INDIANAPOLIS — The Colts drafted Vanderbilt defensive end Dayo Odeyingbo with the 54th overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, adding an athletic, versatile player with tremendous upside to their front.
And there are three big reasons why the Colts doubled down on building their defensive line with their lone pick on Friday:
1. They stayed true to their draft board.
Ballard said Thursday night, after the Colts drafted Paye, that positional need only comes into play as a tiebreaker when evaluations on two players are even. But as was the case with Paye, the team's evaluation of Odeyingbo had him atop their draft board — this time at pick No. 54.
So taking him meant the Colts stuck with their process, even if they just drafted a defensive lineman about 24 hours prior.
"We would have considered him in the first round if he hadn't got injured and I think a lot of teams would have," Ballard said (more on the injury in a bit). "To be honest with you, I was kind of sweating it out at where we were picking if we were going to be able to get him because we had kind of targeted him. I'm pretty sure he would have gone pretty quickly after us."
Staying true to the draft board meant not reaching for a tackle, too. A number of tackles went off the board before the Colts' pick at No. 54: Teven Jenkins (39, Bears), Liam Eichenberg (42, Dolphins), Walker Little (45, Jaguars), Jackson Carman (46, Bengals), Sam Cosmi (51, Washington) and Dillon Radunz (53, Titans).
It's notable that the next tackle to be picked was Michigan's Jalen Mayfield all the way at No. 68 overall to the Atlanta Falcons.
"Just because you plug a name in there doesn't always make it the right answer," Ballard said. "It's no different with pass rushers – along with corner – tackle, quarterback, edge rushers and corners are the hardest to find. You just have to continue to draft and develop and get a little luck along the way. Our staff does a heck of a job coaching these players up. I have a lot of faith in them, so we'll continue to do that."
Ballard said there still are some tackle prospects on the board the Colts like entering Day 3, but he also reiterated a point he made Thursday night: That, while 2021 is considered a deep draft for tackles, it may not necessarily be a deep draft for "prototypical" left tackles. And that's the position the Colts need to fill on their offensive line after Anthony Castanzo retired earlier this year.
"Finding a left tackle is not the easiest position to find," Ballard said. "There were a lot of really good players on the offensive line and there still are, guys that are going to start in the league, but specifically, a left tackle, we'll see. Sometimes you need a little luck when you hit on one after the second, third round."
For now, Ballard said the Colts will probably "leave the four guys alone" — meaning Quenton Nelson at left guard, Ryan Kelly at center, Mark Glowinski at right guard and Braden Smith at right tackle — while remaining confident in Sam Tevi and some of the options that could be available during or after the 2021 NFL Draft.
"We had some (tackles) go right in front of us and we had, to be honest with you, we had Dayo ranked higher," Ballard said. "You just can't force it. We've got time. We've still got four more draft picks here in the (third) day and then we've got until September. So we'll continue to work through it."
2. They're confident in Odeyingbo's upside, even after he suffered an injury in January.
Odeyingbo tore his Achilles' tendon in January, and Ballard said there's "no timetable" for when he'll be cleared. But in evaluating Odeyingbo, Ballard said the Colts "thought it was worth the risk" to draft a player coming off a serious injury.
"He's as disruptive of a defensive player as we saw on tape this past fall," Ballard said.
Ballard later added: "When they hit up that board, we think he fits our culture and fits what we want to do. There is no doubt he fits the way we want to play. Like the two young men we just took play the way we want to play, and that is with high effort and intensity.
"They are going to be tremendous fits to the room and to the football team."
3. Odeyingbo will add versatility, competition and depth to the Colts' D-line room.
Ballard said Odeyingbo can rush from both the left and right ends while possessing the ability to kick inside, giving him the kind of versatile skillset the team already valued in guys like Paye, Tyquan Lewis and Isaac Rochell.
"This league is about getting to the quarterback on passing downs," Ballard said. "The ability to keep guys fresh, mix and match and get your best four rushers on the field, it's important, it's critical – it's how you win games."
But another sneaky factor Ballard brought up is the NFL moving to a 17-game schedule beginning in 2021, which will put an added emphasis on having a strong D-line rotation.
"I think we've made our front better on defense," Ballard said. "With the losses of (Denico) Autry and (Justin) Houston we knew we had some work to do and we've still got players there that we like. Look, when you want to have great competition to play you've got to have talent. I think we've added talent and I think it's going to up the intensity and tempo of the group. They all play hard anyways, but now it's going to be competition for snaps and that's a good thing."
The Colts continued to add to their defense in the NFL Draft by drafting Vanderbilt defensive end Dayo Odeyingbo with the 54th overall pick Friday night.