Colts Draft 2020: Chris Ballard Wraps Up Day 2 Action

After making the team’s first three selections in the 2020 NFL Draft — wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr., running back Jonathan Taylor and safety Julian Blackmon — Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard early Saturday spoke with the media via video conference call to go over the picks. What were the top takeaways from the session?

INDIANAPOLIS — After making the team's first three selections in the 2020 NFL Draft — wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr., running back Jonathan Taylor and safety Julian Blackmon — Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard early Saturday spoke with the media via video conference call to go over the picks.

You can listen to that entire session above, but here were some of the top takeaways:

» The Colts had boxes they needed to check heading into the draft; mission accomplished On Friday: Entering the offseason, Ballard said the Colts knew they needed to add a dominant presence at the three-technique spot up front along the defensive line, and then he also said it was apparent the offense needed more explosive playmakers all over the field.

The Colts checked the first box last month, when they acquired All-Pro defensive tackle DeForest Buckner in a trade with the San Francisco 49ers. The team knew it could continue checking those boxes in the NFL Draft, which ended up being the case on Friday, when it addressed the offense with the second-round selections of Pittman Jr. and Taylor.

"Whether it was at wideout, tight end, running back, we knew we needed to add explosive playmakers," Ballard said. "And that's where Pittman and Taylor come into the equation."

More on those guys coming up.

» Ballard never seriously considered trading back into the first round on Thursday night: The move to get Buckner meant the Colts were parting ways with their first-round (13th-overall) pick in this year's draft. Ballard was more than comfortable making that move because of the caliber player the team was getting in return in Buckner.

But he said after Day 2 action that despite reports indicating otherwise, the Colts were never serious players to move back up into the first round on Thursday.

"There was no effort to try to get into the first round," Ballard said. "We were comfortable with where we were at. We felt good about 34."

Want further proof?

"Matter of fact, I was eating popcorn, just hanging out, from about Pick 19 to 32," Ballard said.

» Pittman Jr. can do it all at the wide receiver position: The 6-foot-4, 223-pound USC product obviously has the size to be a mismatch nightmare, but he also brings plenty of skills to the field.

A Second-Team Associated Press All-American in 2019, Pittman Jr. finished the season with 101 receptions for 1,275 yards (12.6 yards per reception) and 11 touchdowns in 13 starts.

NFL.com's Lance Zierlein described Pittman Jr. as "big, smart and reliable," which goes right along with Ballard's line of thinking.

"What we saw with Michael was a guy who could win at all three levels," Ballard said. "He's big, he's strong to the ball, he competes. … We think he's got a chance to be a heck of a player."

» It was Jim Irsay who convinced Ballard to go ahead and move up to take Taylor: After selecting Pittman Jr. at 34th overall, the Colts' next pick was supposed to be at No. 44. They knew they loved Taylor and what he could bring to their offense, but they had intel that made them believe he might not quite make it to them at 44th overall.

By the time it got to the 36th or 37th pick, Ballard said, it was Irsay, the team owner, who dug into his experience as the Colts' former general manager, expressing to his current GM that he knew just how much the team coveted Taylor — one of the most prolific running backs in NCAA history — so they might as well do what they need to do to get him.

The Colts did just that, sending their 44th- and 160th-overall selections to the Cleveland Browns for the 41st pick, and taking Taylor.

"He's a unique talent, and anytime a unique talent starts to fall a little bit, at that point we were like, 'Man, we need to go get the player," Ballard said of Taylor, the two-time Doak Walker Award winner, given annually to college football's top running back.

There is one other factor in play when evaluating the Colts' selection of Taylor, however: the team already had a reigning 1,000-yard rusher returning in 2020 in Marlon Mack.

But this was clearly one of those "draft the best player on your board" situations, and Ballard said Mack seemed to understand the positive impact a guy like Taylor could have on the team — and on him — when he communicated earlier in the evening with head coach Frank Reich.

» Julian Blackmon might not be able to help the Colts' defense right away in 2020, but he was too solid a prospect to pass up: The Utah product suffered an ACL injury towards the tail end of the 2019 season, and is currently four months into his recovery and rehab work after undergoing surgery.

Ballard said Blackmon is facing a "late-August, early-September," recovery, "which means that he might not help us until October." But Blackmon's ranginess, speed and versatility — his first two seasons in college were at cornerback before switching to safety last year — were exactly what his secondary needed, so the team went ahead and picked him its third-round (85th-overall) selection.

The 6-foot, 187-pound Blackmon was a quick study at safety, earning AP Second-Team All-American honors in 2019, starting 12 games in all and tying for the Pac-12 lead — and ranking 17th in the FBS — with four interceptions, while also collecting 60 tackles (four for a loss), four passes defensed and two forced fumbles.

His experience at corner means he can play in coverage deep, he can play in the box or he can play as a nickel, adding more flavor to a young, talented Colts safety group that includes returning starters Malik Hooker and Khari Willis, as well as key rotational pieces George Odum and Rolan Milligan.

» Ballard previously said the Colts wouldn’t force it when it came to selecting a quarterback of the future. The Colts then followed through by not forcing it when it came to selecting a quarterback of the future: The Colts currently have three quarterbacks on their offseason roster — Jacoby Brissett, Chad Kelly and starter Philip Rivers — and all three of them currently see their contracts expire after the 2020 season.

Last Friday, in his annual pre-draft press conference, Ballard was asked if he felt any additional pressure to find a quarterback of the future in this draft, to which he said that position is so important that it's critical not to make a move just for the sake of making one.

By the time Day 2 action wrapped up, five quarterbacks — Joe Burrow (No. 1 overall), Tua Tagovailoa (No. 5), Justin Herbert (No. 6), Jordan Love (No. 26) and Jalen Hurts (No. 53) — had been taken off the board.

The Colts were content letting those five signal callers fall to other teams, and they were also content with the remaining quarterbacks — like Jacob Eason, Jake Fromm, Anthony Gordon, James Morgan, Steven Montez and others — finding their way into the third day of the draft.

That doesn't mean the Colts won't take one of those guys in Rounds 4-7 on Saturday, or even as an undrafted free agent — but Ballard simply is following his own guidelines at the position.

"I told y'all the other day: we're not going to force that," he said early Saturday.

» Ballard has no concerns about the offensive line depth heading into Day 3: The Colts have one of the best starting offensive lines in football in Anthony Castonzo (left tackle), Quenton Nelson (left guard), Ryan Kelly (center), Mark Glowinski (right guard) and Braden Smith (right tackle).

But just as important to Ballard is ensuring he has capable backups ready to go in a moment's notice should something happen to one of those talented starters.

Many believed the Colts would be pursuing a tackle, specifically, on Day 2 of the draft, as Joe Haeg, the team's top swing tackle the past couple seasons running, signed a free agent deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers earlier this offseason. While that didn't end up coming to fruition, Ballard isn't sweating it.

The team this offseason re-signed Le'Raven Clark, another backup at tackle, and has others, like Jake Eldrenkamp, that have impressed either on the practice squad or in reserve roles. Other offensive linemen vying for spots on the 90-man roster include center Javon Patterson, guard Chaz Green and tackles Andrew Donnal, Brandon Hitner, Cedrick Lang and Travis Vorkahl.

Then there's this: Ballard isn't ruling out the possibility of adding offensive line depth on Day 3 of the draft, either.

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