10 Colts Things Learned About 2022 NFL Draft: Chris Ballard's Strategy, Alec Pierce's Fit, Jelani Woods' Upside And More

The Colts drafted eight players in the 2022 NFL Draft: WR Alec Pierce, TE Jelani Woods, OT Bernhard Raimann, S Nick Cross, DT Eric Johnson, TE Andrew Ogletree, DT Curtis Brooks and CB Rodney Thomas II. Here's everything we learned about how and why the Colts drafted those players. 

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1. Chris Ballard's feel for when to trade back and when to get aggressive shined.

The Colts swapped picks with the Minnesota Vikings on Friday night, trading the Nos. 42 and 122 selections in the 2022 NFL Draft for the Nos. 53, 77 and 192 picks. With those three picks, the Colts selected:

  • Cincinnati WR Alec Pierce (No. 53 overall)
  • Central Michigan OT Bernhard Raimann (No. 77 overall)
  • Youngstown State TE Andrew Ogletree (No. 192 overall)

Later on Friday night, general manager Chris Ballard traded back into the third round to draft Maryland safety Nick Cross No. 96 overall, trading the No. 179 pick and a 2023 third-round pick to the Denver Broncos in the process.

So instead of making seven total picks, with only two in the top 100 selections, Ballard made eight total picks with four in the top 100. And the Colts feel like they added a number of players who can compete to contribute right away, be it on offense, defense and special teams.

"I think we needed an influx of youth," Ballard said. "We're young. I tell you, we're still pretty young, but the group from '18, now they're four years into the league. One of our big objectives was we wanted to add as many good, young, talented players as we could to create as much competition as we could. Look, we all know what makes people better – having to compete. And we think we've added some guys that's going to push that competition to another level."

But the point here is Ballard's steadiness allowed the Colts to add an extra pick that turned into Raimann, and his aggressiveness brought in Cross. That feel for when to move back and when to move up has paid off in previous drafts – it, separately, brought the Colts Michael Pittman Jr. (who was picked with a selection acquired from trading back in 2019) and Jonathan Taylor (who was picked when the Colts traded up) in the 2020 draft.

And, once again, it was on display over the last few days of this year's draft.

"I don't know how he does it, personally," Colts Director of Player Personnel Kevin Rogers said on last week's episode of the Official Colts Podcast. "… Chris is phenomenal at exercising his resources, talking to as many people as he can and he does more reconnaissance work on who's into what, what players, what coaches are on and with what programs. He's phenomenal at it."

2. There was an emphasis on athletic traits – again.

This didn't happen by accident:

The Colts' emphasis on finding players with high-end athletic traits in the draft isn't anything new, though.

"No, I don't think it's any different," Ballard said. "Maybe it sticks out a little more this year, but I think every year we've got certain things that we're looking – we've got bottom lines that we're looking for. If they don't have them, they usually don't make our board. We're always looking for athletic, unique traits that we want to take."

But don't get an emphasis on athleticism confused with a lack of tangible on-field production in this class. The Colts only drafted two players from Power Five conferences (Virginia's Woods and Maryland's Cross) but plenty of the other guys they brought in had some of their best collegiate games against the best competition.

Two examples from Day 2 picks: Pierce combined for 237 yards on 10 catches in games against Notre Dame and Ohio State in his career; Raimann didn't allow a pressure on 46 of his 47 pass-blocking snaps last fall when Central Michigan played at LSU.

"It's always good as a scout when you can see a guy do something rather than just trying to 100 percent project it," Colts area scout Chad Henry, who scouted Pierce and Raimann, said.

3. Frank Reich sees Alec Pierce as a versatile, explosive weapon.

Frank Reich's offense usually requires receivers to know how to play multiple positions – split out to the field, in the slot or to the boundary. For example: Michael Pittman Jr. has played 20 percent of his snaps in the slot over the last two years; Zach Pascal played about 25 percent of his snaps outside in the same span. So even if receivers are primarily outside or slot guys, they have to be effective lining up elsewhere.

And the Colts believe Pierce has the talent and football IQ to be a primarily-outside yet versatile receiver in Reich's offense.

"I like him on the outside," Reich said. "I think he'll move around, and we'll see how much he'll play. He'll compete but as you guys know, it's play by play. We're going to move the guys around multiple positions. They need to be smart enough to do that, all of our receivers are, and he fits in that mold as well.

"One of the things I like on his tape is I like him outside. I think he's very good versus press, I think he's got length and vertical speed to get down the field. I think for his size, he's a very good route runner. So, it'll be fun to see him grow and develop and compete over these next couple of months."

While Pierce didn't get a ton of opportunities in the slot at Cincinnati, the opportunity to learn how to play that position is one he's excited to dive into as he begins his career in the NFL over the next few weeks.

"I love doing either," Pierce said. "I mean, I got a lot more opportunities at Cincinnati playing on the outside. But the small chances I did get to play in the slot, I loved it. You get a lot of mismatches in there and matchups with people other than cornerbacks. So, it's usually a pretty good deal when you're in the slot."

4. Pierce fits the mentality the Colts want from their wide receivers, too.

The Colts aren't worried about Pierce's ability to develop as a route-runner – that's something most wide receivers need to hone in on in making the jump from college to the NFL.

"That's more common that not for guys coming out of college football, particularly a lot of the schemes that are being run nowadays," Henry said. "And it's just basically along the same lines of a running back that needs to get better at pass pro — sometimes they're just not asked to do it. ... I think you could probably say that for at least half of the receivers coming out of college, they need work on the route tree because they have't run a full tree.

"The thing we look at in that regard is, okay, is this guy athletic enough? (Pierce) certainly is. Is this guy intelligent? Does have have instincts? He does. Is he coachable? Is he willing to learn? Is he willing to work and perfect that craft? I think he checks all those boxes, so I think we're in good shape with him."

But here's the other thing with Pierce, one which fits a sneaky need – a need only a team with one of the best running backs in the NFL can actually consider.

Pierce likes to block. And he's good at it, too.

"We think he's going to be able to do a lot of the stuff that Zach (Pascal) did blocking for us in the run game," Ballard said, "which is really important."

This is a guy who was so physical Cincinnati tried him out as a SAM linebacker for a few practices during bowl season his freshman year. And the opportunity to help turn Jonathan Taylor runs from 10 yards to 70 yards is one he's looking forward to at the NFL level, too.

"It gives you more motivation to block because he's a really good running back and he's gonna be able to get through that hole and get to the second level, get to those DBs," Pierce said in an interview on the Colts Audio Network. "So you want to be out there covering men up and making it easier for him to get past those DBs."

Listen to Jeffrey Gorman and JJ Stankevitz's sit-down with new Colts WR Alec Pierce on the Colts Audio Network on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

5. A few days in Las Vegas helped sell the Colts on TE Jelani Woods.

A number of college prospects gathered in Las Vegas the week of the Super Bowl to practice for and play in the annual East-West Shrine Bowl, one of the several collegiate showcase games held across the country in the lead-up to the NFL Draft.

Coaching the West team were Colts offensive coordinator Marcus Brady (the head coach) and tight ends coach Klayton Adams (the offensive coordinator). And that week, both those coaches had an opportunity to work with Virginia tight end Jelani Woods, who Colts scouts were already high on after a strong season for the Cavaliers in 2021.

Brady and Adams installed and coached plays and principles from the Colts' offensive scheme in practices and the game, which only helped with the team's evaluation of the 6-foot-7, 253 pound tight end they wound up drafting two months later.

"It gave them a chance to understand how his brain works," area scout Mike Derice, who scouted Woods, said. "So they were able to see how his practice habits were, how quick he learned and how comfortable he was with the terminology that they use within our offense. And so I think there was a level of comfortability with us and with Jelani, and vice versa."

Woods landed on the Colts radar last spring when a coach at Virginia mentioned to Derice and Colts Director of College Scouting Morocco Brown that they had a tight end transfer from Oklahoma State who was turning heads during practice. Derice saw Woods steadily improve during the 2021 season as he cut his weight from 268 in August to 255 at the East-West Shrine Bowl; that change, Derice said, helped Woods get in and out of his routes better and have greater acceleration as he made his cuts.

And with Woods' remarkable length and athleticism, he projects as the kind of player who can be a quarterback's best friend.

"He's always open no matter if it's covered because he's just so long," Derice said. "He has good hands, and he's able to shield the ball with his body from the DB."

6. Bernhard Raimann has the talent and coachability to play left tackle – or almost anywhere else on the O-line.

Raimann is still relatively new to playing left tackle – he played wide receiver/tight end in a wing-T offense in his one year of high school football as a foreign exchange student in rural Michigan, then played two years as a tight end at Central Michigan. When coaches began working Raimann out at left tackle in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic hit; he wound up starting just 18 collegiate games at left tackle.

But what the 6-foot-6, 303 pound Austrian may lack in experience, the Colts believe he makes up for in his intelligence and desire to learn – in addition to his remarkable athletic traits.

"He's not set in his ways," Henry said. "One thing Chris always talks about is, we want guys who are coachable. We want guys who want to get better. I think he fits that to a T."

Raimann's next-play mentality, too, impressed the Colts – and that's a real thing left tackles have to have in the NFL.

"He's intelligent, he's confident, he's a worker, he believes in himself, he's coachable," Henry said. "His physical toughness is excellent, his mental toughness, I have no problem saying this guy can man the left side of the line because the left tackle position, in addition to having the skill – you have to be mentally tough because if you get your (butt) beat, everybody in the stadium knows it. And he's got that kind of wiring for sure."

The Colts will put the best five offensive linemen on the field – which means Raimann could compete at left tackle, but also could play elsewhere on the line if he proves he's worthy of a starting spot.

"We feel really good that he could play four spots — everything but center, and I'm not sure he couldn't go there and take snaps if we asked him to," NFS Scout Mike Lacy said. "... With the character, you're just betting on him to work and really strain and push himself and reach his ceiling."

7. Nick Cross may not fit a need now, but his talent was too good to pass up.

The Colts entered the draft with four safeties on their roster – Julian Blackmon (who's recovering from an Achilles' injury suffered last October) and Khari Willis both have starting experience in Indianapolis; Rodney McLeod is a 10-year veteran with 123 starts in his career; and Armani Watts appeared in 53 games for the Kansas City Chiefs as a reserve safety and special teamer over the last four years.

So safety didn't scream "need" as the third round rolled on. But the Colts were so high on Cross that it didn't matter.

"I don't know if it was definitely a need, but here he was sticking out on the board and we said, 'You know what? We need to get Nick Cross,'" Ballard said. "We think he's a really talented player and he's going to add a lot of talent to the back end."

The 20-year-old Cross ran the fastest 40-yard dash (4.34 seconds) of any safety at this year's NFL Combine and led Maryland in interceptions in each of his three seasons in college. He also was a core special teamer for the Terrapins.

"Nick can do everything we want on the back end — he can play free and strong interchangeably," Derice said. "That's what makes him pretty special. He's 20 years old, almost 21, not a lot of football experience as a starter — I think one year and a half.

"But traits were off the charts and he's so intelligent as a football player, student of the game. And that's what makes him really, really special. I don't think it'll take as much time — he's a really good football player. I was shocked that he was still there in the bottom of (round) three."

8. The Colts added juice and depth to their D-Line on Day 3.

In drafting Missouri State's Eric Johnson in the fifth round and Cincinnati's Curtis Brooks in the sixth round, the Colts brought in two athletic defensive tackles to slot into Nate Ollie's D-line room with DeForest Buckner and Grover Stewart, among others.

The Colts see the 6-foot-5, 298 pound Johnson profiling as a one-technique in the mold of Stewart, though they do see some potential for Johnson to play as a three-technique (where Buckner usually lines up).

Johnson is "a little bit raw, but has some physical upside," Rogers said, noting Johnson flashed at the Senior Bowl earlier this year and against FBS-level competition while at Missouri State, which is in the FCS.

Johnson's second-highest Pro Football Focus pass rushing grade in 2021 came against Oklahoma State; he also notched an impressive tackle for a loss in that game when he lined up as a nose tackle and used his lateral quickness and agility to shuttle outside after the snap, then accelerate into the backfield around a tackle to make a play.

"I feel where one of my strong suits comes from is my versatility, being able to play multiple positions and holding in there being a reliable character for the line," Johnson said.

As for Brooks, he fielded questions in the pre-draft process about his size (6-foot-2, 287 pounds), which he felt might've bumped him lower in the draft than he should've been.

"I'm ready to go into camp with that mentality – I won't forget where I went at or where I was drafted for sure," Brooks said.

But the Colts, with an attack-oriented four-down front, aren't as focused on Brooks' size. Lacy said Brooks has some traits – his twitchiness, his ability to fire off the ball at the snap, his quickness and athleticism – that make up for his smaller stature for his position. And all you have to do is put on the tape – Brooks was disruptive in 2021 with Cincinnati, totaling 7 1/2 sacks and 12 1/2 tackles for a loss for one of the nation's best teams.

"To get those TFL numbers, you got to have a relentless motor," Lacy said. "... I trust he's gonna carry a chip on his shoulder and come here, put his best foot forward and make sure that he makes sure other teams regret waiting on him as long as they did."

9. TE Andrew Ogletree and CB Rodney Thomas II, both smaller-program guys, have intriguing athletic traits.

Henry had been scouting Ogletree for years, ever since he was a hulking wide receiver at Division II Findlay in Ohio. The 6-foot-7, 250 pound former Ohio Division III High School Basketball Player of the Year at Northridge High School in Dayton transferred to Youngstown State for his final two seasons of college ball and converted to tight end there.

"Great kid, another super culture fit," Henry said. "And we were really excited to get him because we think he has tremendous upside."

Ogletree said he views himself as a "ball of clay" for the Colts to mold, with his size, length and athleticism the exact kind of traits the team likes to unearth late in the NFL Draft. Henry said he figures Ogletree will be a Y (in-line) tight end in the NFL based on his size and willingness to block.

"He's big and strong, he really warmed up to that element of the position (blocking) in a short time," Henry said. "And then you consider him as a Y, I think that his skillset's even better in the passing game."

Thomas, the Colts' final pick in this year's draft (No. 239 overall), recorded a 41-inch vertical jump at his pro day and brings a level of quickness and athleticism the team believes it can mold into a productive player, too.

"The movement skills that he has, his ball skills — he made some ridiculous plays against Cornell — and then you watch him at the pro day, his movement ability, his athleticism, it just translated to a guy who could play either safety or corner for us."

10. The Draft is over, but the Colts are not done adding to their roster.

After making eight picks, the Colts turned their focus to a deep pool of undrafted free agents. Identifying priority free agents has been a point of emphasis for the Colts this year, and with 2020 COVID opt-outs making that pool deeper than usual, the process for finding those players has been exhaustive over the last few months.

Here's how Rogers said the Colts went about building their list of undrafted free agents over the last few weeks:

"We have players that maybe a scout gave a draftable grade that's maybe fallen off the board, we go back and analyze him to see if hey, the scout liked this guy, let's see why, why does he not deserve to be on the board, there's still gotta be something there, let's prioritize him," Rogers said on last week's episode of the Official Colts Podcast. "You have the testing numbers, the guys that maybe weren't quite on the radar that blow out their pro day, blow out their combine. We divide those guys up amongst the pro department, and each scout has set positions and they'll go back, we get the numbers every day and we'll check them. Hey this guy tested well, we'll put on the workout, we'll put on the tape. If it's good, boom, he's at the top.

"So there are multiple layers to that process and it's gonna be critical for us to get some young talent this year."

Veteran free agency generally re-starts the Monday after the draft, too, as unrestricted free agents are no longer tied to the league's compensatory pick formula. And something Ballard has been clear about for years is that roster construction does not end with the draft; it can continue well into the regular season.

But bringing in young players from a deep, talented pool of undrafted free agents – which in the past has produced players like Kenny Moore II, Jack Doyle, Mo Alie-Cox and Zach Pascal, among others – will carry plenty of importance over the next few days.

"One thing Chris says is hey, if you can get 1 percent better even with your 90th guy, let's get that 1 percent better," Rogers said. "So that process, it never stops, and the more rocks you flip over you never know what you're gonna find."

Stay tuned for more breakdowns on the 2022 Colts draft on the Official Colts Podcast, with a new episode every Tuesday in your podcast feeds. And be sure to check out recaps of each day of the draft on episodes of Overtime on the Colts Audio Network featuring Matt Taylor and Rick Venturi on Day 1 and Day 2, and Bill Brooks, Casey Vallier and JJ Stankevitz on Day 3. Be sure to subscribe to the Colts Audio Network so you don't miss an episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

An inside look at the Colts War Room during the day 2 of the 2022 NFL Draft.

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