The No. 15 pick is such an interesting place to make a first-round selection. On the one hand, it's smack dab in the middle of the first round -- a prime spot to get an impact player. On the other, it's typically toward the tail end of the true "blue chippers" in a typical draft -- the roughly 15-20 players in every draft that truly jump off the page as prospects that project as (often immediate) difference-makers.
The 2024 class has been described as one of the better and deeper classes as far as that top-shelf talent goes, which boosts the value of pick No. 15. Let's take a look at some options at that spot for Ballard come April. For the sake of this discussion, we are NOT going to entertain trading up or down even though that's a definite possibility given CB's draft history.
Option No. 1: Address Skill Positions on Offense
The deeper we get into the offseason, the more I'm drawn to this particular outcome. I've mentioned multiple times that Houston should be the comp for Indy, the competitive standard for a rebuild. Indy and Houston are on very similar timelines -- new head coaches hired at the same time, new QBs brought in at the same time, rosters with a similar number of holes and flaws (in fact I think Houston has a worse team top to bottom). And yet Houston walked away with the division title and a playoff win. The difference? One, Stroud stayed mostly healthy all year and AR didn't. But two, Houston has WEAPONS PLURAL, and as such is a very friendly environment for Stroud to learn and grown and find quick success. Ballard needs to get Indy on that level.
*Draft a WR. This is a very strong draft class for wideouts, and Ballard could very well choose to address this need in later rounds. But let's assume he drafts one. I'd be very happy with Rome Odunze here, and pretty happy with LSU's' Brian Thomas or even Oregon's Troy Franklin at No. 15. We'll see if Texas WRs Xavier Worthy or Adonai Mitchell grade out as first-round prospects as we go deeper until the draft process, but I suspect they'd be "overdrafted" if taken at No. 15. FSU's Keon Coleman is another candidate I want to learn more about. Getting a rookie to pair with AR seems like a good long-term investment, too -- they can grow together like I expect him to with Downs and Stroud is with Dell.
*Trade for a WR. This is my super secret prediction: Ballard goes back to an existing relationship with San Francisco and trades No. 15 for Brandon Aiyuk and then signs him to an extension. Mirroring his successful trade for Big Buck, Ballard secures a wide receiver I'm incredibly high on (wins at the point of attack, incredibly polished downfield threat, YAC Gawd) who appears poised for a full-blown WR1 breakout that could vault him into the top-WRs-in-the-league conversation. I would be absolutely over the moon if this happens -- Aiyuk and Pittman would be a massive one-two punch that have complimentary yet different styles. Absolutely huge. And it makes sense for the Niners too, since they can repeat the exact process they deployed with the Buckner trade -- using the pick Indy traded them to immediately draft his replacement while getting out of cap help and not having to pay Buckner/Aiyuk.
*Draft Brock Bowers. I don't think Brock is gonna be a top-10 pick, which means there's a solid chance he's available at No. 15. While I wouldn't hate this pick, it could be a very valid selection -- Bowers projects as one of, if not the, best player available if he does make it down to Indy's selection. Top-shelf tight ends can turn around offenses, and quickly -- just ask the Lions or the Bills, and maybe the Falcons now that they actually have a real head coach. However, for where the Colts are as a team and specifically an offense, I think drafting a tight end here is a luxury, and one that Indy can't really afford. I also think that Indy has invested a ton of draft capital at the tight end position over the last three drafts, and I think Woods deserves a legit shot to see if he can be a good TE1 in a productive offense. So, wouldn't be mad at this... but I think we could do better.
*Offensive line. I'd honestly be pretty shocked if Indy uses No. 15 on an offensive lineman. But, Ballard does love his trench dawgs. Maye I'll be unpleasantly surprised.
Option No. 2: Address The Defense
By and large, the offense was acceptable last year, even with Minchew at the wheel. The defense, however, finished 28th in points allowed. A lot has been made about the team breaking the franchise sack record, and while sacks are good... they're not the BEST way of measuring defensive success. Indy was 24th in rush yards allowed, 22nd in pass yards allowed, 22nd in points allowed per play, 22nd in pressure rate... the list goes on, but the point is clear -- in spite of the sacks, Indy's defense was pretty mediocre in 2023.
Why? That's harder to diagnose. Could it be Gus Bradley's no-blitz identity? A front four that's good but lacks star power on the edges? The complete lack of a serviceable secondary? Injuries/drug suspensions? A combination of all those factors? I tend to subscribe to the belief that Indy would have generated more pressure up front if the secondary had been better, but it's also true that the pass rush from the defensive end positions has been spotty -- while Ballard gets a ton of credit for signing Ebukam (a smash success at RDE), it's also undeniable that a Niners castoff coming in and immediately upstaging the highly drafted duo of Paye and Dayo with much less time to gel and develop is a little distressing. Oh hey, and Grover -- no more PEDs, buddy, if you get brought back.
*Draft a corner. No. 15 seems, from the mocks I've been looking at, to be a good spot to snag the first corner off the board. Terrion Arnold or Kool-Aid out of Bama and Nate Wiggins out of Clemson all seem likely to be available, so it would come down to Indy's individual grades on those three guys. I personally haven't dug into any DB tape yet this offseason, so I currently don't have a personal favorite. But to address the "Indy drafted a bunch of corners last year and allowed them to struggle so they'd be better in 2024" talking points -- yeah, I'm not buying it. You can't just count on players continuing to develop on a linear trajectory *gestures at every DE Ballard has ever drafted* and I'm not convinced that the flashes of good play we saw from some of the youngsters is sustainable or indicative of future growth. Ballard definitely needs to continue laying groundwork in the secondary, and it could very well start at No. 15.
Draft a defensive end. A name I really like that checks a lot of Ballard Boxes is Laiatu Latu out of UCLA. He's a universal top 20 prospect, but a checkered injury history could see him drop down the board some. ESPN, for example, doesn't see him as a top 10 selection, but CBS does. This feels very much like a "if he's there, it's going to be too tantalizing to pass on him," similar to Brock Bowers on the offensive side of the ball. Oh, and did I mention he's currently at the Senior Bowl? Jared Verse out of FSU would probably still be on the board too (tho I'd like him to put on about 10-15 pounds).
*Defensive tackle could also be an option, though I think that's addressed in the later rounds and may be dependent on what the front office decides to do with Grover. I'd be pretty surprised if Ballard tries addressing safety at No. 15 as well.
*Trade? I don't see an obvious trade out there for either corner or defensive end (at least for first-round-pick value), but maybe y'all can share in the comments if I'm missing one.
Well, there's my ramblings. Please feel free to chime in on these moves in the comments, let me know what your favorite approach/player is and who I'm missing. Definitely just getting started on the prospects I'm checking out, happy to look at names I didn't share as well.