INDIANAPOLIS — The 2020 NFL Draft will forever go down in history as the "virtual draft."
With the COVID-19 pandemic affecting those around the world, and with stay-at-home orders and social distancing still in play, the NFL instituted a virtual format for this year's draft, in which teams and their various personnel and coaching staffs would be required to utilize video conferencing to make their selections.
The Indianapolis Colts quickly got adjusted to the virtual format, and by the end of Saturday's third day of the 2020 NFL Draft, had put together a solid nine-man draft class without a hitch, just as they would've if they were all together in the draft room at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center.
And, of course, Colts Productions' "With The Next Pick" has been there the whole way, providing exclusive behind-the-scenes coverage of this year's draft process, and this year's Season 2 finale, much like last year's doesn't disappoint.
You can catch the entire 19-minute Season 2 finale here, with some highlights below:
» Colts general manager Chris Ballard had some words of encouragement for everybody on the team's video conference just before the draft got underway, giving the "virtual draft" its proper perspective:
"Hey, before we get started, this is a historic freakin' moment for the league — and for us," Ballard said. "We're a part of it. Dude, you're gonna look back 20 years from now and this will be one of the coolest things we've done — it really will be. It's probably a once-in-a-lifetime thing that's gonna happen, and, you know, we're part of it. To be part of a virtual draft like this, it's historic for us. So enjoy the moment, enjoy this week, enjoy this three days. Have fun. You know me: if you've got something to say, say it. Don't sit there muted and then regret that you didn't speak up. Say what you gotta say. This is no different than being in the draft room. Let your voice be heard when it needs to be heard, alright? Let's have a great three days. We're gonna do good. We're gonna make the Colts better and push ourselves over the top with these three days."
» The day before the draft got started, on April 22, the Colts knew their first pick was going to be at No. 34 overall (or the second pick of the second round). They're debating between two players at the time: wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. or running back Jonathan Taylor.
Ballard: "Who adds more of an explosive element to our offense: Taylor or Pittman?"
Morocco Brown (director of college scouting): "Let me ask Frank (Reich) this real quick: in your mind, which one makes us better heading forward if they both reach their ceiling? Like, who you more excited to have on our team?"
Frank Reich (head coach): "There's no black-and-white answer on this. Part of this is because, you know, you're saying, 'Man, just imagine this guy behind our offensive line.' … Both of them are gonna add explosive (elements). Both of them make us more explosive."
By the time the night is over, the Colts will have both of them.
» At No. 34, the Colts go with Pittman Jr., a 6-foot-4, 223-pound standout receiver from USC. As a senior in 2019, he was named First Team All-Pac-12 as a receiver and Second Team All-Pac-12 as a special teamer, and he also participated in the Senior Bowl. In 48 games (30 starts) at USC (2016-19), Pittman Jr. tallied 171 receptions for 2,519 yards (14.7 avg.) and 19 touchdowns.
What's obvious is Reich has been attached to Pittman Jr.'s game from the very start — he wants this guy.
"I have to have a little self-awareness here to know that I got on this guy early, and I'm having a hard time letting go of him," Reich says in a March 29 meeting. "I think he can come in and have a big impact in Year 1. … The competitiveness, the toughness — who else do I like better for than this guy for our team? And I struggle to answer that question. … Yeah, I love this guy. Love this guy.""
Some other chatter in that March 29 meeting on Pittman Jr.:
Ballard: "Every time I watch him, I like him better. He's big, he's a build-up-speed guy, he can finish on the deep ball, he wins 50-50 battles. I just think the guy's gonna be a good football player in this league."
Jon Shaw (assistant director of pro scouting): "His ability to run routes. I mean, he's got excellent feet for a man of his size."
Todd Vasvari (senior player personnel scout): "The big body, the strength, the quickness, the speed."
Matt Terpening (assistant director of college scouting): "He's smart, he's tough, he's durable. And, I mean, he was dominant this year. You know, he plays above the rim, he's got deceptive speed, and he's got all the things we're looking for. … This guy's a dude."
Ballard: "Decker, you like the character, right?"
Brian Decker (director of player development): "Yeah, I think he's intelligent, I think he's high-character, I think he's shown some grit over time; you know, he's had to compete for and win his job multiple times."
Back on the clock in night two, the Colts decide to put the pick in for Pittman Jr., and the GM and head coach are giving the lowdown on their newest playmaker to team owner Jim Irsay:
Irsay: "So Pittman's got enough speed and separation. He plays faster?
Ballard: "He's big. He's Vincent Jackson-like"
Reich: "Yeah, that's a good comparison. If you remember Vincent Jackson from the Chargers."
Irsay: "Yeah. So you're fired up for (Pittman), huh?"
Ballard: "Oh, Frank's been doing backflips for this guy for two months."
"We wanted a big body," Reich says in a separate interview. "We wanted a guy was physically tough — not just a big body, who would do the dirty work, who would block, who's really good at the contested catches, at the 50-50 balls, you know, going down the field. He just showed all that on tape."
The Colts next are on the clock in just 10 picks, but already they're considering a major move. With each passing selection, Taylor, the two-time Doak Walker Award winner from Wisconsin, remains on the board — but they know that won't be the case for long.
So Ballard and the Colts make a move, trading their 44th-pick, as well as a fifth-round selection, to the Cleveland Browns to jump up to the 41st-overall pick and get their guy in Taylor, who appeared in 41 games (40 starts) at Wisconsin (2017-19) and totaled 926 carries for 6,174 yards and 50 touchdowns. Also added 42 receptions for 407 yards and five touchdowns. He is the seventh player in FBS history to rush for 6,000 yards and the first ever to do so in just three seasons; his 6,174 career rushing yards rank No. 6 all-time among FBS players and is No. 2 all-time among the Big Ten.
The Colts discussed Taylor's potential impact on April 6:
Brown: "If you put this guy in our rushing attack? Oh boy. So I think the 'Oh boy' factor you gotta at least look at.'
Chad Henry (area scout): "When you project this guy behind our line and in our scheme? Holy ----."
Anthony Coughlan (college scouting coordinator): "This guy ran for 2,000 yards against people that they know what's gonna happen; they know they're giving him (the ball)."
Ballard: "You could feel his speed on our turf."
Brown: "But when he gets a hole, he's gone. And he's 220-plus pounds and can take the pounding. And the character's great — it's just kind of like, we might be like, 'Why did we pick this guy?' … He's Captain America."
You then see the exact moment Ballard, with help from Irsay, decides to just go ahead and pull off the trade with the Browns to move up to get Taylor:
Ballard: "What do you all think?"
Irsay: "Well you do a hell of a thing by getting these two guys."
Ballard: "Call him, Ed. Call him."
Irsay: "Yeah, I mean, I wouldn't pass up Taylor. I mean, you've been talking about him, Chris."
Ballard: "Yep, call him and see if he'll do it."
Irsay: "I mean, that's a hell of a punch for the offense with these two guys, you know."
Ballard: "We're good with Cleveland if their guy's not there, and our guy's still there."
Reich then shares a text message exchange he had with returning starting running back Marlon Mack, who had his first 1,000-yard rushing season in 2019.
"Just to show you what great teammates we have, I texted Marlon (Mack), you know, after we picked Taylor, and I said to him, I said, 'Hey Marlon, you know how we roll. We spread the wealth at running back. Keep you both fresh and dominate. Every great football team needs a great 1-2 punch in the running game.' And his response was perfect; he said, 'Yes sir. Let's go. Let's go get it.' I mean, isn't that awesome?" Reich tells the group.
After getting two major playmakers in their first two picks in Pittman Jr. and Taylor, offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni joins in the conference call to express his excitement.
Nick Sirianni: "Let's goooooooo! Woooooooo!"
Sirianni: "Just wanted to say thank you. Oh my goodness, I'm feeling great. Feeling great."
The Colts then selected Utah safety Julian Blackmon in the third round (85th overall) to end their Day 2 action.
Blackmon appeared in 48 games (39 starts) and totaled 158 tackles (118 solo), 8.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 29 passes defensed, nine interceptions and two forced fumbles in his college career, starting at cornerback for two seasons before moving back to free safety and earning Second Team All-American honors.
On April 1, the group chatted about what Blackmon brings to the table.
Ballard: "I love Blackmon's talent. Ball skills, speed, range, got cover ability, I think he can play in the nickel for ya."
McGaha: "He can play three spots for you potentially. You know, you get a guy that has a lot of versatility to him."
This chatter continued on April 22, just before the start of the draft.
McGaha: "I called the coordinator recently, just to talk about all these DBs again. Blackmon's the one they wanna talk about the whole time. Best tackler he's ever coached, he said."
Ballard: "I think this guy's a legitimate free safety in this league."
To start Day 3 action, the Colts get a 6-foot-6, 231-pound big-armed quarterback in Washington's Jacob Eason, who will get a prime chance to learn and develop under Reich, Sirianni and veteran quarterbacks Philip Rivers and Jacoby Brissett.
"We're going by the board," Reich said in an interview. "And when he was there in the fourth round, it was a great opportunity. … Jacob's walking into an ideal situation. We're incredibly happy with our No. 1 and No. 2 quarterback. … We had spent a fair amount of time with Jacob talking to him, just getting to know the person — how he thinks. Just felt real comfortable, I mean, especially when he's there in the fourth round round. It was a nice opportunity to get a guy in here and to compete and see where it goes."
Here's some chatter in the video conference as the team zeroed in on Eason:
Ballard: "I love the arm. He has moments of really good accuracy."
Reich: "Saw this guy make a couple throws on tape, and I said, 'Oh my goodness.' He makes a couple throws that you just don't see."
Henry: "He can throw in the pocket, he can throw on the move, he can throw at all levels."
The Colts then made Danny Pinter, an offensive lineman out of Ball State, their fifth-round (149th-overall) selection.
Pinter started his college career as a tight end before moving to right tackle his junior year; by the following season, he was a First-Team All-Mid-American Conference selection. He was also the Cardinals' unquestioned leader and toughest player.
"Chris always says it: we're gonna build with the fronts, and we're gonna build with with guys that are smart, tough and reliable," says Kevin Rogers, the Colts' director of pro personnel. "There's no guy in the draft that defines that more than Pinter does. … He was voted toughest Cardinal, toughest guy on the team, he's a multi-team captain. … He's gonna be one of those guys that you're looking up and he's gonna be helping us win football games."
Pinter, to the Colts, projects more as an interior offensive lineman, as evidenced by this April 13 meeting chatter:
Ballard: "I think he's gonna be a really good interior player in the league."
Henry: "His make-up is awesome. His athleticism is really good. … Again, I think he fits us."
Ballard: "This guy's tenacious, he can get to the second level, he can freakin' run. I think this guy's just gonna ascend when he gets into our league."
The Colts then begin what turns out to be, after some wheeling and dealing, their first of four sixth-round picks. First, they go with defensive tackle Rob Windsor out of Penn State, who appeared in 52 games (26 starts) and tallied 121 tackles (49 solo), 20.0 tackles for loss, 14.0 sacks, three forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.
In 2019, he was named an All-Big Ten third-team selection by the coaches and All-Big Ten honorable mention by the media and Pro Football Focus.
"He's a hard-working, tough, hard-nosed football player. … He truly loves the game," area scout Mike Derice says in an interview. "So that's the selling point. The amount of effort that he plays with on every snap, it's the kind of stuff that our defensive coordinator, Matt Eberflus, preaches. And so when you find those kind of traits in a player, they have to be pushed up the board, they have to be noticed, because the style of football that we wanna bring and play on a daily basis."
Their second of four picks in the sixth round is cornerback and return specialist Isaiah Rodgers out of UMass. Rodgers owns school records for kick returns (99), kick return yards (2,338) and interceptions returned for a touchdown (three), and defended 46 passes in his career, which ranks third all-time in school history and is the most in the FBS-era for the program.
"The palms were sweaty, you know, when you looked at a couple of teams on the board, and, like, 'They could take Isaiah here. This team could take Isaiah here," Derice said. "We felt like he was the right guy, right make-up and had the right skillsets to be a Horseshoe guy."
Next up was Washington State wide receiver Dezmon Patmon, a huge target at 6-foot-4, 225 pounds who appeared in 43 games (12 starts) and totaled 156 receptions for 1,976 yards (12.7 avg.) and 13 touchdowns.
"He's got really good make-up, he's got good physical traits, he's got size, he plays fast on tape. You know, we like his upside, too," Terpening says in an interview.
In an April 21st meeting, area scout Tyler Hughes lays out what he likes about Patmon:
"Once the ball was in his hands, he was aggressive and he was looking to score every single time," Hughes says. "I like this kid; for how big he is, he could help us."
The Colts' ninth and final pick of the 2020 NFL Draft was Michigan linebacker Jordan Glasgow, who was a special teams stud who progressively got more time on defense throughout his career. He appeared in 53 games (15 starts) for the Wolverines and totaled 140 tackles (78 solo), 10.0 tackles for loss, 7.0 sacks, three passes defensed, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries.
"Glasgow's the exact kind of make-up that we want in a player, and at one point I just said, 'You know what? Our special teams coaches loved him, I loved him and I said, 'We're taking him.'" Ballard says in an interview. "This guy stands for what we want. Now, he's gotta prove it at our level, but I think he will."
That wraps up the 2020 NFL Draft. Ballard is ecstatic, and expresses his gratitude for his staff to wrap things up.
"What a freakin' three days. And what a month, you know, that we had to juggle, all of you," Ballard says. "It wasn't perfect, but it was damn good. And the patience, the extra work — everything we had to do to get this pulled off, and we ended up having a hell of a draft. … I think probably the thing I appreciate the most out of all of you is nobody is scared to speak your mind. You have no idea how critical that is for us to be successful. … When you have a group like that, you have a chance to do something really special, and we're building something really special here. … It's a credit to each and every one of you, and every one of you have an impact on this organization, and they're lucky to have ya — they're damn lucky to have you. I know I do; I know I'm appreciative and thankful and I'll never take any of you for granted and your work you do. … We've got something really cool going on, and it's a credit to each and every one of y'all. … Very proud to work with all of you, and work alongside of you. I wouldn't want to be anywhere else with anyone else.