On his first attempt at the 40-yard dash, Vick Ballard tripped and fell into the timer. On his second, he clocked a 4.65, which ranked him 16th of the 25 running backs at the NFL Scouting Combine in 2012.
The Colts drafted him in the fifth round and after a stellar rookie season he enters 2013 as their lead back.
Entering the Combine as a scorching hot prospect with the Mackey Award as the nation’s best tight end in his pocket, Dwayne Allen promptly ran a 4.89 and the breeze from the red flags started blowing him down most draft boards.
The Colts drafted him in the third round and he is one of the team’s most prized young talents.
Josh Chapman didn’t even participate in the Combine because he was recovering from surgery on a torn ACL – an injury he played through while winning a national championship at Alabama – and teams had to accept he very likely wouldn’t be able to play at all as a rookie.
The Colts took him in the fifth round, gave him last season to rehab and now he figures very prominently into the team’s plans for improving the heart of the defensive line.
In his first draft as the Colts’ general manager, Ryan Grigson established a few things: he knows talent, isn’t afraid to buck convention and clearly doesn’t overreact to the results of the NFL’s annual underwear Olympics.
“I personally love when that happens,” he said, referring to the Combine misfortunes of Ballard and Allen. “I’ve learned lessons just from starting at the bottom and being a scout at the entry level. I’ve watched draft boards get way out of whack and I just cataloged that and took mental notes of that.
“But you also have to temper it. You don’t want to take a guy too early just because you love him, when the market is bearing that he be taken later.”
Why are we bringing this up now? Because three talented but flawed prospects could be available to the Colts this year – two you know about, one you may not – and Grigson just might be the kind of guy to go all-in where others fold.
A HEISMAN FINALIST AT NO. 24?
The three red-flag prospects are Manti Te’o, Tyrann Mathieu and Alec Ogletree. Based on physical skills alone, all would be out of the Colts’ reach. But because each has non-football issues, Grigson may well have some tough decisions to make.
His deeds a year ago and his recent words in his Combine presser indicate he just might be one of those guys willing to roll the dice.
“If you just agree with everyone, then you have shelter. If you stand outside the pack and beat the drum for something that’s not popular, then you stand alone. But it shows you have courage and it shows you believe in that player and that opinion you formulated through hard work.”
We’re all sick to death of the Manti Te’o story, so I won’t go into it. Suffice to say without his globally infamous catfish scam, the Notre Dame linebacker would be off the board well before the Colts draft at No. 24. Inside linebacker isn’t exactly a need area, but Grigson has repeatedly stressed his intent to go best-player over need, particularly in the first round.
And how many times will you get the chance to select a Heisman Trophy finalist with the 24th pick?
MATHIEU HAS SKILLS COLTS NEED
Mathieu also was a Heisman candidate, in 2011, but his well-documented off-field issues with drugs got him kicked out of LSU – and organized football entirely.
He has been through rehab and says he has been clean for five months as he tries to rebuild his football career, and his on-field performance at Combine certainly helped.
Mathieu raised eyebrows with an impressive 40 time and of course said all the right things in his interviews with teams; some took him as sincere, others believe he was scripted. On the field, he’s small but quick and physical with a knack for the big play and could be an excellent slot or nickel corner as well as a punt returner, skills that mesh well with the Colts’ needs.
Grigson doesn’t have a second-round pick, but someone in the third or fourth round is going to take the chance.
“We don’t want to downgrade somebody because they have an issue. We grade what we see on the film, and then we address those issues at a later date.”
OGLETREE TROUBLED BUT TALENTED
Though he was an inside linebacker at George, Alec Ogletree is a former safety with impressive athleticism who developed a reputation for making plays all over the field. Most draft scouts project him as an outside linebacker, an area of major need.
Were it not for off-field troubles including a four-game suspension last year and a DUI arrest the week before the Combine, Ogletree would be a top-15 pick. Instead, he has tumbled toward the Colts’ territory at the bottom of the first round.
How good is this guy? Even missing those four games, he still led the Bulldogs with 111 tackles.
“A lot of times I follow this path of passion. We’re sitting in meetings and you’re in the doldrums for an hour and everyone is just waiting for the next coffee break. It’s like somebody all of a sudden perks up. The whole room perks up when a name gets brought up. I make a note of that. I actually had one of our interns make a list – it’s called ‘buzz’ guys – when we’re in the room. You go through 10 guys and no one says a word, then all of a sudden everybody is ready to have a real strong opinion of someone. I follow that.”
Without question, Te’o, Mathieu and Ogletree are names that generate strong opinions. But a team like the Colts, with Grigson in charge, with an ingrained positive culture and strong leadership in the locker room, might be in the best position to minimize the risk and reap the reward.