Evaluating Chris Ballard’s First Two Seasons As Colts General Manager
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This year, you are going to be searching for quite a while to find such mistakes.
Chris Ballard’s rebuilding plan turned into on-field results in 2018, as the Colts improved their win total by 6 games and won a road playoff game.
For the Colts to now take another step forward, a few things still need to be taken care of though.
Let’s take a look at the successful job Ballard has done in his two years as the GM of the Colts:
-Fixing The Offensive Line: It was a mistake that Ballard wanted to correct after the failed 2017 offseason. He did just that in 2018. From a Mark Glowinski waiver claim late in that ’17 campaign, to the drafting of Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith 5 months later, the Colts added three starters and solidified a new-look offensive line. The unit went from the worst pass protecting group in the NFL to the best in 2018. And the run game was actually a somewhat reliable part of the offense. Now that line is together for 2019, with 4 starters 26 years old or younger, you can really build something with this bunch.
-Hitting A Grand Slam On The 2018 Draft: Yes, it was a grand slam by Ballard in the 2018 Draft. From the All-Pros in Quenton Nelson and Darius Leonard, to the key contributors in Braden Smith and Nyheim Hines, the Colts had another 3-4 rookies provide quality minutes in their first seasons. The Colts had to hit big time on that 2018 Draft and they did, after Ballard wisely moved back to No. 6 and acquired the needed draft capital to take care of several needs.
-‘Lucking Out’ On Frank Reich: Ballard openly admits that he got lucky in finding Frank Reich as his head coach. Reich wasn’t initially one of the top 6-ish candidates that Ballard was looking to pursue. But with the franchise in an unbelievably awkward state following the Josh McDaniels’ fiasco, Remember, not only did Ballard scramble a bit to find Reich, but the GM actually did the hiring of defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus, who got a young defense to play some pretty solid football, especially against the run.
-Finding Young Defensive Pieces: One of Ballard’s biggest keys when he first took this job was to re-build the entire defense. In the first three rounds of the 2017-18 Drafts with the Colts, Ballard spent 6 draft picks on defensive players. That doesn’t include cornerback Kenny Moore (a 2017 undrafted free agent, turned waiver claim), who is a definite building block moving forward. Guys like Moore, Darius Leonard, Anthony Walker, Malik Hooker are unquestioned starters for this team. And you have seen promise or flashes from Tyquan Lewis, Quincy Wilson, Kemoko Turay and Matthew Adams as well. That’s a pretty good place to start this defensive rebuild with guys all under the age of 25.
-Still Searching For The Edge Rusher: This is the one major area to address that remains for Ballard after two years on the job. The Colts are still searching for that dominant pass rusher, especially off the edge. Maybe Turay, who had 4.0 sacks as a rookie, can turn into that, but it would be premature to say that with conviction. The pass rush for the Colts was too inconsistent in 2018 and it remains atop the priority list heading into the 2018 offseason.
To Be Determined:
-Need More Playmakers: No one could have expected Ballard to solve all of the Colts’ issues in just two offseasons. He is going to need at least one more offseason to truly cross everything off the list. Finding established playmakers moving forward has to be on that list. Marlon Mack at running back looks to be a nice find and there are some intriguing pieces at tight ends. But the wide receiver group doesn’t have that young stud to build around. That has to be a focus.
-Continue To Hit On Draft Picks: Obviously, no one can realistically expect Ballard to hit on this coming draft class like he did last year. Having said that, the Colts still need to find some quality/impactful talent in 2019. Just because you are drafting later in virtually every round doesn’t mean you get a complete pass, especially when you’ve put a huge focus on hitting on the draft. This will test the Colts scouting department a bit, although they did find some pretty good success after Round One last year. Ballard needs to take advantage of that final piece of the Jets trade, which is the No. 34 overall pick in 2019.