INDIANAPOLIS – In what has become an annual tradition, Chris Ballard took Colts media members behind the scenes on Friday in explaining the background on his 2022 draft class.
Each year, Ballard invites media members to the Colts facility for a film session going over his draft picks.
Friday’s film breakdown lasted an hour, focusing on the team’s first four picks (WR-Alec Pierce, TE-Jelani Woods, OT-Bernhard Raimann, S-Nick Cross), with many topics off the record (including any video/photos).
Here are some highlights of what Ballard had to say on those four picks in Rounds 2 and 3:
Given Chris Ballard’s proximity to the Bloomington campus, the Colts GM tries to make it to one Indiana University football game each year.
The result of this year’s trip is a wide receiver that the Colts hope will be an impactful weapon for years to come.
With Ballard watching firsthand, Alec Pierce left a strong impression on the Colts GM in Cincinnati’s win over Indiana back in September.
Ballard showed Pierce’s game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter of that meeting. On the clip, Pierce doesn’t get gobbled up by press coverage, maintaining his body control to high point the football and show off his greatest strength.
The Colts will start Pierce out at the ‘X’ wideout position, but believes he can move around. Ballard really liked the amount of ‘Colts routes’ he saw Pierce run at Cincinnati (overs, shallows, sails, etc).
As Ballard watched Pierce, he went back to a common phrase he says to his scouts.
Tell me what they can do. Does that fit into our equation?
The Colts saw that in Pierce.
Ballard said he didn’t see the “stiff” knock on tape that many draft pundits labeled as a negative for Pierce.
Yes, Pierce needs to fine-tune his ability to break press consistently, which is something Ballard says is pretty normal for any college wideout transitioning to the NFL.
While Pierce’s stat line in the national semifinal against Alabama won’t wow anyone—2 catches for 17 yards—Ballard thought the tape showed more.
“He had points in the game where he’s wearing these dudes out and they are just not getting him the ball,” the Colts GM said of Pierce playing the No. 1 team in college football.
Ballard thought Pierce belonged in the first group of wideouts in this year’s draft class.
Prior to the Colts notable win in Buffalo last November, Ballard drove to Pittsburgh to see the Panthers (and Kenny Picket) take on Virginia.
Ballard’s first thought upon seeing the 6-7, 253-pound Jelani Woods in-person:
“Holy cow, who is this guy?” Ballard said to himself.
The Colts scouts who had already started to take a deeper dive into Woods liked what they saw early on.
With Ballard in the stadium for that UVA/Pitt game, he watched Woods run through several defenders after the catch.
As Ballard showed those clips this past Friday, the Colts GM recalled what he was thinking as the third round began and he was hoping Woods would make it to pick No. 73.
“You can see why I sweated it,” Ballard said as clips played up on the screen of Woods bulldozing through tackle attempts.
Ballard had to be talked out of trading up for Woods by his staff.
The Colts acknowledge Woods is never going to be some super precise route runner, but they think he’s more skilled and a better natural mover/runner than Mo Alie-Cox.
Cleaning up Woods’ fluidity when catching the football is something the Colts know needs attention.
At the East/West Shrine Bowl in January, Colts offensive coordinator Marcus Brady and tight ends coach Klayton Adams were the head coach and offensive coordinator, respectively, for Woods’ team.
They left impressed by the intelligence of Woods and his coachability.
Seeing that in a coach/player environment has the Colts very confident that Woods will at least reach his floor, a la Michael Pittman and Jonathan Taylor, with a definite chance at finding that unique ceiling.
While Ballard focused on game highlights with Pierce and Woods, he began the Bernhard Raimann film review of the Western Michigan Pro Day.
In the clip, which looked like a high intense yoga session, there was Raimann showing off striking flexibility.
Ballard said Raimann’s workout showed a similar offensive line “freakiness” to what the Colts witnessed from Braden Smith in the spring of 2018.
This is why the Colts think Raimann, similar to Smith, can overcome shorter than desired arms for the offensive tackle position.
Raimann’s core strength was evident in the clips Ballard showed, while he caught the GM’s eye with his power and strength following consecutive standing long-jumps.
Ballard believes Raimann’s arm length, age (will turn 25 this summer) and the fact that he’s played left tackle for just two years contributed to him falling to the third round.
Time was ticking to the hour stoppage point, but Ballard still wanted to get one of his favorites in Maryland safety Nick Cross.
“(Cross) has some real stuff about him,” Ballard said as he showed a clip of Cross closing fast to open space in making a stop near the line of scrimmage.
“I’m really excited about him.”
In a meeting with Cross, Colts veteran defensive backs coach Ron Milus liked what he heard from the 20-year-old when it came to dissecting things on film.
“He can run and hit,” Ballard says. “He’s just young.”
While three of these selections came in the third round, Ballard said all four of the Colts Day 2 selections were guys they had rated as second-round prospects.