How Did The Colts Find Tarleton State Linebacker EJ Speed?
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INDIANAPOLIS – When March started, the Colts didn’t know EJ Speed.
Some seven weeks later he was a 2019 draft pick of Chris Ballard.
It’s a remarkable story that you don’t typically see in the NFL Draft, especially in today’s age where hidden gem prospects are much, much easier to find.
But the Colts’ first interaction with Speed came when their in-house pro scouting staff was sifting through some March 7 Pro Day numbers.
What the scouting department found was a 6-3, 227-pound linebacker from tiny Tarleton State University who could really run. Speed ran 4.6 in the 40-yard dash, 6.9 seconds in the three-cone drill and 4.39 seconds in the short shuttle. The three-cone drill would have been top-5 among all linebackers at February's Combine.
Once the Colts saw the testing numbers that checked their important box in that area, it was time to do some homework on Speed.
“He had an unbelievable workout,” Chris Ballard said of what first got the Colts’ attention. “We started studying him more and we just see a guy that’s got really big upside as an inside backer.”
Before the Colts put Speed on their draft board though, some intense background was needed.
In 2018, Speed was arrested and charged with two counts of criminal activity in 2018, involving credit card fraud, but those charges were recently dropped.
With Ballard having an extensive history in the state of Texas, the Colts were able to do the necessary homework on Speed, in a short period of time, while also bringing the linebacker to Indianapolis for a top-30 visit during the pre-draft process.
“We do our work,” Ballard said after drafting Speed in Round 5 of the 2019 Draft. “I can’t emphasize it enough, kids make mistakes. They make mistakes. That doesn’t mean that they’re bad kids. It doesn’t mean that they’re bad people. Kids make mistakes. He made a mistake.”
The Colts are adamant that they don’t believe Speed is bringing a character issue to their tight knit locker room.
“The legal issue was just something that me and a lot of guys learned from and just distancing myself from guys that aren’t going in the same direction as me,” Speed says of what he learned from the arrest.
Speed’s transition to the Colts will be a much bigger rise in competition than even a guy like Darius Leonard faced from South Carolina State.
At Tarleton State, Speed finished his 35-game career with 231 total tackles, 36 for loss, 11.5 sacks and 10 passes defensed. He also had 8 forced fumbles and 3 interceptions. Despite being worthy of a draft pick, Speed never even earned first-team all-conference honors in the Lone Star Conference.
But the Colts are enamored with the athletic traits.
Speed’s NFL career will start playing behind Darius Leonard at the WILL linebacker spot and the rookie will be asked to make an impact on special teams very early on.
“Speed is my biggest factor and elusiveness and playmaking ability,” the linebacker says in describing his game.
“I love to make spectacular plays. It’s like a fetish for me to make spectacular plays that I feel like no one else can make. So that’s basically my game – just always searching for a big play that can change the game.”