INDIANAPOLIS – It is something Chris Ballard had never done in his previous 6 years of running a draft.
And that should tell a huge part of the story on how the Colts view young safety Nick Cross.
Prior to trading back into the 3rd round to select Maryland safety Nick Cross in 2022, Ballard had never traded away such a previous draft pick in the future—a 2023 third-rounder in this case—to take a player in that current draft.
After going offense with each of their first three picks in 2022—Alec Pierce at No. 53, Jelani Woods at No. 73, Bernhard Raimann at No. 77—the Colts were not ready to head home on that Friday night.
With the board continuing to fall and Cross’ name still there, Ballard couldn’t wait any longer.
Cross would never make it to the Colts fourth-round pick, No. 122, Ballard thought.
Inside the Colts draft war room, Ballard asked his scouts where they thought Cross would go in the 2023 NFL Draft.
This was relevant to Ballard because Cross is just 20 years old, deciding to come out a year early from Maryland. At 20, Cross was one of the youngest prospects in the entire 2022 NFL Draft.
“Second round” was the popular response to the general manager when he posed the question out loud.
Taking this in, Ballard was ready to make the leap, even if the safety position wasn’t near the top of the immediate need list.
“I don’t know if it was definitely a need, but here (Cross) was sticking out on the board and we said, ‘You know what? We need to get Nick Cross,’” Ballard recalls of trading up to No. 96 overall to take Cross.
“We think he’s a really talented player and he’s going to add a lot of talent to the back end.”
While much of the hubbub surrounding the Colts draft in 2022 was that trio of offensive selections to begin things, the action of taking Cross stands out, too.
Remember, new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley brings a system that is about one-third different from what Matt Eberflus was running.
That means different types of players could/are desired at every level of the defense.
At 6-0 and 212 pounds, Cross ran the fastest 40-yard dash of any safety (4.34) at February’s Combine.
Cross, a decorated high school recruit out of DeMatha High School in Washington D.C., started 21 games in three years at Maryland
He finished his career with 135 tackles (89 solo), 5.5 for loss, 4.0 sacks, 18 passes defensed, 6 interceptions and 3 forced fumbles.
Making plays at multiple levels of the defense, while having the closing speed to limit a skill player’s ability to make plays with the ball in their hands, is something Cross showed on film, and the Colts certainly took note of that.
“I bring high energy,” Cross says. “I fly around and make plays. I’m physical on the back end and I’m able to come downhill and make solid tackles. I’m someone who can play the middle of the field and intercept the ball. Make sure no one makes any big plays down the field. I want to be someone who can take the ball away and cause havoc for the offense.”
The Colts might not feel the benefit of the Cross pick in an immense way this season, but clearly he is coveted by Bradley.
What does that mean for Khari Willis? Could Julian Blackmon’s future in Indy be impacted by Cross?
Those are down the road questions, but very fair subjects to discuss.
What’s clear is this: Cross is a talent that got Ballard to do something extremely foreign to his normal philosophy.
That should tell you what the Colts see in his future.