Colts GM Chris Ballard explains why his draft board shrunk this year, and will continue to shrink

Ever since taking over as general manager of the Indianapolis Colts, Chris Ballard has garnered praise for his roster-building. In particular, Ballard has been praised for his drafting ability — first after getting starters Malik Hooker and Marlon Mack in 2017, but especially after selecting All-Pros Quenton Nelson and Darius Leonard in the 2018 draft. 

In 2019, Ballard traded down and out of the first round in exchange for two second-round selections, giving him three in the second round overall, and he used those picks to land highly-rated players in Rock Ya-Sin, Ben Banogu, and Parris Campbell. Ballard later used an extra fourth-round pick acquired via the compensatory selection system to move up and acquire safety Khari Willis, and still ended up making nine picks in the draft. 

To hear Ballard tell it, the Colts are getting better at drafting because they are getting better at identifying the types of players they want. That process includes narrowing the number of players they have on their draft board each year — and in 2019 they had 50 fewer players on the board than they did a year ago. Ballard expects the number to drop even more in the coming years as he and his staff zero in on exactly what they are looking for. 

“I’d say this year we had 170 players on the board which is way down from where it was before,” Ballard said, per Sports Illustrated. “I think last year we were at 220, I can’t even remember the number from my first year. But yeah, it makes it easier to navigate when you have fewer names that you know fit what you want. I think when we really get it right, and we get it down to about 125, 150, that’s when we’ll have really honed down exactly what a Colt is for our schemes. And not only from a player perspective, how he’s going to fit on the team, but also from a character perspective.”

This is, to be clear, a pretty common thing for most front offices. They generally cast a wide net looking for talent early, and then, as they hone in on the things that they need and the types of players, the pool of players who fit those criteria naturally narrows. The Colts just seem to be doing a better job (for now) of identifying those particular players. They have to continue doing so in the future, and that’s what the board-building process is all about.

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