Mason Thompson | October 28th, 2019
Following a disappointing 2016 campaign, the Colts decided to cut ties with General Manager Ryan Grigson. Grigson had taken a Colts team with a bunch of young, talented players and turned the team upside down. After multiple blunders, including the trade for Trent Richardson, the Colts had finally made the decision that left many players thankful. To the point where Punter Pat McAfee tweeted “Thank God” after being notified of Grigson’s firing. On January 29, 2017, the Colts made the decision to hire Chris Ballard as the new general manager.
Before Ballard had ever thought about coaching or being an executive for an NFL team, he was a star quarterback in high school, modeling his craft after his favorite player, Terry Bradshaw. Ballard would then go on to college at Wisconsin where he would switch to playing receiver.
Following his college career, he would go on to help local high school teams as positional coaches, even breaking his collarbone during one practice as he taught a blocking drill to receivers at Texas A&M-Kingsville. Following his experiences coaching high school, Ballard was tasked with a difficult decision in 2001, join the Bears scouting staff or coach the secondary for the University of Houston. He would decide to join the Bears scouting staff as a southwest area scout and it eventually led to him being named the Bears Director of Pro Scouting in 2012. During his time with Chicago, Ballard had been involved in a multitude of acquisitions, including Matt Forte, Brandon Marshall, and Martellus Bennett.
Before the 2013 season, Ballard would go on to become the Chiefs Director of Player Personnel, before receiving a promotion in 2014 to become the Director of Football Operations. During his time in Kansas City, from 2013-2017, he would be involved in drafting Travis Kelce, Marcus Peters, and Tyreek Hill.
In Ballard’s first draft, he was looking to replace talent due to Grigson’s blunders. He got a gift in the first round of the draft Ohio State safety Malik Hooker fell right into his lap. Hooker has been a staple in the Colts secondary since but has been troubled by injuries in his short career.
On the second day of the draft, Ballard took dart shots at Florida Cornerback Quincy Wilson, and Ohio Edge Rusher, Tarell Basham. Wilson hasn’t been able to live up to his second-round draft status, while Basham is off the team.
Ballard made up for his second day by snagging two steals on the third and final day of the draft. In the fourth round, the Colts would select South Florida Running Back Marlon Mack. Mack exploded onto the scene last year, rushing for 908 yards and 9 touchdowns. He is on pace to break the 1,000-yard barrier this year. Along with Mack, the team chose Northwestern Linebacker Anthony Walker in the fifth round. Walker was part of a great linebacker tandem last year, compiling over 100 tackles while also snagging an interception.
2017 Andrew Luck Saga
In Ballard’s first year as the Colts General Manager, he had quite the predicament on his hands. In January of 2017, star quarterback, Andrew Luck had shoulder surgery. Not many knew the severity of the injury but it definitely wasn’t good. During the off-season, there were multiple points where Luck looked to be ready to return but there was no given timetable for a return.
On September 2nd, 2017, Ballard pulled the trigger and traded for Patriots second-year quarterback, Jacoby Brissett. Brissett would go on to be the quarterback for the entire year, resulting in a 4-12 record, and the third overall selection in the 2018 draft.
With the 2017 season a complete bust, it was time to look ahead to the draft. With no need for a quarterback with Luck coming back and Brissett as his backup, the Colts were receiving plenty of interest for the third overall selection in the draft. On March 14th, about a month before the draft, the Jets would send an offer Ballard couldn’t refuse. The Jets would trade up from the sixth spot while also sending two second-round choices in 2018 as well as a second-rounder in 2019.
Ballard did what some General Managers are afraid to do, not make a sexy pick. With the sixth selection in the draft, the Colts would select Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson. The offensive line was by far the greatest need on the team after surrendering the most sacks in the league in 2017. With Nelson’s help, the Colts offensive line gave up the fewest sacks in 2018. He went on to be an All-Pro as a rookie and has even been in some MVP conversation. Nelson won’t win MVP of the league, but he’s definitely turned around the offensive line.
With the 36th selection, the Colts would select Darius Leonard. Some draft “experts” thought the Colts were insane for selecting Leonard as high as they did. The result? He went on to be the defensive rookie of the year as well as being an All-Pro in his rookie season. Nelson and Leonard were the first two rookies selected as all-pros. The last time two rookies from the same team were named all-pros was in 1965 when the Bears selected Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers. Leonard and 2017 draft pick Anthony Walker have created a great tandem in the middle of the Colts defense.
Along with selecting Nelson, the team also took Auburn offensive lineman, Braden Smith. Smith would go on to take over a starting job in week five and looks like a sure-fire starter for years to come.
Other standouts from the 2018 class include Kemoko Turay, Nyheim Hines, Jordan Wilkins, and Deon Cain. Cain’s stock plummeted over the 2017 season and was selected in the sixth round because of it. Many coaches on the staff have said that Cain has the makings of becoming a superstar if he stays healthy.
After starting the season 1-5, the Colts and new head coach, Frank Reich would go off and collect nine of their next ten games and put them in the win column, finishing the year with a 10-6 record and a playoff birth. They would then go on to defeat the Houston Texans in the wild-card round before being bounced out of the playoffs by the Kansas City Chiefs in the divisional round.
The 2018 season might not have ended the way Ballard and the coaching staff wanted but from going 4-12 the year prior, then starting the season 1-5, to getting all the way to the divisional round is an accomplishment in itself.
Following the 2018 season, the Colts coaching staff and Ballard would look towards the draft to build upon their success from the 2018 class. Ballard would eventually trade out of the first round and pick Temple Cornerback, Rock Ya-Sin with the 34th selection. Ya-Sin hasn’t flashed but has been a solid cover corner, not giving up big plays, as well as being a huge help in run support as well.
With his second pick, Ballard would select Ohio State speedster, Parris Campbell. He’s been injured for the majority of the year but has shown flashes when he has played this year, catching ten passes and a touchdown.
Edge Rusher, Ben Banogu has filled a role the whole year and is playing more and more each week with Turay out due to injury. Banogu helped seal the victory over Denver this week, forcing Joe Flacco to fumble, resulting in the Colts recovering and going on to win the game.
Third-Round pick Bobby Okereke has filled in for Leonard while he was injured this year. He has shown an ability to play well in run support, as well as pass coverage. With Leonard back from injury, Indianapolis has to find some way to get Okereke some snaps.
If the rookies contribute the whole season, Ballard will have completed two great drafts that helped turn around a franchise that was in a talent drought because of Grigson.
Another Andrew Luck Saga
Coming into the 2019 campaign, most thought of the Colts as a potential Super Bowl candidate. On August 24th, NFL fans were stunned as Luck would announce his retirement from the NFL. He dealt with a plethora of injuries over his career and wasn’t helped by Grigson turning the franchise into a dumpster fire. Grigson completely disregarded the offensive line during his time as the General Manager, leading to some of Luck’s injuries.
With Luck’s retirement, many thought Ballard would pull the trigger and trade for another signal-caller to help the team make a run at the playoffs. Instead, Ballard put trust into Brissett, who he had traded for almost two years prior, giving him a new contract and the key to lead the team.
What The Future Holds
The Colts currently sit atop the AFC South with a 5-2 record. In the weaker conference, the Colts should have no problem making the playoffs. Brissett has been incredible for the team and has made the blow given by the Luck retirement pretty much non-existent. Ballard and coach Frank Reich have built the team from the ground up and have a young, talented team to make a deep run in the post-season. Ballard already has loaded up on draft picks for this year, having nine selections, including an extra second-rounder. Ballard deserves a lot more credit then he has gotten from turning the Colts into a dumpster fire under Grigson to a perennial contender, even with a stunning retirement involving his franchise quarterback.
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