How the Colts can ace the 2024 NFL Draft: Trading up for Marvin Harrison Jr.

The NFL Draft is this week, which means it's a time to prognosticate, a time to speculate and most of all a time to dream.

The possibilities aren't completely endless for what the Colts could do surrounding the No. 15 pick in the draft. They're not going to take a quarterback, of course. But beyond that certainty, it's hard to entirely rule any one possibility out -- at least if you're willing to go to fantasyland.

That's what general manager Chris Ballard called at least one hypothetical in an interview with the Rich Eisen Show last week. But when you remove quarterback possibilities from the equation, is a move to any spot in the draft really that out of the question if a team wants to make it happen? Is it possible for things to break perfectly right?

That's what this piece is going to explore. This is not what I think will happen on Thursday night. It's supposed to not happen, as all bold predictions are.

But here's how Thursday will go if it were to break perfectly right to allow the Colts to "ace" the draft:

Colts trade up with the Cardinals

Is a trade up in the first actually something Ballard could do for the first time in his eight-year history as a general manager? I asked him that question last week, and he at least wouldn't rule it out.

"I think it would depend," Ballard said. "There would have to be somebody within striking distance that we felt was really unique and a difference-maker for us.”

The Cardinals are the first team in this year's draft order reported to be aggressively shopping a move down. The expectation going in is that quarterback picks will populate the first three selections -- USC's Caleb Williams to the Bears and then North Carolina's Drake Maye and LSU's Jayden Daniels in some order in the next two picks, owned by the Commanders and Patriots. What the Cardinals would love is if a team like the Vikings would offer the moon to come up for Michigan's JJ McCarthy, and if some team will, this dream dies before it ever takes off.

But in this scenario, quarterbacks are not going 1-2-3-4, something that has never happened in the history of the draft.

Instead, the Cardinals, hell-bent on a long-term view in building around Kyler Murray and loving the receiver depth in a draft where they have 11 total picks, become open to taking a trade down to No. 15 to secure a future first-round pick, the way they did with the Texans last year when Houston wanted Will Anderson.

I ran the trade through the NFL Mock Draft Database, which rejects offers that are too strong on either end. The Cardinals accepted the following offer:

The Colts send pick No. 15 this season and their 2025 first-rounder for pick No. 4.

It allows the Colts to go up for a player they are infatuated with without decreasing the number of picks they have in this draft, which will be enticing to Ballard and the Colts' hopes of addressing a hole in the secondary on Day 2.

But beyond the price, as Ballard said, it would have to be for the perfect player for the Colts. And in this crazy hypothetical, it is.

Colts draft Marvin Harrison Jr. at No. 4 overall

If we're allowing the Colts to dream, of course that road will lead here. The top offensive weapon in this year's draft just happens to be the son of a Colts Hall-of-Famer who played with their receivers coach. And he's entering the first draft after Anthony Richardson's arrival in Indianapolis. And he played at a school that Ballard loves drafting from.

The Harrison conversation has gotten weird this spring, as tends to happen when teams and analysts alike have too much time to sit around and second-guess everything. He chose not to work out at either the NFL combine or his pro day, instead sticking in football training mode and skipping the learned drills that can sometimes slow a player's progression into the NFL. Some teams aren't going to love having less data on a player, and some could see it as a personality red flag if they don't know Harrison -- which is the opposite place the Colts are in.

But his silent spring has allowed receivers like LSU's Malik Nabers and Washington's Rome Odunze to engineer their own hype trains. As Odunze ripped off a 4.45-second 40-yard dash and Nabers leaped 42 inches in the vertical jump, other dreams formed in the projection of these young adults, and some have wondered: Is Harrison more of a floor and these two are more of a ceiling?

I think it's a ludicrous conversation, and I have a feeling the Colts agree with me. Owner Jim Irsay had a conversation for more than an hour with Harrison last season about his son, a year ahead of when he'd become draft eligible.

Marvin Harrison chats with his son, Marvin Jr. on the sidelines near the end of the game.  Baltimore Ravens at Indianapolis Colts, Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, IN, October 12, 2008.   Colts won 31-3.
Marvin Harrison chats with his son, Marvin Jr. on the sidelines near the end of the game. Baltimore Ravens at Indianapolis Colts, Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, IN, October 12, 2008. Colts won 31-3.

I asked Reggie Wayne once about how Harrison compares to his Hall-of-Fame dad.

"He's bigger than Marvin," Wayne said. "He's tall. He's faster than Marv."

And he is. The younger Harrison measured in at the combine at 6-foot-3 and 209 pounds, or three inches and 24 pounds bigger than his father is listed on His father, of course, more than overcame average size to lead the NFL in receiving twice and become one of the top five receivers of all-time, but that is who has been advising the younger Harrison's every step in this unique pre-draft process.

His training, along with that of Ohio State star receivers coach Brian Hartline, is also apparent in the younger Harrison's film. Though Harrison is most known for his catch radius and ball skills along the sidelines, he's equally impressive as a route runner for the way his lower body operates more like a slot receiver than someone with his measurables.

Harrison was electric last season, finishing fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting with his second straight season of 1,200 yards and 14 touchdowns, despite sitting out the bowl game. But what was most impressive was how much of Ohio State's offense fell on his gangly shoulders. C.J. Stroud's departure left the Buckeyes to start Kyle McCord, who had chemistry with Harrison as his former high school quarterback but offered no college experience and pedestrian overall play, with just 10 touchdowns to players not named Harrison. He transferred to Syracuse after a loss to Michigan.

I don't think the Colts will waffle on the type of player Harrison is. For this dream to have any chance, of course, they would need the Cardinals to do that waffling. And if they're torn between Harrison and Nabers at No. 4 and also love Odunze and possibly LSU's Brian Thomas Jr. and others, a trade back can make sense, which could be why they've been leaking their interest in doing so. Perhaps a move back 11 spots is too far, but they'd still have 10 picks to work with to move back up, a juggling act they pulled off time and again in general manager Monti Ossenfort's first draft a year ago.

The possibility of moving up for Harrison is at least a thought that has crossed Ballard's mind.

“Sure there is, when I go into fantasyland," Ballard said on the Rich Eisen Show when asked about the possibility. "... That's not exactly been my nature to move up and give up what it would take to get that high. He's a really good player and I don't want to downgrade that, but it would be very difficult for us to get up that high."

That's what this is. It's fantasyland. The only way it could happen is if the Cardinals are hell-bent on trading down but don't have a suitor trading up for McCarthy, and if the price fell to a point where the pick-obsessed Ballard would do it, which might mean getting another one back.

Ballard has made the occasional over-the-top swing on one player before, though it's always been veterans. He traded first-round picks for DeForest Buckner and Carson Wentz, and he went hard after Danielle Hunter this spring before the four-time Pro Bowl edge rusher signed with his hometown Texans. His recourse to losing on Hunter was to not spend on any other starters in free agency. That's because his gambles are player-specific. It has to be for the perfect one in his eyes.

The depth of this year's receivers class is a strong argument against why the Colts would pay much to move up for a single one, but they're also not in the territory for the top tier of them. They don't see their offense as needing very many pieces to grow organically through Richardson and Shane Steichen, but they have repeatedly said they want to add a pass catcher and one with explosive, yards-after-the-catch traits. They just signed Michael Pittman Jr. to a three-year, $70 million extension, so any other swings among pass catchers are likely to happen in the draft with cost-controlled assets. In this fantasyland scenario, Harrison could finish out his rookie deal in time to replace Pittman as the high-dollar investment at the position.

It's all fantasy. It's all incredibly unlikely. But it's a dream on one player who is the perfect fit, and one that perhaps Ballard could be talked into. After all, he was asked about whether Harrison gave a template for other draft prospects to skip the combine in order to do it their way:

"Not everybody is Marvin Harrison."

Contact Nate Atkins at Follow him on Twitter @NateAtkins_.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: How Colts can ace 2024 NFL Draft: Trading up for Marvin Harrison Jr.