Ballard enjoys debating as Colts seek another knockout draft

<p>
              FILE- In this Feb. 27, 2019, file photo, Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard speaks during a new conference at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis. Ballard enjoys these final days before the NFL draft. He pores through the tapes, meets with coaches and scouts and constantly debates where each college prospect belongs on the Colts’ board. Some see this annual ritual as a tedious, emotional grind. Ballard savors every precious moment as he prepares to step into the biggest ring of the offseason. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy, File)
            </p>

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard enjoys these final days before the NFL draft.

He pores through the tapes, meets with coaches and scouts, and constantly debates where each college prospect belongs on the Colts’ board. Some see this annual ritual as a tedious, emotional grind. Ballard savors every precious moment as he prepares to step into the biggest ring of the offseason.

“It’s tense when we’re arguing about where people need to be,” Ballard said last weekend. “You’re arguing about who to take and where to take them, but it’s fun.”

Perhaps that explains why Ballard has produced big-time results in each of his first two drafts in Indy.

When playmaking safety Malik Hooker slid to the Colts at No. 15 in 2017, he wasted no time in making the call. He also added starting running back, Marlon Mack in Round 4 and starting middle linebacker Anthony Walker in the fifth round. Not bad.

But last year, he delivered a knockout performance.

First, Ballard added three draft picks in a trade with the New York Jets. Then, he landed All-Pros — left guard at No. 6 and linebacker Darius Leonard at No. 36 — with his first two selections and found a starting right tackle, Braden Smith, at No. 37.

How does he do it?

By following a logical plan: He wants players who love football, want to be coached, fit the locker room and his positional prototypes. So far, it’s worked.

“The best players I’ve been around are guys like Quenton who never think they are good enough,” second-year coach Frank Reich said. “You ask Quenton — he is not good enough. You ask Andrew (Luck) — he is not good enough. You just listen to those guys talk, that’s what they all say, ‘I’ve got to get a lot better.’ That is contagious.”

And it could be the key to mining more talent with this year’s nine overall selections.

“I like them picks,” Ballard said. “I think on draft day you figure out when you formulate a plan of who you have targeted, where can we get them, do we have to move up or can we move back? I’ve always been under the premise that the more picks you have — the more darts you have at the dart board — the better chance you have to hit on players.”

TOP TARGETS

Despite adding receiver Devin Funchess and linebacker Justin Houston in free agency, Ballard could be seeking another young receiver to help Luck and another pass rusher to pressure opponents.

Some names being bandied about include Mississippi receiver A.J. Brown and three Clemson defensive linemen: Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell and Dexter Lawrence.

All seem to fit Ballard’s traits. But one thing is clear: Ballard will rely on the draft board.

DOWN ON THE CORNER

The Colts also could be in the market for a cornerback, especially if some of the top prospects start sliding.

One potential candidate is former LSU star Greedy Williams, who was widely considered the top cornerback and a likely top-10 pick less than two months ago. But as scouts started questioning his instincts and whether he looks as quick on the field as he does running in shorts, his stock slipped far enough Ballard could now be in position to stop that slide.

Another option could be Byron Murphy of Washington, who some believe is the best ball hawk at cornerback.

TRADE MARKET

The only thing Ballard likes more than having extra chips on draft weekend is adding more. It could happen again this year if another quarterback-needy team believes it needs to move up to No. 26 to get its man.

The price could give Ballard one or two extra Day 2 picks this year, or perhaps something even more valuable: future draft assets.

POST-DRAFT PARTY

While the focus over the past few months has been on mock drafts, Ballard has been scouring the country for undrafted help, too.

Last weekend, the Colts brought more than three dozen players to their team complex for workouts. Most played high school or college football in Indiana and got a firsthand chance to work with Colts coaches. It was at this pro day that former Colts center Deyshawn Bond and current receiver Krishawn Hogan made their first impression on the team.

“I’d say three-fourths of them we have something on, we’ve scouted them, we know something about them,” Ballard said. “We’ve got some guys here who I think will get drafted.”