2019 NFL Draft. Lance Zierlein of NFL.com described him as having a “Finisher’s demeanor when he gets his shots” and having “Effective use of arm length to redirect second-level targets.” The biggest concerns with him were his pad level in pass protection and his lack of bend on the outside.
Barton was cut by the Colts but found a roster spot with the Chiefs late in 2019 as a depth tackle. He is currently a reserve lineman on the New York Giants.
Here are the common traits from this relatively small sample size on which offensive tackles Ballard may like:
- Huge players 6’6” or above and 310+ pounds
- Strengths: Stout run blockers, excellent strength and power, maulers, and elite athleticism (outside of the Banner pick)
- Weaknesses: Technical issues in pass protection, pad level due to height, and struggles with speed on the outside
- +++ Players who excel in jump sets/aggressive blocking (Strausser’s type of offensive lineman)
2021 Draft Players Who Fit
Given this rough outline, who might Ballard target in the 2021 NFL Draft?
1.) Alex Leatherwood, Alabama
6’5” 312 pounds with 34.375 inch arms
40 Time: 5.01 seconds / Bench Press: N/A / Vertical Jump: 34.5 inches / Broad Jump: 118 inches / 3-Cone: 7.45 seconds
Why He Fits:
Leatherwood is one of the most “Chris Ballard type” players in this draft. A starter of 41 games in his college career, Leatherwood is an experienced tackle with excellent traits. He tested as an elite athlete at his Pro Day and is one of the best run blockers in this class. He is explosive and powerful on the outside, and he drives defenders down the field in the run game. He has some nuance in the pass game, although his footwork needs a lot of work at the next level. Overall, when you combine his experience, his pedigree (Outland Trophy winner in 2020), the fact that he played in the Senior Bowl, and his run blocking then you get a perfect Chris Ballard fit.
Alex Leatherwood— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) November 29, 2020
First thing this morning I had to sprint to the Alabama offensive line tape. These boys destroyed the Auburn front seven @colecubelic @BigDuke50 pic.twitter.com/xwJHemQT2g
2.) Teven Jenkins, Oklahoma State
6’5” 317 pounds with 33.5” arms
40 Time: 5.01 seconds / Bench Press: 36 reps / Vertical Jump: 32.5 inches / Broad Jump: 106 inches / 3-Cone: 7.69 seconds
Why He Fits:
Jenkins may be the most entertaining offensive tackle in this class on film. While he has a softer personality, he is a powerful finisher on film. He is a true mauler who looks to bury defenders in the dirt on every play. In the pass game, he is extremely nuanced and experienced at using defenders’ leverage against them. He is one of the better pass blockers in this class and has a lot of experience in the run game. He may not be there at 21 after his outstanding Pro Day, however he is the type of tackle that Chris Ballard loves.
I really like Oklahoma State RT Teven Jenkins (#73). Powerful tackle with really quick and strong hands. People mover in the run game. Prolific in both angle and jump sets. Think he could play some guard but does have the athleticism to stay at OT as well. pic.twitter.com/r01muswzLS— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) December 12, 2020
3.) Dillon Radunz, North Dakota State
6’5” 301 pounds with 34” arms
40 Time: 5.16 seconds / Bench Press: 24 reps / Vertical Jump: 32 inches / Broad Jump: 112 inches / 3-Cone: 7.26 seconds
Why He Fits:
While he may not be as lengthy as Leatherwood or as powerful as Jenkins, Radunz combines a bit of both worlds here. He is a longtime starter for the FCS powerhouse that is North Dakota State and excels as a run defender. His ability to climb to the second level and line up his targets is among the best in the class. As a pass protector, there are some technical issues but he has a good punch and footwork in his slides. Like Smith, he may not be a star right away but his athleticism combined with his ability as a run blocker should catch Ballard’s eye. He was also a Senior Bowl guy which we know Ballard is a big fan of.
Trey Lance will receive plenty of the notoriety today (rightfully so), but keep an eye on North Dakota St. OT Dillon Radunz (6’6, 300, Sr.). Already receiving some early round buzz. pic.twitter.com/KV5hCiFmR0— Jordan Reid (@Jordan_Reid) October 3, 2020
- Samuel Cosmi, Texas: Smooth mover with power in his game. Incredible grip strength in pass protection. Needs to clean up some footwork but he’s outstanding.
- Spencer Brown, Northern Iowa: Major traits player who needs a lot of development. His length and athleticism are promising though and he could be a great swing tackle early on.
- Brady Christensen, BYU: Athletic offensive tackle who is a dominant puller in the run game. Short arms that may lead him to be moved to guard though.
- Christian Darrisaw, Virginia Tech: While he may not be the level of athlete Ballard likes, he makes up for it in stature. A massive player who flashed dominance in college. May be gone by pick 21 come draft day.
- Walker Little, Stanford: High risk, high reward player. A former top recruit, Little hasn’t played ball in almost two full years. Potential is there but he needs a ton of work.
- Larnel Coleman, UMASS: Lengthy, athletic offensive tackle who needs more refinement in his game. The Colts really like him though.
With GM Chris Ballard’s track record for drafting tackles or lack thereof, these are the prospects who might stand out for him during the draft. This is a bit of an incomplete projection as there is little data in his draft history for this position. What we do know is that he likes athletes, outside of Zach Banner, who can develop as pass blockers and are already good run blockers.
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 tackle position. For all I know, Ballard could take an unathletic tackle in round two. Who knows? However, this series should give some kind of insight into who Chris Ballard may want to target based on his past.