Here’s where the NFL Combine this week comes in real handy. This meat market of measurements, drills and interviews at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis is not the end-all and be-all of the draft process. But it’s a big help in rounding out the scouting report, and assessing any red flags before draft day.
If the Colts were in position to land Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett, this would be the easiest draft since Andrew Luck. But he’s going in the first three picks, if not first to the Cleveland Browns. So that’s not an option.
The good news is, this has been labeled one of the deepest draft pools of pass rushers in recent years by experts, including the NFL Network’s Mike Mayock. So the options are aplenty.
Even if Ballard decides to use the 14th or 15th pick (it’ll be decided by a coin flip with the Vikings on Friday) on a running back, he should still have plenty of options left for a pass rusher with his second pick. Unless that running back is the 2017 version of Ezekiel Elliott, I’m not sure I could be persuaded to wait on a pass rusher. But we’ll see what Ballard thinks.
At any rate, the subset of pass rushers the Colts should definitely investigate further at the Combine includes:
T.J. Watt, Wisconsin
The 6-foot-5, 243-pound brother of Houston Texans game-changer J.J. Watt is turning pro after his junior year. He dealt with knee injuries in the early part of his career, but DNA is DNA. If he’s half the terror that his brother is, he’s worth getting to know. NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock compares him to Green Bay Packers’ pass rusher Clay Matthews. That would be good.
Derek Barnett, Tennessee
He posted 32 career sacks, so that speaks loudly from Southeastern Conference play. He’s the only player in SEC history to record at least 10 sacks in three consecutive seasons. He’s 6-foot-2, 268 pounds and could play defensive end or outside linebacker.
Taco Charlton, Michigan
His name sounds like a “limited time” fast-food item, but he had 9.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss on one of the best defenses in college football. He’s 6-foot-6, 272 pounds and comes with All-Pro potential, according to NFL.com. He didn’t become a full-time starter until his senior year, so he should have more room to improve.
Charles Harris, Missouri
A former basketball player, Harris didn’t begin to play football until his junior year in high school. He had nine sacks on a fairly lousy team last season, so his statistics can be difficult to judge. His size is not spectacular by NFL standards (6-2, 255), but he is nimble on his feet from his hoops days.
Carl Lawson, Alabama
This 6-2, 253-pound All-SEC first team player recorded nine sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss last season. He has had past knee injuries, including a left ACL tear. His medical history will be examined closely.
Takkarist McKinley, UCLA
Eighteen tackles for loss, 10 sacks and six pass breakups reflect his active play and production. Originally considered a second-round pick, he has been moving up the perception charts lately. However, he revealed this week he needs shoulder surgery that could put him on the shelf for six months. That’s a drawback.
Solomon Thomas, Stanford
The Colts loved the Stanford pipeline when Ryan Grigson was in general manager, but that could change with Ballard at the helm. Thomas had eight sacks last season and seems suited for outside linebacker in the pros.
Dawuane Smoot, Illinois
He recorded only five sacks his senior year, a drop-off of three from his junior year. He hasn’t shown enough against man-to-man competition, according to the assessment of NFL.com.
DeMarcus Walker, Florida State
Most analysts believe Walker would be a second-round pick, but he had 16 sacks (second in the country) as a senior. He has tremendous size (6-4, 280 pounds) and played on 90 percent of all Florida State defensive snaps last season
Tim Williams, Alabama
Williams had nine sacks last season playing for one of the nation’s top teams. He also has a history that includes a misdemeanor drug charge and failed drug tests.
Ballard will examine closely any potential player with red flags. He’ll be thorough in comparing and contrasting the options. He knows well the bottom line fact: You only have one first draft in building a team.
This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at email@example.com.