Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard is one of the best in the NFL. These next few months could potentially be instrumental for him. Arguably the best work Ballard has done with the Colts was their 2018 draft class. Three years later, those players are eligible for contract extensions. Luckily for the Colts, they are in a great place concerning the salary cap to keep their core players. This comes as a result of the firm discipline Ballard has shown.
Over the last few offseasons, the Colts have had the money to go sign top free agents. Instead, Ballard has left space to re-sign their own. He has constructed the Colts through the draft. They have developed their own very well. Now, it is time to keep some of their best players for the long term.
The first pick Ballard made for the Colts in the 2018 draft was left guard Nelson. Since his rookie year, Nelson has made a special impact for the Colts. He is arguably the best left guard in the NFL. With Nelson being a first-round pick, he is under contract for 2022 as a result of the fifth-year option. However, an extension can be agreed to this offseason. Nelson is 25 years old and will continue to dominate force for years. A similar contract for Nelson and the Colts to follow would be the one the Kansas City Chiefs signed Joe Thuney to this offseason.
Leonard was the second pick Ballard made in 2018. Like Nelson, Leonard is one of the best at his position in the league. His impact has been felt since his rookie year as well. He leads the Colts defense, one that played at a high level last season. He makes plays all over the field as a linebacker. This is the final season that he is under contract with the Colts. Executing an extension soon would be wise for the Colts.
Right after Leonard, Ballard selected Smith in the second round. Ballard has stated before he saw Smith as a guard in the NFL. However, Smith was called upon to play at right tackle early as a rookie. He played very well. Ever since he has been a core piece to the Colts’ great offensive line. Smith is one of the better right tackles in the league. A contract extension should be coming soon.
Other Possible Candidates
Later in the second round of the 2018 draft, the Colts selected two defensive linemen. Defensive end Kemoko Turay was the first one. Turay has traits and potential. At times, he has played great. Unfortunately, he has had some injuries. The Colts’ first two draft picks this year were defensive ends. This is a big year for Turay. The other selection in 2018 was defensive tackle Tyquan Lewis. Like Turay, this is a big season for Lewis to put it all together.
Three other 2018 rookies who have been contributors for the Colts are Nyheim Hines, Zaire Franklin, and George Odum. Hines was a fourth-round draft pick and has been a great receiving back for the Colts offense. Franklin and Odum are two core players on special teams. Franklin was picked in the seventh round and Odum was signed as an undrafted free agent. This is great work by Ballard. Franklin is a leader and team captain for the Colts. Odum was a first-team All-Pro special teams member in 2020.
It is widely known that Ballard is one of the best college talent evaluators in the NFL. He has emphasized unique characteristics in players such as coach-ability. His approach has certainly been successful. Per Over The Cap, the Colts currently project to have the most cap space in 2022. They also have the least amount of dead money in the NFL for 2021. Ballard has done a great job drafting and developing. The 2018 draft he had was special. He deserves a ton of credit for it and what he has built as a whole. These next few months should be exciting for Ballard and the Colts.
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