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In the introduction for this series I laid the foundation for a choose your own adventure style of article that examines the consequences, both positive and negative, of Chris Ballard’s decisions thus far as General Manager of the Indianapolis Colts. It goes without saying that being the head executive of a professional sports roster is one of the most difficult jobs you could conceive. In many ways, the position is comparable to being a general on the battlefield. A good GM must be able to manage in a both a macro and micro sense so that a competitive team is fielded annually, while also keeping one eye on the future to prolong organizational success.

Very often, GMs who hold their posts for an extended period of time are self-confident in their own decision making abilities, while also having the astute ability to defer to others when necessary. He is therefore not an ultracrepidarian, and knows the best people to put around him to get the greatest output. All in all, this balancing act is not for the faint of heart, and the rate of failure among these top executives across major sports proves this.

Chris Ballard in his five and a half years as the supreme commander of the Indianapolis Colts’ roster has done an objectively good job given the circumstances he inherited. Is there room for improvement? Always. So lets dive into that room with the hypotheticals, or at least one writers’ interpretations of what would happen if Mr. Ballard had chosen an alternative method of teambuilding. Let the rabbit holes open and the dominos begin to fall.

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Welcome to alternative Colts history where you, the reader, are the ultimate arbiter. For part one, the first fork in the road will be the 2017 draft. I’ll lay out two options that differ from the selection of Malik Hooker that lead to present day, also known as the current timeline. Each option that differs will offer an alternative timeline where you’ll decide the next move. Click the hyperlinks to make your decision.

*Note: This article will not read chronologically, you have to click the links to follow along properly.

With the 15th pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, the Indianapolis Colts select…..

(Here is a link to the 2016 depth chart to help guide your decision.)

 

A. TJ Watt, OLB/DE Wisconsin

B. Marlon Humphrey, CB Alabama

TJ Watt

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The Colts have finally found what they believe to be their pass rusher of the future in TJ Watt with the 15th overall pick. He is a welcome upgrade over Jabaal Sheard at the outside linebacker position, where he is playing out of position. Sheard is moved back to defensive end to start over Henry Anderson. Alongside John Simon, Watt has a productive rookie season, racking up 8 sacks and 12 TFLs. With the former Badger showing plenty of promise the Colts don’t sign Denico Autry in the 2018 off-season, and instead decide to put that money towards the secondary. Will they go with the typical Chris Ballard move and sign veteran Kenny Vaccaro to reinforce the safety position, or splurge and sign Kyle Fuller, an exciting young cornerback from the Bears?

 

Sign Kenny Vaccaro

Sign Kyle Fuller

Marlon Humphrey

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The Colts add one of the best secondary players in the 2017 draft with Marlon Humphrey, a great cover corner who played for the professional factory Alabama Crimson Tide defense. This selection allows Ballard to go in a different direction with his second round pick, which originally was used on Florida cornerback Quincy Wilson. Should Chris Ballard pick the best wide receiver on the board to compliment TY Hilton? Or should he begin the arduous task of overhauling a shaky offensive line that currently features Le’Raven Clark starting at left tackle and Joe Haeg at right guard? Ryan Grigson would more than likely have elected to surround Andrew Luck with more weapons, while Ballard may have decided to fortify the trenches.

 

Select the best wide receiver on the board

Select the best offensive lineman on the board

Colts sign under the radar free agent safety Kenny Vaccaro to a 2 year 6 million dollar deal

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Vaccaro brings a veteran presence to a secondary that desperately needs safety help. He may not be the splash signing Colts fans are hoping for, but the secondary improves with his leadership and a breakout year from former undrafted free agent Kenny Moore. Indianapolis still falls to Kansas City in the divisional round of the playoffs, but the future is bright in Indy.

Chris Ballard is convinced that the 2019 Colts are a few pieces away from making a deep playoff run. Ballard has put himself in a position to make a splash signing after spending frugally during the 2018 off-season. He decides to add to his defense further, as that is what ultimately led to the team’s demise in Kansas City. Should he……

 

Sign DL Trey Flowers

Sign Top FA corner Ronald Darby

Colts sign free agent Kyle Fuller to a 4 year 58 million dollar contract (Bears don’t match)

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Ballard goes against the grain to ink a quickly developing Fuller who is poised to break out in 2018. Fuller, alongside rookie of the year Darius Leonard, and TJ Watt, highlight a young Colts’ defense that breaks out during the 2018 season, ranking in the top 5 for points allowed. With one big signing during the off-season however, Ballard decides to not sign Eric Ebron. The offense lags behind without Ebron’s career year, and the Colts ultimately fall to Deshaun Watson and the Houston Texans in the wild card round of playoffs. On the bright side, rookie wide receiver DJ Chark shows some promise late in the season to help boost the Colts back into the playoff race. Chark was selected as a prototypical Chris Ballard wide receiver at 52nd overall in the 2018 draft, as TJ Watt’s double digit sack sophomore season has convinced the front office that another pass rusher (originally Kemoko Turay) isn’t necessary.

In the 2019 draft, the Colts no longer have an immediate need at cornerback, and after trading down with Washington, feel like they can go in a different direction at number 34 overall. Do they spend more capital on the wide receiver room to add to Chark and Hilton? Or do they trade down again to gain more ammunition?

 

Select the best wide receiver on the board

Trade down!

The Colts select the best wide receiver on the board….. JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR USC

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The Colts compliment the deep speed of TY Hilton with a receiver who can work the middle of the field in JuJu Smith-Schuster. With two competent receivers, Andrew Luck lights up NFL fields across the nation when he has time to throw. The Colts failed to address the offensive line in a significant manner during the off-season, and Luck pays the price. The season ends the same way it did in real life in 2017, as a complete and utter disaster.

The Colts add a few more pieces in 2018 and improve their record from 2017 with welcome additions to the offensive line and tight end room. However, they still fall to the Chiefs in the divisional round of the playoffs.

As Smith-Schuster looks to build upon the success he experienced in his sophomore season, his prospects suddenly take a massive hit when Andrew Luck announces his retirement. Chris Ballard looks at the roster and sees a team who has a potentially potent offense aside from the quarterback, and a defense featuring two star budding stars at cornerback alongside defensive rookie of the year Darius Leonard. Should Chris roll the dice and trade Jacoby Brissett but give up future assets for a possible franchise quarterback? Or should he keep Jacoby Brissett and see if he can lift an offense that has almost no holes to contention?

 

Trade Jacoby Brissett

Keep Jacoby Brissett

The Colts select the best offensive lineman on the board…. Dion Dawkins, OG Temple

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One of the best overall players at the 2017 Senior Bowl, Dawkins fits the Chris Ballard offensive lineman mold to a tee. During the 2017 season, Dawkins fills in quite well at right guard, playing right around league average according to PFF. This is quite an accomplishment for a second round rookie. However in 2018, with the additions of Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith to the line, Dawkins kicks out to right tackle, where he continues to play adequately. With the New Jersey native playing above average at right tackle, Braden Smith takes over the right guard spot that he was initially drafted to play. The group of 5 across the board includes Anthony Castonzo, Quenton Nelson, Ryan Kelly, Braden Smith, and Dawkins, who easily make up one of the most elite groups in the NFL.

In the 2018 Divisional Playoffs, Indianapolis plays the Chiefs a little bit closer, falling 31-23 despite a monstrous performance from Marlon Mack. In the off-season, Chris Ballard identifies the weaknesses of his team to be the pass catchers, as TY Hilton and Eric Ebron were the only two to seriously produce in 2018. With his team poised to compete again in 2019, who should Ballard sign?

 

Sign Golden Tate

Sign Tyrell Williams

Colts select the best wide receiver on the board….. Deebo Samuel, WR South Carolina

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The Colts add to their already stout receiving core by adding dynamic playmaker Deebo Samuel at 34 overall. Along with DJ Chark and TY Hilton, Samuel gives Andrew Luck weapons like he’s never had before going into 2019. The future is bright.

Unfortunately, the selection of Deebo Samuel has unintended consequences for the immediate future. After picking Ben Banogu at 49, Ballard attempts to fill the glaring hole at defensive tackle by selecting Ohio State DT Dre’Mont Jones at 59 overall. Jones turns into a solid player for the Colts, but prevents Chris Ballard from pulling the trigger and trading for DeForest Buckner in 2020.

After Andrew Luck’s retirement in 2019, not even the three-headed monster of Samuel, Hilton, and Chark are enough to lift the Colts to the playoffs, as Jacoby Brissett leads them to an 8-8 record. Not all hope is lost however. With the addition of Phillip Rivers in 2020, Indianapolis looks primed for a playoff run behind their stellar receiving core and rookie phenom running back Jonathan Taylor.

 

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The Colts Trade down and select……. Max Scharping, OT Northen Illinois

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Indianapolis needs to find their eventual replacement for Anthony Castonzo, and Ballard hopes Scharping is the man. After Castonzo’s retirement following the 2020 season, Scharping steps up and plays well in 2021. Without a year of Eric Fisher, the Colts feel secure going into the 2022 draft at left tackle and instead grab UAB defensive end Alex Wright at 77 overall instead of Bernard Raimann. Wright adds another uber athletic defensive end to the pass rush, along with his sky high potential.

 

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The Colts sign Trey Flowers to a 5 year 95 million dollar deal

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Flowers is a very highly thought of addition to a Colts defense that desperately needs help up the middle of their defense. The signing of Flowers discourages Ballard from trading for DeForest Buckner in 2020, and he is ultimately a disappointment for the Indy defense. Looking back on it, this large investment didn’t pay off and can be classified as a mistake.

 

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The Colts sign Ronald Darby to a 2 year 20 million dollar deal

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The signing of Darby immediately bolsters the cornerback room, and allows Kenny Moore to primarily play the slot again. Not having to rely on Quincy Wilson boosts the Colts’ defenses overall production. After two solid seasons with Indianapolis, he re-signs after 2020, continuing the foundations of a solid secondary for years to come.

 

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The Colts package Jacoby Brissett in a deal for… Raiders QB Derek Carr

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Ballard takes a big swing for a QB who was on the trade block in 2019. A large package of picks and Jacob Brissett gets the job done, as Carr is brought to Indy. 2019 is a successful campaign for Carr and Indianapolis as they improve from their original 7-9 record in 2019 to 10-6 and win a playoff game over the Texans before falling to Baltimore in the divisional round. Indy fans have hope that Carr can bring them to the promised land in 2020 and beyond.

 

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The Colts keep Jacoby Brissett

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Much like in real life events, the Colts keeping Jacoby Brissett leads to a season that fails to meet expectations. The Colts do earn one extra win, finishing 8-8 due to some late game heroics from Juju Smith-Schuster.

 

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The Colts sign free agent WR Golden Tate or Tyrell Williams

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Unfortunately, no matter who is signed in this situation, the Colts will still fail to meet expectations in 2019 behind Jacoby Brissett. The Colts pair Michael Pittman Jr. with TY Hilton and either Williams or Tate to form a potent trio in 2020 that nearly helps the Colts escape Buffalo with a win.

 

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Jack Guiley

Hi, my name is Jack Guiley, and I'm very excited to be a part of The Blue Stable family. I am currently a sophomore student-athlete at DePauw University majoring in economics. I played four years of varsity high school football and am lucky enough to have earned the opportunity to play collegiately at DePauw. I've been a Colts fan for as long as I can remember, but my first real memory of my fandom was watching the 2006 Super Bowl at the age of four. I love the draft, and really anything Colts-related. Feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @guiley_jack if you have any questions or want to discuss anything about the Colts!

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