Former Sports Illustrated MMQB writer Peter King — who now writes a column for NBC Sports called Football Morning in America — is on vacation this week. While King is sipping craft beers on a beach somewhere, NBC Sports has asked a few people to write guest editions of King’s column — complete with his trademark Ten Things I Think I Think.
On Monday, former Kansas City Chiefs director of player personnel (and later director of football operations) Chris Ballard was tapped to write the column. Now general manager of the Indianapolis Colts, Ballard composed a remarkably frank and fascinating look at not only the process of scouting and evaluating NFL draft prospects, but also at how things go down in the room on draft day.
The complete article is well worth your time, but there are a few tidbits regarding the Chiefs we found irresistible.
I have been very fortunate to work for two great general managers in my career, [former Chicago Bears GM] Jerry Angelo and [former Chiefs GM] John Dorsey, who both believed in having scouts in the room on draft night. They both understood that the scouts worked an entire year and spent a lot of time away from their families to get it right for the organization. I have also been in their shoes and understand what it means to feel like a part of the entire draft process. It is powerful for a scout to be able to speak on draft night in front of ownership and others in the draft room on their feelings and why they think a player can help the Colts win.
In the article, Ballard often speaks of the honesty he demands from everyone involved in the draft process — including the prospects themselves.
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.
Ballard says that the first met him while Decker was on the other side of Lot M at the Truman Sports Complex doing some consulting work for the Kansas City Royals.
I knew after a few more visits that if I ever had a chance to hire him that I would do it. I can’t sit here and say I knew exactly what his role was going to be, but I did have a strong conviction that Decker would really help us get to the core of a player’s football character, which in turn would help us in our hit rate in the draft. His role has really grown in two years and has become a valuable resource to our coaches, scouts, and players.
Then in Ten Things I Think I Think, Ballard named Chiefs head coach Andy Reid and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy as two of the “special coaches” with whom he has been fortunate to work — and shares a story about why he respects Bieniemy so much.
One example is when we signed Spencer Ware to a futures contract in Kansas City. Ware had some issues in Seattle and was released before his second season, but Bienemy thought he could help him. Bienemy is demanding and tough on his players, but he also cares about them; I really believe that is why he can coach his players to the max and get the most out of them. Ware made our team and ended up starting in 2016 when we won the division. Of course, Ware deserves a ton of credit for the way he worked, but I don’t think it happens without Bienemy. I have tremendous respect for both of them.
The Chiefs moved on from Ware after the 2018 season, but he will be suiting up for Ballard’s Colts in 2019 — along with other former Chiefs like linebackers Justin Houston and Dadi Nicholas and tight end Ross Travis.
Before joining the Colts after the 2016 season, Ballard was widely seen as one of the top GM candidates available — and perhaps even the GM-in-waiting for Kansas City. We’ll likely never know if the latter was really true, because Ballard departed for Indianapolis six months before the Chiefs abruptly fired former general manager John Dorsey.
But Ballard’s FMIA guest article clearly shows why he was held in such high regard around the league. And because Ballard — like current Chiefs general manager Brett Veach — joined the Chiefs organization with Dorsey in 2013, it probably reveals some insight about the way Veach does business, too. Again... it’s well worth the read.