Colts’ GM talking defense, but ‘cement not dry’ on draft picks Indianapolis needs defenders, but new GM won’t pass on offensive talent.

Conventional wisdom says the Indianapolis Colts will go heavy on defense in next week’s NFL Draft, and general manager Chris Ballard doesn’t deny it.

Ballard met with the media on Wednesday at the Colts practice facility and, while not naming names, acknowledged the Colts’ biggest needs are clear.

“It’s a good defensive draft, and we do want to add some players defensively,” Ballard said. “But saying that, there are some good offensive players, too. … If there’s an offensive player we feel can help us and make a difference, we’ll take him.”

In other words, don’t discount running backs Christian McCaffrey from Stanford or Dalvin Cook from Florida State just yet.

When this year’s draft commences April 27-29, Ballard won’t let the best-available player get away simply because the Colts need a pass rusher or a linebacker. The good news is there appears to be terrific depth in the draft at the positions the Colts need the most. If they don’t land a pass rusher in the first round, some good players will be around in the second.

“If there’s a player we identify and we think this guy could have a good Colts career and fits our criteria, we won’t pass that guy up,” Ballard said. “Best player, best talent. If it’s even, we’ll go with the need.”

Ballard points to the Kansas City Chiefs’ 2014 draft when he was part of the Chiefs. The team had a pair of great pass rushers in Tamba Hali and Justin Houston, but Dee Ford was available at the Chiefs’ 23rd spot in the first round and the team picked him.

“If the best player’s around, even if we’re loaded at that position, we’ll still take him,” Ballard said.

If Ballard doesn’t lean heavily on defense in the draft, it’ll be a surprise. After all, he’s already proved he’s heavily investing in remaking the unit. More playmakers are required.

Ballard’s free agent pursuit landed seven defensive players who should, or at least could, be starters.

The big prize, figuratively and literally, is Johnathan Hankins, the 6-foot-2, 320-pound former New York Giants defensive tackle. He’ll be expected to be a force as a run-stop specialist and pocket disruptor.

Hankins is 25, entering his prime, and the type of player who can anchor the defensive front along with free agent signees Al Woods at tackle and Margus Hunt at defensive end and returning players Kendall Langford and Henry Anderson.

In addition, Ballard brought in outside linebackers John Simon, Jabaal Sheard and Barkevious Mingo and inside linebacker Sean Spence. None of those outside backers are considered a No. 1 pass rusher, so that need remains unfilled after the retirement of Robert Mathis.

So where are the holes? No. 1 pass rusher, inside linebacker and cornerback.

Any of those spots could be a target for the Colts’ pick at No. 15 in the first round.

The most popular picks in the all-too-prevalent “mock drafts” on the internet are UCLA defensive end Takkarist McKinley and Alabama inside linebacker Reuben Foster.

NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock lists McKinley as his fourth-best edge rusher behind Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett, Stanford’s Solomon Thomas and Tennessee’s Derek Barnett.

Mayock lists Foster as his top linebacker, with Haason Reddick of Temple and Jarrad Davis of Florida as second and third best.

Mayock’s top cornerbacks: Ohio State’s Marshon Lattimore and Gareon Conley and Alabama’s Marlon Humphrey. Conley, in particular, has become a more popular mock pick for the slots directly above the Colts.

Ballard says the lead-up to the draft is a full team collaboration, although he has the final say come draft day.

“We’ll have them stacked and ranked before we get to draft day,” Ballard said. “When we get to draft day, the cement’s dry.”

Ballard mentioned that he’s reading a book on how Theo Epstein built the Chicago Cubs’ championship team. Spoiler alert: It took more than one year. <br>

<i> 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 </i><br>