Colts GM gives peek behind the curtain of team’s draft process

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Peter King is on vacation until July 15, and he lined up some guest writers to fill his Monday spot on Football Morning in America. Today, it’s Chris Ballard, general manager of the Indianapolis Colts.

INDIANAPOLIS — I get asked all the time what it’s like to be the general manager of the Colts throughout the draft process, and what it’s like inside the room on draft night. The journey is a grind. It can be exhausting at times. But the hard work and dedication only confirms our confidence in the players we select during the draft.

No two teams in the NFL draft alike. No two teams scout the same way, or use exact traits and characteristics when they look for players. Working for three organizations—Chicago, Kansas City and Indianapolis—and working as an area scout, a pro scouting director, a player personnel director and a director of football operations before taking the GM job here, I’ve seen how all 32 teams evaluate and draft. In two decades in the scouting business, I’ve seen how mentors like former Bears GM Jerry Angelo did it, how my Chiefs bosses Andy Reid and John Dorsey do it, and how other friends and competitors at other teams do it.

You might be surprised in our process that there’s a former Green Beret involved; his unique interviewing techniques help us strip away the agent-speak and happy talk that surround so many players in the draft process. You might be surprised that we’ve borrowed something from the brain trust at Pixar called “The Room of Candor,” so honesty is the only policy in the draft discussions.

I never want to look back at any decision we’ve made and think we didn’t have the real, unvarnished facts on the table when we’ve made these important choices.

Scouting in the NFL

The real currency of the draft—and any player acquisition—is scouting, medical, character and analytical information. We meet with potential prospects, sometimes on multiple occasions, and conduct extensive research. We do this to make sure we are making smart picks that will be good fits for the Colts. Most importantly, we have to be more accurate than 31 other teams drafting that day.

When Frank Reich and I sat down for his coaching interview in February 2018, we spent a lot of time talking about what type of players we wanted in the locker room. We were in lock step in our philosophies on the makeup of the team. We define football character as a player’s work ethic, passion for the game, football intelligence, competitive nature, and teamness. If any of these areas are weak, the chances of the player busting and not fitting in our locker room becomes greater. An NFL season is long and hard. The character of each individual player and the entire team shows up, either good or bad, during the hard times. It is difficult to get through a rough stretch if your players don’t have mental toughness.

We go the extra mile to delve into players and see how they’ll fit. You are telling the locker room every time you draft a player, “this is what we stand for.” If you bring in someone with a poor work ethic, or someone who is selfish, or someone who is unwilling to put in the work, you’re telling the locker room that that’s OK. Jerry Angelo used to say all the time that the talent of a player will tell you his ceiling, but his football character determines his floor. It’s critical to get that right, so we know the floor.

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