Key to Indianapolis Colts’ NFL Draft Process is Healthy Debate

Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard openly encourages scouts to offer opposing opinions on players being considered for selection in the NFL draft. What makes the Colts different from other NFL teams? Scout Matt Terpening says it's the fact that Ballard always listens, regardless of that final decision.
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INDIANAPOLIS — Like every other team, the Indianapolis Colts work year-round to create an extensive NFL draft board with assessments on how each prospect should be valued by the organization based on talent and roster need.

What makes the process work, according to general manager Chris Ballard and scouts, is the demand for differing opinions. It’s not enough to just like a player. Ballard wants to hear all sides of an argument before a decision is made.

In the first hour of Sunday morning after the three-day NFL draft had concluded, Ballard commended his staff on a job well done. The Colts have been receiving top grades for their nine-player class, despite not having a first-round choice that was traded last month to San Francisco to acquire All-Pro defensive tackle DeForest Buckner.

“One of the things I love about these guys is they are going to tell me what they think,” Ballard said in a Zoom video conference call. “They don’t hold back and you have to have that to get to the right answer.”

Matt Terpening, Colts assistant director of college scouting, likes how Ballard doesn’t just want collaboration, he expects differing views.

“We have a lot of debate in our room,” Terpening said. “It’s really open. It works.”

That’s a credit to the fourth-year GM as well as third-year head coach Frank Reich for setting that tone.

“Chris has a pretty unique style for how you do things,” Terpening said. “He’s very open, so when we have an open debate, he’ll ask, ‘What does anyone think?’ If you’re in the room and you have a voice, he’ll listen to it.

“In a debate like a player, it’s not so much against the player, but maybe it’s for a different player. Frank is the same way, too. He’ll listen. Coach asks questions to the staff, to the guys who went to the school, ‘Hey, what do you guys think? What do you think between these two players?’ It’s hard. It’s hard to pick players and figure out why do we pick the guys that we pick. It’s tough.”

Ballard conceded the Colts’ conversation before selecting Washington quarterback Jacob Eason in the fourth round was “lively,” as it should be. Terpening was lobbying “100 percent” to select Eason in the fourth round with the 122nd overall pick.

It’s telling that the Colts had that debate on Eason, a strong-armed passer whose selection included NFL draft analyst criticism regarding questions about the quarterback’s character.

But it also shows that Ballard will listen to his scouts. In justifying the pick, he didn’t so much as defend the player as he did the Colts’ system for how they arrived at the decision and his belief in the draft board’s value of the player being the best available prospect at that spot.

The perception of most NFL teams is that one or two people consider scouting information, but form their own opinions and forge ahead. Terpening suggests the weight given scouting input is different with the Colts.

“The one thing about Chris is that he always listens,” Terpening said. “He’s a great listener. He wants all the input from everyone that he can.”

Ballard is effusive in his praise of the scouting staff, which more often than people realize includes talking him out of some decisions.

“Are we perfect? Absolutely not, we’re not perfect,” he said. “Heck, the scouts have to talk me out of all kinds of freaking guys. I am my own worst enemy. Y’all have no idea.”

Terpening grinned when told of Ballard’s comment.

“I’ve heard him say that,” Terpening said. “I think we all do with players, we all fall in love with certain players for different reasons for what they can do on the field. It’s not so much that you’re not liking what you saw on tape, what you saw in the player, there may be someone else you have to think about, not necessarily against what you saw.”