Want to a glimpse at how good a wide receiver Alec Pierce is – and can be?
"Just put on the Notre Dame game," Colts general manager Chris Ballard said last weekend. "I mean, he played about as well as you could play against a top-five college football team."
Luke Fickell, Cincinnati's head coach, had a front-row seat to Pierce's six catches and 144 yards in the Bearcats' defining win over the Irish in South Bend last September. In that moment, watching his star wide receiver blow past a college football powerhouse, Fickell knew the kind of player NFL evaluators would see in Pierce.
"That's when I said, wow, this guy's got an incredible future at the next level because when the competition grows, he gets better," Fickell said. "And he did it throughout the entire season."
Pierce caught 52 passes for 884 yards (17.0 yards/reception) with eight touchdowns to help Cincinnati become the first non-Power-Five program to reach the College Football Playoff. And he did it with the kind of physical, tough, unselfish approach the Colts value in their wide receivers.
"He does some of the things that aren't talked about," Fickell said. "Some of the ways he blocks, the physicality he can play with, I think is where he takes himself to the next level. I told people in the process, I think his best football is ahead of him. He is so intelligent that at the next level, the sophistication not just of the offense but of the defense he'll see is where he'll excel even more."
Pierce, of course, wasn't the only one of Fickell's players to be drafted by the Colts. The guy Fickell thought was Cincinnati's defensive MVP last year was, too: Curtis Brooks, who had to wait until pick No. 212 in the sixth round to hear his name called.
"I was really disappointed for Curtis (to wait that long to be drafted) because I felt like he was our defensive MVP," Fickell said. "And I really do believe that. He did some of the unsung things — we asked him to play nose guard, head up over the nose and play a lot of two-gap stuff for the team and he did a phenomenal job at that.
"So he really grew unselfish in what he was doing, just from his junior to senior year, he became the leader of that whole D-line room and his play continued to grow. But his maturity and his ability to be a big part of our locker room was where I thought he grew even more this last year."
Brooks, by the way, was teammates on the Bearcats' defense with cornerback Sauce Gardner, who was the fourth overall pick in the draft. To be the defensive MVP of a team with a top-five pick on that side of the ball – that's pretty good.
Fickell sees Brooks fitting better at the NFL level as a 3-technique (which is what DeForest Buckner usually plays) instead of where he had to be used in the Bearcats' defense. Brooks still notched 7 1/2 sacks and 12 1/2 tackles for a loss while controlling gaps and playing head-up on opposing centers. And Fickell sees Brooks fitting well with Colts defensive line coach Nate Ollie's attack-oriented mindset.
"You can't teach power and you can't teach explosion," Fickell said. "I think that's two things that are going to pop off and jump off right away."