Colts make most of NFL Draft despite not having a first-rounder

The guys that call the plays in the huddle for the Indianapolis Colts on NFL draft days are general manager Chris Ballard and coach Frank Reich, and while it is always dangerous to project results on paper, they seemed to have a good few days.

Although the Colts did not own a No. 1 draft pick, this shaped up as a draft short on glitter but stronger on steady. That doesn’t mean the Colts shouldn’t get some new members of the starting lineup out of this sweepstakes.

Ballard did some wheeling and dealing with the picks the Colts owned to bulk up selected positions. A year after Indianapolis collapsed in the stretch to finish 9-8 and miss the playoffs, the Colts identified question-mark areas and sought to fill in.

With one exception. The Colts did not enjoy their relationship with quarterback Carson Wentz and waved goodbye. For the third year in a row, the front office explored the marketplace and hired a veteran quarterback.

So the Colts have gone from Philip Rivers to Wentz and now to longtime Atlanta Falcons veteran Matt Ryan, who everyone seems to be happy about. In a year when top-notch QBs did not overwhelm the draft, the Colts did not even take a potential backup.

What they did do is snare a potentially hot receiver in Alec Pierce out of Cincinnati with their first available choice in the second round. Pierce caught 52 passes last fall for the Bearcats’ best-ever team. His old coach, Luke Fickell, raves about him.

“Alec is tough, intelligent and an incredible athlete,” Fickell said. “The Colts are getting a guy who has the potential to be a star in this league. He’s an explosive player, and we weren’t surprised when he tested off the charts at the combine.”

Pierce is 6-foot-3 and 213 pounds. He already has

his engineering degree, and Indianapolis has room for a guy like him, whether or not T.Y. Hilton, who remains unsigned, returns to play one more year.

The Colts chose eight players in the draft’s seven rounds. That includes third-rounders Jelani Woods of Virginia, Bernhard Raimann of Central Michigan and safety Nick Cross of Maryland. Also, Eric Johnson of Missouri State in the fifth round, Drew Ogletree and Curtis Brooks in the sixth round and Rodney Thomas II, a rare Ivy Leaguer out of Yale, in the seventh round.

While no team immediately badmouths its draft class, Ballard’s comment of “It was a good weekend for us” seems like an honest appraisal. He said the staff agreed on the talent and character of the players taken.

For Colts fans lamenting the absence of a first-round pick, they should be reminded that in 2020, the first selections were second-rounders receiver Michael Pittman Jr. and running back Jonathan Taylor. Taylor was the 41st player chosen. That draft worked out OK, huh?

Although the Colts had three tight ends on the roster after veteran Jack Doyle retired, they still drafted two guys at the position, seemingly making the statement the job is wide open. Woods and Ogletree share the same monster builds for the position at 6-7 and essentially 250 pounds.

Cross and Thomas are defensive backfield guys, and Johnson and Brooks (a Cincinnati teammate of Pierce) are listed as defensive tackles. At times last year, the Colts’ defense was highly touted, but at times, it seemed to wilt in the clutch, so there may be a desire for buttressing. As for Raimann, apparently there is always room for a 6-6, 303-pound offensive tackle.

Missing the playoffs after seemingly having a lock on advancing shook up the Colts organization. At the start of the season, owner Jim Irsay showed faith in Ballard and Reich’s acumen by extending contracts. They are still in place making decisions. But the Colts had better produce this year. Everyone knows that attitude prevails.

Pro football is unforgiving anyway. Lose a step and you’re out. Minor injury and it’s next man up. But after the draft, and in light of how last season ended, Reich made a telling comment.

“This much as any year, there is no depth chart,” Reich said. “We are just competing. We’re going to roll guys through…we are going to put the best guys on the field.”

The translation is simple: No one on the team has a job that is safe.

Lew Freedman writes sports columns for The Tribune. Send comments to [email protected]