Perhaps the greatest move of Ballard’s brief tenure came in 2018 when he shipped the No. 3 overall pick to the Jets for the No. 6 overall pick and three second-rounders, which ultimately turned into Quenton Nelson, Braden Smith, Rock Ya-Sin, Kemoko Turay and Jordan Wilkins.
As tremendous as that trade proved to be for the Colts, however, Ballard’s track record with regard to trading back isn’t entirely spotless.
Fans will point to the decision to trade the No. 26 overall pick to Washington in 2019 for two second-rounders as a prime example of such failures.
After another trade back, the Colts ended up with edge rusher Ben Banogu, cornerback Marvell Tell, and wideout Michael Pittman Jr., who enjoyed a promising rookie year. Washington, meanwhile, went on to draft defensive lineman Montez Sweat, who looks like a star in the making early on.
The early returns suggest that Washington won that trade, and Ballard has predictably taken some heat from fans for failing to recognize Sweat’s upside. In puzzling fashion, this criticism has reemerged on social media with draft night just one week away.
Speaking for all sane Colts fans, however, insider Stephen Holder of The Athletic promptly reminded fans that the front office wasn’t comfortable with Sweat’s medical history.
Fans need to stop complaining about the Colts passing on Montez Sweat.
Sweat was unfortunately diagnosed with an enlarged heart at the 2019 Combine, which reportedly resulted in at least a handful of teams removing him from their draft boards. Though we can’t confirm whether the the Colts were one of those teams, the fact they traded out of the first round suggests they wanted no part of drafting Sweat, regardless of his talent.
The former Mississippi State star didn’t dazzle as a rookie like many expected, but he still registered 50 tackles (eight for loss), seven sacks, 13 QB hits and 27 pressures.
Following the selection of edge rusher Chase Young last year, which lessened the number of double teams he was seeing, Sweat took his game to a whole new level as a sophomore. In 16 games, he tallied 45 tackles (12 for loss), nine sacks, 20 QB hits, 31 pressures, six passes defended and an interception that was returned for a touchdown.
Perhaps the most impressive part of Sweat’s career is that he hasn’t missed a game yet while playing over 65% of the defensive snaps for Washington.
That’s an incredibly fortunate turn of events for a player with his medical condition, and that’s precisely why Ballard shouldn’t be faulted for passing on him. There was no way to know for sure whether the 24-year-old would pan out in the NFL, and Ballard erred on the side of caution.
Sure, Banogu is trending towards bust territory and Tell will be hoping to make an impact after opting out of last season, but Pittman Jr. looks the part of an elite receiver. If you gave Ballard the chance to make a three-for-one swap again, he’d do it and we’d endorse it.
The four-year GM’s pristine track record in the draft deserves that much, don’t you think?