Indianapolis Colts new general manager Chris Ballard is walking into what could be a firestorm. Ballard replaces Ryan Grigson, who led the Colts to an unprecedented start to the Andrew Luck–Chuck Pagano era with immediate success. The franchise went 11-5 en route to the best record for a rookie quarterback drafted number one overall. Although Grigson—or what some would call “Rigson”—did not draft well overall, he did give Indianapolis a very productive first draft class back in 2012. Ballard’s first step towards helping Colts fans forget about the deterioration of their favorite franchise is making sure he bests Grigson’s 2012 draft and free agency productivity.
Rough Road Ahead for Indianapolis Colts General Manager Chris Ballard
In 2012, the Colts had 10 picks. The key players Indy drafted were Luck, Coby Fleener, Dwayne Allen and T.Y. Hilton. Hilton gave the Colts immediate productivity. He caught 50 passes for 861 yards and had seven touchdowns. Despite both the receptions and yards being career lows, Hilton posted a personal-best seven touchdowns, which he’s matched only once (2014). He also posted a career high 17.2 yards per catch.
Allen caught his career high 45 catches during his rookie campaign. Fleener did well for the Colts from his sophomore year onward, averaging around 50 catches and over 600 yards. Vick Ballard also gave the Colts promise his rookie year, rushing for 814 yards, but injuries soon hindered his playing time. Although Grigson hit the mark four times, he failed the remaining six and then subsequently eight out of 10.
Luck and Hilton are the only players still on the Colts roster from the 2012 draft class. Ballard traded Allen to the Patriots since the former Clemson Tiger began to lose his role as the featured tight end to Jack Doyle. Doyle caught fire during the last nine games of the 2016 season. The Western Kentucky alum caught 59 out of 82 passes during that span. For Ballard to get his career in Indianapolis off to a better start, he must convert on the Colts seven draft picks this year.
With free agency, Grigson didn’t sign any big names until 2015. Frank Gore and Andre Johnson put on the horseshoe, but their outputs were not up to their usual standards. Gore has put up career lows in yards per carry in his two seasons with Indy, and Johnson had his second-worst season when playing at least nine games. Ballard’s free agent acquisitions are not big names, but he is essentially rebuilding a team. What he cannot afford to do is pass up on marquee players that are critical to the team’s improvement, like Grigson did when the Colts did not pursue Alex Mack or Evan Mathis.
It will be an interesting first year for Ballard. The former Kansas City Chiefs president did not get rid of Pagano. Perhaps he is giving the former Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator a trial run, but Ballard cannot expect Pagano to give him filet mignon if they only have round steak in stock. The Chiefs have a unit where Alex Smith threw for just 3,500 yards, and that got them the second seed in the AFC. With the Stanford product under center, Ballard should be able to accomplish much more.