KRAVITZ: So, reading between the lines, who will the Colts select at No. 3? Your guess is as good as mine

Bob Kravitz

INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) - So Colts GM Chris Ballard spoke at Wednesday’s NFL Combine, and what he said, in part, was this: Pass rushers are rare commodities who are never available in free agency and must be found in the draft, usually toward the top end of the draft. He also said this is an inordinately deep running backs draft, and he made the point quite forcefully that quality backs can and will be found well beyond the first round.

Which, if I’m interpreting and parsing correctly, means pass rusher Bradley Chubb is the man the Colts will select with the No. 3 pick.

But then there was head coach Frank Reich, who was asked if he had any preference between going with a running-backs-by-committee approach or having one dominant, bell cow back, like an Ezekiel Elliott or a Todd Gurley.

And what he said was this: Given the Colts’ desire to use the no-huddle attack with some frequency – and let me be the first to say, “Hallelujah’’ – it would be great to have a dominant, three-down back who can run, catch passes and hold up well in pass protection. Reich and Ballard also revealed that they won’t be bringing back Frank Gore, who so nobly carried the weight the last three years but will be stepping aside so the Colts can go younger at the running back position.

Which, if I’m interpreting and parsing correctly, means running back Saquon Barkley is the man the Colts will select with the No. 3 pick.

Look, coaches and GM’s are not going to show their hand at any point during the pre-draft period, and they’re certainly not going to come clean to a bunch of media people during a press conference. Misinformation is the coin of the realm at this time of year. Everybody is bluffing. Everybody is throwing their front-office competitors off the scent. It’s the way business (necessarily) gets done.

But I know this, or think I know this: While the Colts will keep their eyes and ears open to trade-down scenarios, I believe this will end up being a two-man battle: Barkley vs. Chubb. Chubb vs. Barkley. At least if we assume, and we think we can, that the Browns and Giants, who have the first and second selections in the draft, go with quarterbacks.

So we looked for clues, tried to read between the lines, attempted (largely without success) to get an idea which way the Colts might be leaning with that third pick. Yeah, good luck.

Here was Ballard on pass rushers: “People don’t let them (elite pass rushers) out of the building; they just don’t. You look through the league, you’ve got to draft and develop your own guys. The good thing is, they come from all levels. You don’t have to take a first-round guy to get a pass rusher.’’

Here was Ballard on running backs: “At all levels (of the draft), you’re going to have some high-end players and you’re still going to see some really good running backs come out of this draft in the fourth, fifth, sixth round. There’s a lot of depth.’’

Here was Ballard on his bottom-line philosophy: “If you think a guy is a difference-maker at any position, it doesn’t matter (which position he plays); you take him. You take him.’’

Clear as mud, right?

Then there’s the third option: Trading down out of the third spot and walking away with additional assets.

“Look, you’ve got to weigh the player you might take or players you might take versus the picks you might acquire and who’s going to be there,’’ Ballard said. “If you trade back and you say, `Well, there’s only 15 or 16 first-rounders, is it worth trading back for those extra picks? And then the player you take, is he a difference maker? Will one guy make that much of a difference for our team versus three guys. Are we open (to talk to other teams)? Absolutely…Do we think we’re in a pretty good spot? Yes.’’

This is the most important off-season the Colts have had since 2012, when they completely rebuilt the team and went on to have three terrific seasons. It’s also the most important off-season Ballard will have during his tenure with the Colts. Think about it: How often do you get the third pick in the draft and have $77 million at your disposal for free agency? This is the time, this is the offseason, when the Colts can truly transform themselves from an also-ran into a budding contender. It’s not going to happen overnight, not going to happen with one draft and one free-agent haul, but this is the time to build the foundation for the future.

Of course, none of this means anything if Andrew Luck is not back behind center, and toward that end, the Colts sound as positive about his imminent return as they’ve ever sounded. According to Reich and Ballard, Luck will be with the team when they re-convene at the practice facility April 2. More important, they said that everybody involved with Luck’s case believe a second surgery is not going to happen.

Now, have we heard this before? Yes, we’ve heard this before. We’ve especially heard this from team owner Jim Irsay. He’ll be back for the regular season…didn’t happen. He’ll be back within a month of the start of the regular season…didn’t happen. He’ll start practicing and return late in the season…didn’t happen.

Luck’s April 2ND return is great news, but will he be throwing footballs? That’s the question the brain-trust can’t answer because at this point, it’s utterly unknowable. And what happens if, heaven forbid, the pain returns late this spring or summer and suddenly it becomes necessary to have another surgery?

There’s a lot we don’t know, a lot they don’t know, about Luck’s much-anticipated return. It will, however, be good to have him back – not only good for the Colts, but good, even great, for Luck’s mental health.

“We need to see Andrew get back to football and just be with his teammates again and I think Andrew would tell you the same thing,’’ Ballard said. “I think that’s important. One thing, though, is we will not skip a step. Every step has a purpose behind it. And we feel good about where he’s at right now. Even though he hasn’t picked up a football, he’s doing some things that are showing us he’s going in the right direction.

“Do I have any doubt that he’ll be ready? No, I don’t.’’

The question, then is whether he’ll be handing off or throwing to Barkley, or watching from the sideline as Chubb terrorizes quarterbacks.

Ballard addressed some other issues:

  • On Gore: “He’s made an impact on the locker-room and on people like I’ve never seen people do. I’ll give you a quick story: So we had the Buffalo game and he had all the carries (36) and after the game, (we found out) he broke his thumb. I told him, `We can do surgery, put a pin in it,’ and we’re playing Thursday night against Denver. He said, `Hey, man, I’m a football player. I’m playing.’ Look at what our record was at the time. That’s the epitome of Frank Gore…He’s a first-ballot Hall of Fame player, without question.’’
  • On re-signing cornerback Rashaan Melvin, an unrestricted free agent: “I’ll be honest with you, and I told Melvin this: I was not a big Melvin fan when I walked through the door (last year),’’ Ballard said. “…It goes back to Chicago. We brought him in one a pre-draft visit and he kind of rubbed me the wrong way and I never got it out of my head. And I was wrong. I was dead wrong. Great kid, he battles, he works, he loves football. Would we like to have him back? Yes. Will we for sure? We’ll see. See what the market is.’’
  • On the proposal that would allow teams to hire coaches while they’re still in the post-season i.e. the McDaniels Rule: “Imagine that,’’ Ballard said, laughing. “I’ll say this: It worked out the way it was supposed to work out.’’

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