Rock Ya-Sin

Colts GM Discusses Draft Strategy, Ya-Sin, Seahawks

Chris Ballard‘s first season as Colts GM didn’t necessarily go as planned. While the executive focused on a complete roster makeover, the Colts 4-12 record was surely disappointing. Fortunately, the team took a step forward in 2019, and that was partly attributed to Ballard’s work during the offseason.

Ballard fired Chuck Pagano after the campaign, and following a fiasco with Patriots coordinator Josh McDaniels, the organization ended up hiring Frank Reich as their new head coach. The organization also hit a home run during the draft, as Quenton Nelson and Darius Leonard became the first rookie teammates to earn All Pro First-Team honors since 1965. The Colts ended up going 10-6 during the regular season before losing in the Divisional Round, and Ballard earned the 2018 NFL Executive of the Year award from the Pro Football Writers Association.

The organization will now look to build off their progress from 2018, and the Colts appear to be a shoo-in to at least make the playoffs. However, before the season begins, Ballard decided to take on a bit of a different role.

The Colts GM filled in on Peter King’s Football Morning in America column, and he provided some fascinating insight regarding the team’s draft strategy. The entire article is worth reading (Ballard went on a tangent describing why running back Edgerrin James should be in the Hall of Fame), but we’ve compiled some of the notable soundbites below.

What the front office values when evaluating draft picks:

We define football character as a player’s work ethic, passion for the game, football intelligence, competitive nature, and teamness. If any of these areas are weak, the chances of the player busting and not fitting in our locker room becomes greater. An NFL season is long and hard. The character of each individual player and the entire team shows up, either good or bad, during the hard times. It is difficult to get through a rough stretch if your players don’t have mental toughness.

We go the extra mile to delve into players and see how they’ll fit. You are telling the locker room every time you draft a player, “this is what we stand for.” If you bring in someone with a poor work ethic, or someone who is selfish, or someone who is unwilling to put in the work, you’re telling the locker room that that’s OK. Jerry Angelo used to say all the time that the talent of a player will tell you his ceiling, but his football character determines his floor. It’s critical to get that right, so we know the floor.

On second-round cornerback Rock Ya-Sin:

Let’s take our first pick this year, Temple cornerback Rock Ya-Sin, and examine the process of how we reached our final decision, from the initial scouting report to draft day.

What traits make up an Colts cornerback? Is it possible to pick a Colts cornerback out of a crowd? The answer is yes and there are a few things we look for. Ya-Sin had them all:

• Size and length. Ya-Sin is 5-foot-11 with 32-inch arms, which are considered long for a cornerback.

• Instincts and ball skills. Yup.

• Toughness. It’s impossible to play our scheme if you’re not tough. Frank Reich’s definition of toughness: A relentless pursuit to get better every day; an obsession to finish. Ya-Sin is a two-time state champion high school wrestler, fitting this definition to a T.

Some of these traits might seem generic, and, yes, you can find most of these qualities if you look hard enough. However, each player is not always drawn up that way.

On the Colts’ unique interviewing process:

When I first took the job in Indianapolis, I wanted to find an expert who could help us get to the core of a player’s football character. We found the perfect person in Brian Decker, a former Green Beret and now our director of player development. He uses a model he developed in the military and applies toward our interview process. He interviews every prospect on our draft board and teaches our scouts specific interviewing techniques.

I am not going to give away any trade secrets but here are the five questions Decker wants to get the answers to:

• Does this player have a favorable developmental profile?

• Does he have a profile that supports handling pressure and adversity?

• Does he have a good learning and decision-making capacity?

• Is he a character risk and, if so, what can we do to help support him?

• Is he a fit?

On the team’s draft maneuverings:

On draft night, we felt like we would have a chance to move back in the draft and pick up an extra pick that weekend or in a future year. We have a strong belief that the more picks that we can acquire, the better it is for our team in the end. We don’t want to pass up a difference-making player so we are very thorough working through every scenario before we make the decision to move.

Ya-Sin was one of the players we considered taking as our No. 26 pick in the first round before we got a call from the Redskins. We felt like Washington’s 2019 second-round pick and the extra second-round selection in the 2020 draft was a very good offer and would be worth the trade back with the players we still had on the board. What also helped was that our No. 34 pick, acquired from the Jets the previous year, was only eight picks away.

The next day, there were five players we still liked who were available at No. 34, and the draft room was split. Half of the room thought we should trade again and acquire another second and third-round pick, and the other half wanted to stay at No. 34 and pick Ya-Sin.

On what rival team deserves credit for their team-building strategies:

John Schneider and his staff in Seattle do not get enough credit for what they have done in the past two years. They built a great team, won a Super Bowl and lost another on one of the great plays in NFL history by New England. Like all great things, they eventually come to an end, but what John and his staff have done to retool Seattle’s roster on the fly is tremendous work. They have completely rebuilt what was one of the greatest defenses in NFL history and acquired a bunch of young, talented defenders and have a chance to dominate again on defense.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Colts Sign Rock Ya-Sin, Parris Campbell

Nine of the 10 Colts draft picks are now signed. Two second-rounders — cornerback Rock Ya-Sin and wide receiver Parris Campbell — signed their rookie deals on Monday, the Colts announced.

This leaves only third-round linebacker Bobby Okereke unsigned. This is not atypical, due to the CBA’s vague language regarding third-rounders’ contracts. Many third-rounders remain unsigned around the league.

The Colts, who have made seven second-round picks over the past two years, traded out of the first round but stuck at their No. 34 slot to select Ya-Sin. The 6-foot cornerback played just one season of major college football, at Temple, after transferring from Presbyterian College after the university dropped football. Ya-Sin became a hot commodity during the pre-draft process and will be in the mix for immediate playing time.

Campbell led Ohio State in receiving yards (1,063) as a senior, becoming Dwayne Haskins‘ top target during the first-round pick’s lone season as the Buckeyes’ starter. Both Campbell and the Redskins’ Terry McLaurin (701 yards) were Day 2 picks, but Campbell’s 12 touchdown receptions led the team as well. Campbell’s 90 catches marked a single-season school record. Campbell will join Devin Funchess and 2018 sixth-rounder Deon Cain as new cogs for Andrew Luck, assuming Cain completes his recovery from an ACL tear.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

King’s Latest: Giants, Bosa, Steelers, Sweat

Connected to two positions primarily throughout the pre-draft process, the Giants appear certain to fill one of those early. Dave Gettleman wants a pass rusher “in the worst way,” a veteran NFL exec told NBC Sports’ Peter King, before adding the team will draft an edge player with one of its first three picks. New York holds picks 6, 17 and 37 but also has been understandably linked to quarterbacks after passing on them early in last year’s draft. The Giants have met with just about every top- and second-tier pass-rushing, hosting Nick Bosa, Josh Allen, Ed Oliver, Quinnen Williams, Rashan Gary, Brian Burns, Clelin Ferrell, Dexter Lawrence, Jaylon Ferguson on visits. After trading away Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon in consecutive offseasons, the Giants boast one of the most edge defender-needy depth charts in the game. Their Vernon-powered pass-rushing group last year registered just 30 sacks.

While the Giants may be zeroing in on Dwayne Haskins, they have also done work on possible second-round quarterbacks Will Grier and Jarrett Stidham — in the event Gettleman would dare push his post-Eli Manning QB need to 2020 and prioritize pass rushers early. He has said he would not view a non-first-round pick as a legitimate long-term quarterback solution.

Here is the latest from the draft world, courtesy of the veteran reporter:

  • Adding some intrigue to the Cardinals‘ situation: they believe Bosa is a generational prospect. While King still has them selecting Kyler Murray at No. 1, the report they are not totally committed to this yet — despite just about everything we’ve heard in recent weeks — is a bit more interesting. Bosa visited the Cardinals earlier this month and would obviously fill the team’s need opposite Chandler Jones.
  • While defensive line and linebacker prospects figure to populate the ESPN ticker early in Thursday night’s draft, secondary pieces may not come off the board until the second part of the opening round. One of the teams in need of cornerback help may have a preference. Mike Tomlin “loves” Temple’s Rock Ya-Sin, King writes. The Steelers have a linebacker need too but did sign Mark Barron to pair with Vince Williams. Their 2016 first-round investment of Artie Burns has not paid off, so Pittsburgh’s No. 20 spot may well be a cornerback destination. Ya-Sin, who played at Presbyterian (S.C.) prior to playing one season at Temple, visited the Steelers this month.
  • Brian Burns‘ stock has risen recently, and King mocks the Florida State product to the Bengals at No. 11. Burns ran a 4.53-second 40-yard dash at the Combine and is one of many high-caliber front-seven players available.
  • Another member of that group’s fortune has not been as kind. Montez Sweat will not attend the draft. Some teams have taken the Mississippi State product off their draft boards, and it is now possible he falls out of the first round. Reportedly diagnosed with an enlarged heart, Sweat may have some teams willing to take a chance on him early. One GM told King that Sweat will have an issue with his heart going forward, but if it’s closely monitored, the talented defender can have a career. That would be a boon for someone’s defense, with Sweat blazing to a 4.41-second 40 at the Combine and combining for 23 sacks between the 2017-18 seasons. Another GM informed King he believes Sweat’s upside is higher than Bosa’s, adding further intrigue to this situation.

North Notes: Bears, Anderson, Steelers

Anthony Miller showed promise for the Bears as a rookie, hauling in seven touchdown receptions and being a key player from the outset of the team’s NFC North championship season. The Memphis product dealt with a shoulder injury, however, for much of the season. Miller said he dislocated his shoulder at least five times during his rookie campaign, with Colleen Kane of the Chicago Tribune noting the first such dislocation came in September and the last had him a shell of his optimal version. By season’s end, Miller had faded, finishing his first regular season with a four-catch, 25-yard December. Miller underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum in January and expects to be limited throughout the Bears’ offseason program, per Kane, but understandably anticipates a production increase as an NFL sophomore — should he sufficiently recover from this ailment.

Here is the latest from the North divisions:

  • Details are in on C.J. Anderson‘s Lions deal, courtesy of Ian Rapoport of NFL.com. The veteran running back’s one-year agreement is worth nearly $1.5MM and can max out at $3MM (Twitter links). Anderson received $200K to sign. Anderson signed for one year and nearly $1.7MM with the Panthers last year. Both of these agreements represent steep pay reductions when compared to Anderson’s previous four-year, $18MM Broncos pact. But the 27-year-old back stands to play a key part in Detroit’s backfield this season, perhaps setting him up for another contract in 2020.
  • Despite the Steelers and Ben Roethlisberger having been engaged in extension discussions for more than a month, no impasse between the parties exists, Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writes. While the Steelers have spoken with Big Ben’s agent, Ryan Tollner, little dialogue has transpired between the Steelers and their 16th-year quarterback, Dulac adds. One year and $23.2MM remain on Roethlisberger’s current deal. Despite entering his age-37 season, Roethlisberger stands to take on even greater importance this coming year — considering the caliber of players the Steelers recently lost.
  • The Steelers are doing some research on higher-end cornerbacks in this year’s draft, hosting Rock Ya-Sin and Justin Layne on pre-draft visits Friday, Ray Fittipaldo of the Post-Gazette notes. A former Division I-FCS transfer who played just one season at Temple, the 6-foot Ya-Sin nevertheless rates as the No. 29 overall prospect on NFL.com draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah’s board. A converted wide receiver, the 6-2 Layne started two seasons as a corner at Michigan State.
  • After a three-arrest offseason, running back Mark Walton received his walking papers from the Bengals.