Some seven weeks later he was a 2019 draft pick of Chris Ballard.
It’s a remarkable story that you don’t typically see in the NFL Draft, especially in today’s age where hidden gem prospects are much, much easier to find.
But the Colts’ first interaction with Speed came when their in-house pro scouting staff was sifting through some March 7 Pro Day numbers.
What the scouting department found was a 6-3, 227-pound linebacker from tiny Tarleton State University who could really run. Speed ran 4.6 in the 40-yard dash, 6.9 seconds in the three-cone drill and 4.39 seconds in the short shuttle. The three-cone drill would have been top-5 among all linebackers at February’s Combine.
Once the Colts saw the testing numbers that checked their important box in that area, it was time to do some homework on Speed.
“He had an unbelievable workout,” Chris Ballard said of what first got the Colts’ attention. “We started studying him more and we just see a guy that’s got really big upside as an inside backer.”
Before the Colts put Speed on their draft board though, some intense background was needed.
In 2018, Speed was arrested and charged with two counts of criminal activity in 2018, involving credit card fraud, but those charges were recently dropped.
With Ballard having an extensive history in the state of Texas, the Colts were able to do the necessary homework on Speed, in a short period of time, while also bringing the linebacker to Indianapolis for a top-30 visit during the pre-draft process.
“We do our work,” Ballard said after drafting Speed in Round 5 of the 2019 Draft. “I can’t emphasize it enough, kids make mistakes. They make mistakes. That doesn’t mean that they’re bad kids. It doesn’t mean that they’re bad people. Kids make mistakes. He made a mistake.”
The Colts are adamant that they don’t believe Speed is bringing a character issue to their tight knit locker room.
“The legal issue was just something that me and a lot of guys learned from and just distancing myself from guys that aren’t going in the same direction as me,” Speed says of what he learned from the arrest.
Speed’s transition to the Colts will be a much bigger rise in competition than even a guy like Darius Leonard faced from South Carolina State.
At Tarleton State, Speed finished his 35-game career with 231 total tackles, 36 for loss, 11.5 sacks and 10 passes defensed. He also had 8 forced fumbles and 3 interceptions. Despite being worthy of a draft pick, Speed never even earned first-team all-conference honors in the Lone Star Conference.
But the Colts are enamored with the athletic traits.
Speed’s NFL career will start playing behind Darius Leonard at the WILL linebacker spot and the rookie will be asked to make an impact on special teams very early on.
“Speed is my biggest factor and elusiveness and playmaking ability,” the linebacker says in describing his game.
“I love to make spectacular plays. It’s like a fetish for me to make spectacular plays that I feel like no one else can make. So that’s basically my game – just always searching for a big play that can change the game.”
INDIANAPOLIS – The all-name draft for the Indianapolis Colts continued in the latter part of Round 5, with linebacker EJ Speed coming at pick No. 169.
Speed hails from Division II Tarleton State University and believes he will play WILL linebacker in Indianapolis.
Here are 3 thoughts on the Colts drafting Speed:
- Another ‘Speedy’ Linebacker
The 6-4, 230-pound Speed says ‘speed’ is the best part of his game in trying to make the jump from the Division II level.
Speed did not have the chance at Tarleton State to prove himself against DI competition, and didn’t play in an All-Star game, but his athletic traits are in the elite percentile.
A former high school quarterback, then turned receiver, who eventually moved to linebacker in 2014, Speed had 106 tackles in 2018, with 12 tackles for loss and 5 sacks.
With the Colts, Darius Leonard is the WILL linebacker and Speed now becomes the third LB drafted in 2019 by Chris Ballard. In three drafts, Ballard has selected seven linebackers, so some serious competition amongst this young group will be there come August.
- Small School Product
On Saturday, Speed said he turned down offers to play at Oklahoma State and Colorado, among others, to stay closer to home at Tarleton State.
Speed said his adopted brother was diagnosed with cancer during his senior year of high school. The hope was for his brother to recover, and for the two of them to play collegiate football together. Unfortunately, his brother passed away before that could happen.
Now, finding Speed going up against NFL-caliber talent is difficult. That’s different from Leonard, who had collegiate film against Clemson and played in the Senior Bowl.
- Criminal Charges Dropped
Speed was arrested and charged with two counts of criminal activity in 2018, but those chargers were recently dropped.
On his arrest, Speed said this on Saturday: “Just something that a lot of guys learned from, and distanced myself from a lot of guys who are not going in the same direction. Definitely no second stumbles or anything like that.”
The Colts brought Speed in for a top-30 visit earlier this year. Speed said the topic of his arrest, and having to answer numerous questions about his character did not come up much in the draft process.
It’s crazy to think that the Colts first discovered Speed less than two months ago. Before his pro day workout in Texas, the Colts had never heard of Speed. They, obviously, quickly went into full gear in vetting the prospect once they saw his eye-popping workout numbers.
Unlike previous picks for the Colts in 2019, this one does not have the same high-bar of character on the collegiate resume, although the Colts are very comfortable with the background work they did on Speed.
Speed (6-4, 224) produced 231 tackles, 36 tackles for losses, 11.5 sacks, 10 pass breakups, three interceptions, eight forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries and three blocks over 35 games for the Division II school located in Stephenville, Texas.
Speed arrived at Tarleton State as a quarterback, converted to receiver during his redshirt freshman season and then moved to the defensive side of the ball during a medical redshirt season in 2014.
Speed led the nation in forced fumbles as a sophomore. He then led Tarleton State in tackles with 106 as a senior in 2018.
Injuries followed him for much of his collegiate career, and he was arrested in 2018 on two felony counts of organized criminal activity stemming from an alleged scam. The case has since been dismissed.
At the Texas A&M-Commerce pro day in March, Speed ran the 40-yard dash in 4.6 seconds, did 24 reps on the bench press, hit 34″ on the vertical and 10-0 on the broad jump and finished the three-cone drill in 6.9 seconds and the short shuttle in 4.39 seconds.
NFL draft prospect and Tarleton State University linebacker E.J. Speed knows about change and adversity which has only made him stronger as he has risen to every challenge placed in his path.Now with the 2019 NFL draft just around the corner news has emerged that the San Francisco 49ers and the Green Bay Packers have expressed interest in the quarterback turned wide receiver and finally morphed into a team-leading tackler at linebacker.
A 2013 graduate of North Crowley High School, Speed was expected to be on scouting radars as a quarterback after throwing for more than 3,000 yards his senior season. Speed also caught 30 passes for 400 yards and rushed for 350 more as a real “triple-threat” player.
The Dave Campbell’s Texas Football Magazine Top-30 prospect red-shirted at Tarleton his first season and converted to playing wide-receiver full time. His redshirt freshman season ended before it began due to an injury that caused him to miss the entire season. His medical red-shirt freshman season gave a few hints of what was to come his sophomore year where he led the nation in forced fumbles and was a second-team All-Lone Star Conference selection.The injury bug bit Speed during his junior year as he played in only five games making 41 tackles including a season-high 12 tackles in the Delta State opener.Speed’s senior year was the college gem he had been searching for as he fulfilled the potential the switch the linebacker promised as he recorded a team-high 106 tackles with 55 of those solo stops. Speed recorded 12 tackles for losses, five sacks and an interception as the Texans ran out an undefeated LSC season and finished the year 12-1 in the third round of the NCAA D2 playoffs.
While it is unknown where Speed may be taken in the draft there are some later round indications to the talk teams may not use a draft choice on him, but want to open lines of communication to invite him to an NFL training camp.