Light on 2021 draft picks, Colts GM Chris Ballard has knack for acquiring more

Colts general manager Chris Ballard may be active in attempting to increase the number of picks he has in this week's draft. Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

INDIANAPOLIS -- Stockpiling draft picks is something Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard has never shied away from.

He has, in fact, strived to make that happen.

“I like them picks,” Ballard once said. “... I've always been under the premise in how I was taught in this league [that] the more picks you have -- the more darts you have at the dartboard -- the better chance you have to hit on players.”

But there’s something different this year when it comes to Ballard and his draft picks.

He doesn’t have many.

As of now, the Colts have only six picks ahead of the NFL draft (Thursday-Saturday, ESPN/ESPN App), which is the fewest they’ve had since Ballard was hired in the winter of 2017.

That’s a decent drop-off from even the eight picks the Colts had in 2017. They've ended with double-digit picks in half of the four drafts under Ballard.

But there’s still plenty of time for Ballard to add more picks, which, to no one's surprise, will be something he’ll likely try to do.

Having as many picks as possible has been Ballard’s approach to building the roster through the draft, so that the Colts can build a foundation and focus on re-signing their own talent when it comes time.

Trading back to acquire more picks is nothing new for Ballard. He’s acquired 20 draft picks while giving up nine while trading back in his first four years as general manager.

“This is not an exact science, you need a little luck,” Ballard said recently. “Let’s be real here, I think we’re pretty good at what we do, but there needs to be a little luck involved. The more picks you have, the more chances at luck are going to show up. That’s a philosophy that we have in the draft.”

Ballard’s most substantial trade back was in 2018 when the Colts moved back from No. 3 to No. 6 while also acquiring picks No. 37 (second round), No. 49 (second round) in 2018 and No. 34 (second round) in 2019 from the New York Jets.

The highlight of making that trade was the Colts selecting Quenton Nelson at No. 6. Nelson quickly became the premier guard in the NFL.

"I turned the pick in quick," Ballard said shortly after the 2018 draft. "The league had told us to wait until after five minutes. And after I did it, I was like, 'Oh, s---,' I turned it in too quick."

The reality is, though, that trade was a hit all the way around for the Colts.

They used the No. 37 pick in that draft to select Braden Smith, who has transitioned from being a guard at Auburn to being part of one of the best offensive lines in the league while playing right tackle. The Colts used the No. 34 pick in the 2019 draft on cornerback Rock Ya-Sin, who has started 21 of the 28 games he’s played in during his career. The Jets recently traded quarterback Sam Darnold, whom they selected with the No. 3 pick in that draft, to Carolina.

Trading back isn’t the only thing Ballard does. He moved up three spots in the 2020 draft to select Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor. All Taylor did was rush for 1,169 yards as a rookie.

”If we’re sitting there and there’s a player sitting there that we really think is a difference-maker and he’s really going to make a difference on our team, we’ll take him or we’ll trade up to get him,” Ballard said. “We thought Jonathan Taylor was a difference-maker. But there are times that we just felt whether it was the fit of the player, medical issues of why we traded back, but we just thought at the time, whoever was sitting there we could move back and acquire two or three players versus the one player at the time.”