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Build-A-Ballard: Who Colts May Target at Cornerback in 2024 NFL Draft

Which cornerbacks in the 2024 draft fit the Indianapolis Colts' preferred mold?
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The Build-A-Ballard series is back just in time for the 2024 NFL Draft. With the draft a little over a month a way, it's time to look at which players best fit the Indianapolis Colts and the Chris Ballard mold.

For those who are unaware of this series, Build-A-Ballard uses past information about Chris Ballard-led draft classes in order to predict players that he will be high on in the upcoming class. Ballard is a strong believer in testing numbers, so this series has been able to produce quite a few hits since it debuted in 2019.

Last year was a fascinating year for the Build-A-Ballard brand, as the Colts selected the top two cornerbacks (JuJu Brents and Darius Rush) in the 2023 class from the series but then took a receiver (Josh Downs) that went completely against the grain. This series is an adaptable one that changes with new information, so it is time to update the parameters for each position.

With Ballard entering his eighth draft with the Colts, it was time for an update on the data input with this series as well. We now have enough information on Ballard's draft tendencies with the Colts that we can exclude the use of his time with the Kansas City Chiefs in the data pool. The updated version of this series will now look just at the Colts selections since 2017 under Ballard.

The next position in the series is cornerback. Will Ballard select yet another cornerback prospect in this upcoming draft?

Past Drafted Players

The Colts have selected eight cornerbacks in seven drafts led by Ballard. Unlike the wide receiver position, Ballard has typically drafted cornerbacks in bunches. He selected two in 2017, two in 2019, and three this past season in 2023. It seems that when Ballard decides he needs a cornerback, he goes all-in to acquire as many as possible.

Three of Ballard's eight cornerback selections have been top 100 picks, with all three selections coming in the second round of their respective draft classes. The results of those picks have varied quite a bit, but the Colts certainly have spent some premium capital at the position in Ballard's tenure.

The eight players that Ballard has selected at cornerback are:

Quincy Wilson, Florida (2017) -- 2nd Round Pick

Ballard's first-ever selection at the position may have been his worst overall pick with the Colts. Wilson is a highly touted prospect out of Florida who was getting legit first-round buzz in the 2017 draft. He struggled to carve out a role with the Colts and was ultimately traded to the New York Jets in 2020. He now plays for the San Antonio Brahmas of the UFL.

Nate Hairston, Temple (2017) -- 5th Round Pick

Ballard also selected Nate Hairston in that same draft. Hairston was a talented nickel corner prospect who started his college career as a wide receiver. The Colts took a late flier on him, hoping to turn him into their starter in the slot. He gave the Colts a couple of solid seasons but was also traded to the Jets in 2020. He bounced around the league for a few years and last played for the Arizona Cardinals in the 2023 preseason.

Rock Ya-Sin, Temple (2019) -- 2nd Round Pick

Ballard went to the Temple University well yet again in the 2019 draft, this time for talented prospect Rock Ya-Sin. Ya-Sin got off to a rocky start with the Colts as a rookie, but did turn it around by his third year with the team. He solidified himself as a dependable starting cornerback by year four. Still, the Colts ultimately decided to trade him for pass rusher Yannick Ngakoue in the last year of his rookie contract.

Ya-Sin has bounced around a few teams since that trade and is currently a free agent on the open market.

Marvell Tell, USC (2019) -- 5th Round Pick

The Colts also took a shot on day three of that same draft class with the athletic safety convert Marvell Tell. Tell flashed quite a bit in his rookie season, and it looked like the Colts finally hit on a high-upside day-three pick at corner. Unfortunately, Tell opted out of the 2020 season and just wasn't the same upon returning. He was waived in the 2021 offseason and has been with the Cincinnati Bengals' practice squad ever since.

Isaiah Rodgers, UMass (2020) -- 6th Round Pick

The Colts tried their hand at another high-upside day three pick, this time with the insanely athletic Isaiah Rodgers. Rodgers appeared to be one of the best draft picks of Ballard's career, as the athletic outside cornerback excelled on both special teams and defense in his tenure with the Colts. Rodgers was in line for a starting job heading into the 2023 season, but he was hit with a year-long suspension due to gambling prior to the season.

The Colts ultimately waived Rodgers due to this, and he is now a member of the Philadelphia Eagles.

JuJu Brents, Kansas State (2023) -- 2nd Round Pick

Ballard went cornerback-heavy in the 2023 NFL Draft, starting with a local prospect in Brents. Brents was a productive college player who dominated the Reese's Senior Bowl and the NFL Combine with standout performances. Brents carried that hype into his rookie season and excelled in his few opportunities on the field.

A hamstring injury limited Brents to just eight starts as a rookie, but the future outlook appears promising if he can stay healthy.

Darius Rush, South Carolina (2023) -- 5th Round Pick

Ballard loves his athletic shots on day three, and Rush was his latest experiment. Rush, a former wide receiver, possessed great size and athleticism for the position and appeared to have sky high upside. Injuries and other camp standouts pushed Rush down the depth chart, and he was ultimately waived by the Colts before making it to the regular season. He's currently a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Jaylon Jones, Texas A&M (2023) -- 7th Round Pick

Ballard's last cornerback selection was Jaylon Jones, a trend-breaker who possessed a lot of experience despite being a younger prospect. Ballard listened to his scouts on this pick, which immediately paid dividends for the Colts. With injuries piling up in the secondary, Jones was able to see significant playing time as a rookie.

He finished his first year with 10 starts, logging five pass breakups for the Colts.

Common Traits and Updates

Ballard places an immense amount of value on traits and testing numbers. These numbers aren't the be-all and end-all, but they are a massive part of the equation and can be used to separate players who are ranked in a similar tier. These numbers are also used the other way and can be a disqualifier for players that don't hit base metrics.

Even with outliers such as Rodgers (size) and Wilson (athleticism), the combined average size and athleticism scores of past Ballard draft picks paint a picture of what he looks for at the corner position:

Average Ballard CB

Ballard has traditionally emphasized drafting players who are explosive with great size/length. Those are the two most important features in a Ballard cornerback. If they fall short in one of those two categories (such as size), then they have to make up for it in other categories, such as elite quickness or special teams ability.

These are the athletic traits we are looking at for a Ballard cornerback at the NFL Combine/at Pro Days:

  • Elite explosiveness with high scores in the vertical jump
  • Elite size. 6'0"+ in height, nearly 200 pounds and 32 inch arms
  • Average to above speed. Like with receiver, Ballard cares more about speed score relative to size than just raw 40 time.
  • Above average to elite quickness/fluidity

This year's Build-A-Ballard will also incorporate other factors than just testing scores to paint an even clearer picture on prospects. For instance, three of Ballard's five day-three cornerback selections played a different position at some point in college. Hairston and Rush entered college as receivers and Tell was a safety. Ballard also puts a premium on special teams ability at cornerback, citing it as a deciding factor for multiple players he has selected.

These may seem like nitpick types of additions to the series, but it seems like something that Ballard certainly values. On top of that, Ballard also still places an emphasis on things such as the Senior Bowl, how many tests the player does in the pre-draft process (Rush is the only player he's selected to not perform every pre-draft measurement test), and locker room impacts such as team captaincy and such.

2024 Draft Prospects that Fit

1.) Elijah Jones, Boston College


6’1” 185 pounds


40 Time: 4.44 seconds / 10-Yard Split: 1.55 seconds / Vertical Jump: 42.5 inches / Broad Jump: 131 inches

Career Stats:

65 career games played. 156 tackles, 7 interceptions, 36 pass deflections, and two forced fumbles.

Why He Fits:

This is a weird year for cornerbacks, with many of the prospects being on the smaller side and being more suited for the slot. With that, there is not a perfect fit at cornerback like there has been in years passed. Elijah Jones is an intriguing player, though. He is a tad bit smaller side for a Ballard prospect, but he makes up for that with elite testing numbers and intangibles. He was at the Senior Bowl this offseason, and his 457 career special teams snaps are another major plus.

Another positive check in Jones' direction is the fact that Boston College was a single-high defense that ran a lot of similar concepts to Gus Bradley. So in Jones, the Colts would be getting an experienced, NFL-ready player who knows the system from day one. Those intangibles are what make him CB1 in Build a Ballard this year.

2.) Quinyon Mitchell, Toledo


6’0” 195 pounds


40 Time: 4.33 seconds / 10-Yard Split: 1.54 seconds / Vertical Jump: 38 inches / Broad Jump: 120 inches

Career Stats:

43 career games played. 123 tackles, 6 interceptions, 45 pass deflections, and one forced fumble.

Why He Fits:

When looking at the top cornerbacks in this upcoming draft class, the name Quinyon Mitchell stands out as the most Ballard type of player. Mitchell is a bit on the smaller side, but his play style is exactly what the Colts look for in their cornerbacks. He is a physical tone-setter who crashes downhill with elite athleticism and explosion. Those factors obviously weigh heavily in this equation, but the biggest reason why he ranks high is the Senior Bowl.

Ballard has selected two of the best-performing corners at the Senior Bowl in recent memory in Brents and Ya-Sin. Mitchell's performance at this past year's event propelled him into the same realm as those two former standouts, and I'm sure that caught Ballard's eye. The competitiveness to show up at the event and dominate despite being a near-lock to go in the first round is what solidifies Mitchell's place on this list.

3.) Khyree Jackson, Oregon


6’3” 194 pounds


40 Time: 4.5 seconds / 10-Yard Split: 1.57 seconds / Vertical Jump: 36.5 inches / Broad Jump: 133 inches

Career Stats:

25 career games played. 48 tackles, 3 interceptions, and 9 pass deflections.

Why He Fits:

Khyree Jackson is the most Ballard-looking cornerback prospect in this draft class. At 6'3" with over 32-inch arms, Jackson fits the profile that Ballard typically gravitates towards at the position. Jackson also was a Senior Bowl standout that showcased his playmaking ability at the event, and his experience on special teams at Alabama is a major plus.

The only small knock that led to Jackson falling to number 3 is the fact that he transferred to Oregon from Alabama. Ballard typically doesn't love when prospects transfer down in competition, and Oregon is a slight downgrade when it comes to Alabama. I could see that one minor detail hurting Jackson in his fit with the Colts.

Honorable Mentions

  • Ryan Watts, Texas: Massive prospect with good athleticism and elite length. Looks very much like a Darius Rush type of project for day three.
  • Max Melton, Rutgers: Athletic and lengthy slot corner who excelled at the Senior Bowl. Brother to NFL player Bo Melton.
  • Andru Phillips, Kentucky: Raw, athletic cornerback who brings a ton of physicality. Another day three developmental type.
  • Cam Hart, Notre Dame: Massive corner who excelled at the Senior Bowl. Like Jackson, Hart looks like a Ballard corner off the bus.
  • Cooper DeJean, Iowa: DeJean hasn't tested yet this offseason, but a legit playmaker with elite special teams ability.
  • Terrion Arnold, Alabama: Former safety with elite movement skills and physicality. A tad on the small side for a Ballard cornerback.

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