The Indianapolis Colts have clinched the last wild card spot in the AFC playoffs with their victory last night over the division rival Tennessee Titans. First year head coach Frank Reich has done an unbelievable job establishing a winning culture. Reich, is the only first-year head coach of the six to make the playoffs, despite starting the season off with a 1-5 record.
At 1-5 against all odds, Indianapolis managed to win nine of their last 10 games to finish the regular season at 10-6. To come back from a 1-5 record and make the playoffs is unbelievable, but what is so impressive is how quick the culture was changed from the Chuck Pagano 4-12 squad just a year ago.
Although, their starting quarterback Andrew Luck missed the entire season due to recovering his shoulder injury, it did not help that their roster had an extreme lackluster in talent.
The moves General Manager Chris Ballard made in his first two years, but especially more this year should be the blueprint for how every team should rebuild through the draft, and enough to be considered Executive of the Year.
First, the most important first step was that he understood the draft board. He realized there were a rare handful of elite QB prospects, with enough teams that were desperate to acquire one of them.
While there was still a lot of uncertainty regarding the health longevity of Andrew Luck, their trust remained with Luck. They ultimately decided they could get attain a lot more value by trading down to acquire more draft capital.
The Colts then selected former Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson, in which they undoubtedly believe was the best overall remaining player on the board.
The selection of Nelson is a type of player you build your franchise around, somebody that will 100% guarantee can provide protection for the rest of Andrew Luck’s career. Nelson was selected as Pro Bowl starter, and has been the anchor that has transformed this o-line.
The second round picks they’ve attained from New York were first used on another guard Braeden Smith out of the University of Auburn. Smith was able to move to the outside, which now ended up being a fantastic move because he’s turning into a very solid starting right tackle.
The home run of the entire draft was linebacker Darius Leonard who is arguably the Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Leonard, instantly became one of the main factors of turning around one of the worst defenses in the league. Leonard finished with the most tackles in the NFL and their franchise history in a single season with 161 tackles.
The defense was also built up with the other two second round selections edge rushers Tyquan Lewis and Kemoko Turray, along with two contributing seventh round linebackers Matthew Adams and Zaire Franklin.
Ballard looked to improve their running game by selecting a dynamic pass-catching threat Nyheim Hines in the fourth round, along with another quality young ball carrier Jordan Wilkins in the fifth. Hines and Wilkins played nice alongside last year’s fourth round pick Marlon Mack, who had a strong finish to the season with 908 rushing yards for 9 touchdowns.
Along with Mack, Ballard began addressing the holes on defense in his first draft in 2017, which included early round in the secondary with safety Malik Hooker and cornerback Quincy Wilson, along with the highly productive inside linebacker Anthony Walker, and contributing defensive tackle Grover Stewart.
Now with a winning culture put into place, the Colts have started to put together a young core that will compete for many years to come, appearing they are only just getting started. They’ll have the opportunity to convince some big name free agents such as Le’Veon Bell especially salary cap availability for the offseason.
While Ballard may not have been able to sign a big time free agent yet, we at least have an indication that he has the ability to determine value in the market with the signing of Eric Ebron.
Adding the former first round pick Eric Ebron to pair with other tight end Jack Doyle seemed to be a nice move, but nobody expected to be the huge success it was earning himself a Pro Bowl selection. Ebron, at just 25 years old finished the season with an incredible 13 touchdowns.
The way Chris Ballard has rebuilt this roster needs to be recognized. He should be the favorite for the Executive of the Year award, and while some others such as Bears GM Ryan Pace can compete for the award, I think Ballard deserves it.