INDIANAPOLIS — A lot of kids can only dream of playing professionally for their state's NFL team, but Danny Pinter is fortunate enough to say he's on his way to actually doing it.
The South Bend, Ind., native, who went about 2 1/2 hours south to play collegiately at Ball State in Muncie, is now making his way to Central Indiana after being selected by the Indianapolis Colts in the fifth round of the 2020 NFL Draft (149th overall).
"Man, so much. I really can't even put it into words to be honest," Pinter told reporters when asked what it meant to be drafted by his home state team. "I mean this state means a lot to me. I've lived here my whole life, I have played football here my whole life. So to have the opportunity to stay here and stay around a bunch of people who helped me get to his point is – really, I can't put it into words. I mean I am so excited."
Although he played in the state, Pinter, at least publicly, wasn't a highly-touted prospect in the draft. He was selected about where various experts expected him to be taken, but as it turned out, the Colts were not only well aware of Pinter heading into Day 3 — they were getting anxious that they might not be able to select a guy that was one of their favorite overall prospects on the board.
"I love Danny, I'm not going to lie to y'all. Actually, we were trying move up to get him," Colts general manager Chris Ballard said after the draft. "I probably won't ever give y'all this much insight, but for like 30 minutes we were trying to move up and just couldn't get up to get him."
There's a lot to like about the player that Pinter currently is, as well as the one the Colts believe he will be in due time. In short, he is a guy that just gets it, and he does whatever his teams ask of him at a quality level.
He arrived at Ball State as a tight end and stayed there until 2018 when he was asked to move to offensive tackle. He earned a starting spot at right tackle right away and subsequently started all 24 games from there. In total, he started 35-of-43 games over the last four years.
"It was a mix of things," Pinter said as to what led to him moving from tight end to tackle. "I was a bigger tight end, but at the same time the team needed a tackle so my coach just approached me at the time and asked if that was a move I was willing to make for the team, and it was something I embraced right from the first time they asked me."
Pinter quickly adjusted to that role on the offensive line, gaining 50 pounds and picking up little nuances here; before long, his thinking started to shift to the possibility of playing professionally.
"It's certainly it's been my goal no matter where that was going to be, but I think it is the most natural fit for me," Pinter said when asked if he thought offensive line was his best fit heading into the NFL. "I mean, I love offensive line, it fits me well and it definitely helped me get to his point."
Although it was new to him, Pinter was dependable as a tackle, becoming the Cardinals' only offensive lineman to start every game at the same position in 2018, and then as one of two offensive lineman to start every game in 2019. He was even named First-Team All-MAC in 2019 after just his second season at the position.
All of Pinter's physical measurables are a little undersized for the offensive tackle position, which may be the primary reason why he's been considered an interior offensive lineman by many during the pre-draft process. He's currently 6'4-1/4", 306 pounds with 9-1/2" hands, 31-7/8" arms and a 6'5-7/8" wingspan.
He was an 83.3-percent match for the Colts' interior line, according to our 2020 NFL Draft Prospect Team Fits piece, and his athletic scores at the Combine were collectively among the best of the Colts' current interior linemen. In short: Pinter still has the tight end athleticism in an offensive lineman's frame.
Although he's still a work in progress, there's plenty to take away from his tape.
He starts out with pretty good posture in pass protection, with his knees bent and back straight.
Pinter is stout and doesn't give up much ground to incoming defenders. When he does get pushed, he has the flexibility to rebound from being bent out of place.
He's a tough blocker in the run game who tries to drive his man out of the lane. He has an edge to him, even if you'd like to see it a little more often.
Pinter has quick, choppy feet that don't stop moving, and he covers a lot of ground in his kickslide. His footwork was more consistent in 2019; he wasn't crossing his feet as much and chasing after guys.
He also got better with his hands in 2019, showing strong hands that would lock onto the defender, and punching more consistently. However, Pinter will likely be coached-up on delivering the initial punch in pass protection. He didn't do that very consistently in college, and he let defenders get into his frame too easily rather than using his arms to keep them at bay. Coaches will also likely look to get him placing his hands inside the defender's chest at a better rate.
Pinter's athleticism that he showed at the Combine is on display on film as he gets out on the move on outside plays, and gets to the second level easily.
As a tackle, he sometimes struggled with bendy edge rushers who could get his outside shoulder dipped and out of his reach. That's where his lack of ideal length comes into play and one reason why moving inside could benefit his game.
Arguably Pinter's biggest strength isn't a physical attribute or ability, however. It's his attitude and work ethic, which then blends into adaptability.
The Ball State football program doesn't appear to publicly announce its permanent team captains, but Pinter likely was one. He was on the team's leadership council in 2018 and 2019, and he earned the Ball State Dave McLain Leadership Award both years as well. He also earned the Ball State Paul Schudel Strength & Conditioning Award in 2019.
He is apparently a very fast learner and then excels quickly to what he's asked. He received the Ball State Ray Louthen Award after his final season at tight end in 2017, which is given to the most improved player, and he was given Ball State's John Magnabosco Award after his second season at right tackle in 2019, which is given to the most outstanding player. He was even named his basketball team's Most Improved Player as a high school junior.
Although success in the classroom is often overlooked on the outside, Pinter was also an Academic All-MAC selection in all four of his playing years (2016-19).
FIT WITH THE COLTS
As you've probably gathered by now, Pinter sounds like a Horseshoe guy, through and through.
He's smart, he's a leader, he's a hard worker, a good teammate, has been successful on the football field, and is still getting better.
Although the Colts have an established starting five on their offensive line in place, could Pinter's ability to adapt quickly get him into the competition for a starting spot? It's certainly possible.
At the very least, his ability to pick things up quickly could allow him to provide depth at multiple spots on the line, similar to what Joe Haeg provided the Colts for the past four years. With both Haeg and Josh Andrews leaving in free agency, there is an opening there for Pinter to potentially fill.
"There are great players there and I think everyone knows that. So I'm just coming in ready to learn as much as I can," Pinter said about joining the Colts' well-established offensive line. "I mean obviously I am a competitive person so I am going to go out there and compete as much as I can, but at the same time there is a lot to learn from those guys with a lot of experience. So that is what I am really looking forward to – is just becoming a better player through them."
One of those guys Pinter will be following is left guard Quenton Nelson, who has earned First-Team All-Pro honors in his first two seasons in the NFL.
"Yeah, I mean, he is the best in the business. I mean, I think that is known across the league. He is the best in the game at the position so to have the chance to learn from him is something that I'm really looking forward to," Pinter said about Nelson. "He is the best in the game at the position without a doubt. That's well established. I love watching him – I mean before obviously playing for the Colts now. So I am really excited to learn from him."
Nelson will likely be an ideal player to try to emulate for Pinter, who will likely continue his move from the outside of the offensive line — initially at tight end, then moving to offensive tackle — in. Ballard said it's possible Pinter could play some tackle for the Colts, but "center/guard is where I think he's going to make his hay in the league."
"And you want to talk about character? Believe me, this guy's got blue character and he fits our culture," Ballard said. "He has the traits we look for in offensive linemen."
Pinter had anticipated that a potential move away from tackle once he reached the NFL level, so he'd been preparing to play any of the five spots on the line throughout the pre-draft process.
"Yeah, that's kind of been something I have really been working on, because throughout this process (it) was kind of recognized to me that that was probably the reality," he said. "I've been open about how willing I am to play wherever a team needs me. So I have really been trying to work on my versatility – working as a center, working as a guard and then working as a tackle if I need to go do that. So I am more than willing to do whatever they need me to do."
While snaps at guard and center weren't plentiful for Pinter during the season, it is something that's ramped up for him as of this year.
"It was a mix. So not in games or practices much or anything like that," Pinter said of the reps he's taken as an interior lineman. "But I was staying after practice since this summer because I knew this was a possible switch and then just be willing to do it if the team needed it or someone got hurt. Then also at the NFLPA game I played at, I played guard there the whole week. It's something I definitely feel comfortable with."
Whatever position Pinter lands at, and whenever he can crack the lineup, he's happy to be doing it in his home state.
"Yeah, (being) from Indiana, it is Colts country," he said. "So I saw plenty of games growing up. I know how great of a fan base it is. I've been to games, I've been to Lucas Oil (Stadium) so it is definitely a culture that I am really excited to be a part of."
Get your first look at Danny Pinter after being selected 149th overall by the Indianapolis Colts.