INDIANAPOLIS – The sixth draft of the Chris Ballard era wrapped on Saturday with 8 selections in total.
-Round 2-53: WR-Alec Pierce (Cincinnati)
-Round 3-73: TE-Jelani Woods (Virginia)
-Round 3-77: OT-Bernhard Raimann (Central Michigan)
-Round 3-96: S-Nick Cross (Maryland)
-Round 5-159: DL-Eric Johnson (Missouri State)
-Round 6-192: TE-Drew Ogletree (Youngstown State)
-Round 6-216: DT-Curtis Brooks (Cincinnati)
-Round 7-239: CB-Rodney Thomas (Yale)
In going back to Thursday’s opening round, it’s time to examine what was learned from a Colts draft that didn’t start until the 53rd overall pick.
Here are my 11 takeaways from the Colts 2022 Draft:
1. Traits, Traits, Traits: Chris Ballard has long been a believer of drafting players with high-end testing numbers. This draft class epitomizes that more than any other in his 6 years as Colts GM. From a size, speed and explosive element, the Colts are again going all-in on the traits. Simply, if you didn’t test well, the Colts weren’t taking you in this 2022 Draft. The belief is these players have a higher floor and more of a chance to reach that top-end potential. The mold of team captain, Senior Bowl participant and especially elite measureables has never been truer in a Ballard draft. Athletically, you won’t find a more eye-popping class. Now, it’s time to turn those traits into on-field success.
2. Early Impact From Pass Catchers? Many loved the fact that the Colts went wide receiver/tight end with their first two picks on in the 2022 Draft. No positions on the roster had more immediate questions than WR and TE. Now, it should be noted that first-year expectations for Alec Pierce and Jelani Woods should probably be tempered. Even with more accomplished collegiate careers, the likes of Michael Pittman and Kylen Granson didn’t come in and instant impact at the level the Colts really need right now from their rookie catchers. Of course, both Pierce and Woods transitioned from different positions in college, which contributed to quieter college numbers. Still though, it would do wonders for the Colts/Matt Ryan if these two guys can accelerate that early impact most than normal.
3. Left Tackle Of The Future? It took until the sixth draft of the Chris Ballard era for the GM to take a true offensive tackle in any of the first three rounds (Braden Smith was thought to be a guard back in 2018). The Colts think Bernhard Raimann (6-6, 303) can be a left tackle at this level, despite having some shorter than desired arms for an offensive tackle. Raimann brings nice athleticism to the tackle position, as he was a tight end in his early years at Central Michigan. A native of Austria, Raimann didn’t start playing football until the age of 14, moving to the states at 17. We know the Colts have 3 offensive line starters: LG-Quenton Nelson, C-Ryan Kelly, RT-Braden Smith. Is it too early to say the other 2 spots comes down to 3 guys? That would be Danny Pinter as the favorite at right guard. Matt Pryor as the favorite at left tackle, with some right guard history, too. And then Raimann probably just on the outside looking in for a starting job. It was vital for the Colts to take some tackle with desired traits in this draft. And they finally did that in still trying to move on from the Anthony Castonzo days.
4. Colts Biggest Win Came On Thursday: Honestly, the biggest win of the draft for the Colts took place mid-way through Round 1.The Titans trading A.J. Brown sends easily the most potent pass catcher out of the AFC South. When the Titans didn’t have Brown last season, they went 1-3, with their lone win over the Jaguars. Brown is a massive loss and Colts fans felt the brunt of his impact in recent defeats to the Titans. While the rest of the AFC is making ‘win now’ move after ‘win now’ move, the lowly AFC South continues to be the gift that is always giving. Even before the draft, many in Vegas had pegged the Colts as the AFC South favorite this year. Does this move cement that, as the Colts look for their first division title since 2014?
5. Red Zone Targets: If the Colts wanted to, they could field a pretty imposing frontline on a basketball court right now. With the drafting of Alec Pierce (6-3), Jelani Woods (6-7), and Drew Ogletree (6-5), the Colts have 7 pass catchers standing 6-3 or taller (Michael Pittman 6-4, Mike Strachan 6-5, Dezmon Patmon 6-4, Mo Alie-Cox 6-5). For a team that struggled in the red zone last year, heights like this need to be tapped into by Matt Ryan. The catch radius of these guys will be welcomed by Ryan and create some opportunities to win those 50/50 chances.
6. No Cornerback Until Final Round: Easily the biggest surprise position for me that the Colts didn’t take until Round 7 was a cornerback. The assumption is the Colts have 4 corners they really like this year: Stephon Gilmore, Kenny Moore, Isaiah Rodgers and Brandon Facyson. Well, Gilmore is 32 years old, Facyson is on a one-year deal and Rodgers still has to fully prove himself as a week-in-week-out guy. Given the change in scheme defensively, I thought another outside cornerback earlier in the draft would be a smart pick. We know how depth at cornerback can get tested in a season, so 7th round pick Rodney Thomas (Yale) walks into a nice opportunity to make an impression. Besides cornerback, the other positions that I thought could receive more draft attention included another wideout, interior offensive line depth and a rotational defensive end.
7. How Much Rookie Playing Time? Is it possible that Alec Pierce will be the only Colts rookie to start a game in 2022? Odds are that Jelani Woods and/or Bernhard Raimann will start at some point, too. But, on paper, Pierce is the only one I’d slot into that lock category as a routine starer. Woods should be involved in a 3 tight end rotation. And Raimann is likely the 6th offensive lineman, assuming LT-Matt Pryor and RG-Danny Pinter retain their starting promotions. Safety Nick Cross, who isn’t even 21 years old, has a steep climb at a safety position that has Julian Blackmon (20 career starts), Khari Willis (33 career starts) and Rodney McLeod (123 career starts) in that room. Having said this, the Colts really need early, consistent contributions from Pierce, and for Woods and Raimann to be ready to help, because they are just one injury away from having massive roles, at their respective positions.
8. Still No Quarterback Investment: For the 10th straight draft, the Colts did not draft a quarterback in any of the first three rounds. This is easily the longest drought of any team in the AFC. Chris Ballard said the Colts debated a quarterback selection on Day 2, but ultimately passed. It further backs the belief the Colts have in Matt Ryan (37 years old) playing multiple seasons. Clearly, the NFL had an incredibly poor opinion of this year’s draft class, when you see where the signal callers were taken. So, the Colts sitting this year’s QB class out was not a shock. But it still marks a third straight year, post-Andrew Luck retirement, that the Colts have not tried to serious address the long-term need at QB with a notable draft pick. Also, the Colts did trade away a 2023 third-round pick, meaning their draft capital for next season is back to 3 picks in the first three rounds (their 1st rounder, their 2nd rounder, and a pick from Washington that will be either a 2nd or 3rd rounder). The massive question on this will continue as the Colts try to search for some short-term success, while continuing the search for a long-term QB answer. As Jim Irsay said on Saturday of the draft, the “highest priority” is to find that future at QB, but the Owner thinks Ryan can give the Colts 3-4 seasons. And Irsay reiterated on Saturday that the questions would be a whole lot different if the Colts didn’t benefit from Ryan all of a sudden becoming available this offseason.
9. Khari Willis, Julian Blackmon On Watch: If you are Khari Willis and Julian Blackmon, you probably didn’t love seeing the Colts trade back into the 3rd round to take Maryland safety Nick Cross. Clearly, Chris Ballard (and new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley) is a huge fan of Cross and his potential at 20 years old. What does that mean for the futures of Willis and/or Blackmon? Willis is headed for a contract year, having battled some injuries. Blackmon has two years left on his rookie contract, but has also torn his ACL and Achilles in two of the last three years. This pick of Cross has the feel of when the Colts drafted Blackmon in 2020, thus letting Malik Hooker walk in free agency. Or the drafting of Bobby Okereke in 2019, thus letting Anthony Walker in free agency.
10. Decision Coming On T.Y. Hilton: Those still looking for a return of T.Y. Hilton, this draft class should do little to impact that decision. Yes, the Colts drafted a wide receiver with their first pick. But Alec Pierce plays a much different game than Hilton. And the Colts did not follow up the selection of Pierce with another wideout in any of their other 7 picks. Unlike the back-to-back defensive line selections last year with Kwity Paye and Dayo Odeyingbo, thus ending any chance of a return for Justin Houston, there’s plenty of open playing time still at receiver. Chris Ballard said on Saturday that the Colts will “work through (the Hilton) over the next week” in regards to the 32-year-old still being on the open market.
11. Here You Go Coaches: When the Colts made the switch from Chuck Pagano to Frank Reich, a pre-requisite was to find a staff able to develop better. This draft class is another message to the coaching staff “here are elite athletes with unteachable physical traits, now you go mold them into starting caliber players.” You will find many draft classes of players with more on-field accomplishments than the Colts in 2022. But Ballard’s approach is to get the right makeup, seek a player with a higher ceiling and trust the coaching staff to tap into that potential. Just drafting the “right” talent isn’t enough. Now it’s up to this staff—at a critical juncture in its era—to get hands-on with developing several players at positions of immediate needs. You could make the argument that the Colts’ top three biggest needs in the short-term (WR, TE, OT) were addressed right away. And if the Colts can find Year One success from that trio, it would go a long way to helping the Colts end the divisional drought.