INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts on Saturday wrapped up the 2020 NFL Draft with nine new, exciting prospects — five on offense, and four on defense — to work with. What were the top takeaways from the three days of action from general manager Chris Ballard and head coach Frank Reich?
You can listen to Ballard and Reich's entire video conference call with the local media above, but here are some top takeaways:
» Jacob Eason has the tools to develop into a solid NFL quarterback, but for now, he's simply competing for the No. 3 quarterback job: Ballard has been saying all along that the team didn't feel pressure to get a "quarterback of the future," and that he wouldn't force it at that position in this year's draft. So despite the fact that Eason was getting pre-draft buzz as a possible first- or second-rounder, the Colts did their scouting on him like usual and put him on their board accordingly.
When the team went on the clock in the fourth round at 122nd overall, the decision was a simple one — the board said to get Eason, so that’s exactly what the Colts did.
Reich said the team spent a "fair amount of time" with Eason throughout the pre-draft process, and between those conversations, his overall "size, strength and really good arm talent" (the best arm talent in his draft class, in fact) and what he's shown on tape, he thinks there's plenty of potential for him use this opportunity to one day reach his ceiling.
"You personally get comfortable with somebody," Reich said. "You dig deep and try to figure out what makes a guy tick, so at the end of the day (it) felt like we were able to spend enough time with him to feel that way."
Both Reich and Ballard cautioned, however, that just because the team selected Eason in the draft — the Colts' first time taking a quarterback in the draft since 2012, when they took both Andrew Luck and Chandler Harnish — that he wasn't going to be starting at the ground floor and working his way up from there.
"Phillip Rivers and Jacoby Brissett are our first two (QBs), and Chad Kelly and Jacob are competing for the next spot," Ballard said. "Jacob's got talent; he's got to work and he's gotta earn it."
» The team has no plans to get rid of Jacoby Brissett: The fact the Colts both signed a free agent quarterback (Rivers) as their new starter and also took a quarterback in the fourth round of the NFL Draft (Eason), all in the same offseason, might spell doom for the former starter in most situations across the league.
But Brissett, Ballard insists, isn't budging as the Colts' backup quarterback for the 2020 season.
Now, this is the NFL, and plans can change. There's always a chance that another team could inquire about Brissett's availability down the line and make an offer that's impossible to ignore, but as far as Ballard is concerned, No. 7 is staying in Indy this year — which is to the benefit of everyone around him.
"We think he's a starter in the league," Ballard said of Brissett. "Jacoby's continuing to get better. … Everything Jacoby stands for is what we believe in. … We're lucky to have Jacoby Brissett."
» Reich believes second-round pick Michael Pittman Jr. has everything you could ever want out of a wide receiver in the NFL: At 6-foot-4 and 223 pounds, Pittman's size is the first trait one will likely notice, but turn on the film and the USC product will show a complete repertoire at the receiver position.
"Michael's got size, he's got strength, he's got good speed for his size, and then he's got good body quickness," Reich said.
Pittman Jr. was one of the nation's top pass catchers in 2019, finishing with 101 receptions for 1,275 yards (12.6 yards per reception) and 11 touchdowns in 13 starts, and was named a Fred Biletnikoff Award finalist — presented annually to the top receiver in college football — and was also a Second-Team Associated Press All-American, as well as a First-Team All-Pac-12 selection.
With no first-round pick in this year's NFL Draft, the Colts had plenty of time to consider their options for when Day 2 got underway, as they had the second pick in the second round, and Reich indicated there was no reservations at all that Pittman Jr. was the man for them at No. 34 overall.
"He was a guy that I think there was a really strong consensus on in the room from Day 1," Reich said.
» The Colts will go back to a "running back-by-committee" approach with the addition of Wisconsin standout Jonathan Taylor: The Colts in 2019 ranked seventh in the NFL in rushing, and actually finished just 1.5 yards per game out of the top-five.
So just imagine what's going through Reich's mind as he builds out the playbook for the 2020 season and can add a two time Doak Walker Award winner — given annually to college football's top running back — to his offense.
The 5-foot-10, 226-pound Taylor had 926 rushing attempts for 6,174 yards (6.7 yards per attempt) with 50 touchdowns, as well as 42 receptions for 407 yards and five scores through the air, in his three years with the Badgers, showing a rare blend of strength, speed and footwork.
Running behind this Colts offensive line? Yeah, that'll do just fine. One can see why the Colts were so willing to trade up to get Taylor in the second round.
Now, the obvious question here is how Taylor's role will affect returning starter Marlon Mack, who earned his first-career 1,000-yard rushing performance last season and, when healthy, has proven to be one of the top-producing running backs in the league.
But the way Reich sees it, Mack and Taylor will complement each other perfectly as a dangerous 1-2 punch.
"Marlon has great vision," Reich said. "Jonathan, he has the size and the speed."
Throw on top of that mixture some Nyheim Hines, who plays more of a third-down role, and Jordan Wilkins, who has performed extremely well spelling the other every-down backs the last couple seasons, and the Colts' motto of "Run The Dam Ball" takes on a whole new meaning.
» Ballard is satisfied with how the team has been able to address its needs to this point of the offseason; now it's time to work: When Ballard and Reich sat down to go over what went right and what went wrong for last season's 7-9 team, and what needs to change or be added moving forward, they really pointed to three key areas.
Defensively, there was a clear need for a dominant three-tech; someone up front who wreaked havoc from the interior and collapsed the pocket multiple times a game and forcing bad decisions from the opposing quarterback.
Offensively, the team wanted more consistent, downfield play out of its passing game, and it also just wanted more explosive options and depth in general, all over the field.
So the first move Ballard makes in free agency is trading the team's first-round pick (13th-overall) to the San Francisco 49ers in exchange for DeForest Buckner, who, at just 26 years old, is one of the top three-techniques in the league.
Then to boost the passing game, the Colts signed eight-time Pro Bowler Philip Rivers, who had previous experience working with Reich and offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni when they were together with the San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers a few years back.
Then, through the draft, Ballard and his staff were able to check off the final box. Pittman Jr. and Taylor are about as explosive as it gets at their respective positions coming out of the college game, while sixth-round pick Dezmon Patmon is another big-bodied receiver that has the traits and potential to develop into an offensive weapon down the road.
The pieces are in place, and now it's time to translate that into wins on Sundays.
There's a whole lot of time between now and Week 1 to do the work required to accomplish that feat.
"We think we've done good work. Now we've gotta prove it," Ballard said. "It's like anything else … now we've gotta work and come together and earn it each and every day. That's what makes this so unpredictable and also special for those reasons."