INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard began the offseason by upgrading the defense. He never lost sight of the more pressing need: finding offensive playmakers.
On a draft weekend that started slowly, Ballard creatively found ways to maneuver his way through the rounds to add receiver Alec Pierce of Cincinnati, tight ends in Jelani Woods of Virginia and Andrew Ogletree of Youngstown State, and a possible starting left tackle.
"Holy cow, I mean what Chris has done, I don't think we could have improved it," team owner Jim Irsay said Saturday as the final four rounds were held. "I've just watched in wonderment as he worked the draft and worked the first three rounds."
Somehow, after starting the weekend with no first-rounder and seven choices, Ballard plugged key holes and added depth. How did he do it?
Ballard traded back in the second round and took the 6-foot-3, 211-pound Pierce, who was clocked at 4.41 seconds in the 40-yard dash. His size, speed and body control combination make him an immediate deep threat and an ideal complement to Michael Pittman Jr.
Then he chose Woods, an intriguing 6-7, 253-pound red zone target, with the first of two third-round picks before adding Bernhard Raimann, the Central Michigan tackle from Austria. Raimann played his first two college seasons at tight end before moving to left tackle, where he may become the long-term replacement after Anthony Castonzo retired.
"He blocked people on tape," Ballard said. "He's still learning how to play the position. The growth from his junior to his senior season, we think he's going to keep taking those incremental jumps."
Ballard also added a developmental tight end with the 6-7, 250-pound Ogletree. He caught 40 passes for 391 yards over his final two college seasons at Youngstown State after starting his career at Division II Findlay.
"You're always looking for guys who can make plays in the clutch, on third down, chunk plays, and you want guys in the skill position room who are unselfish because we move guys around, spread it around," coach Frank Reich said. "Both those guys we got early, they check all those boxes"
After trading for defensive end Yannick Ngakoue and signing cornerback Stephon Gilmore, the NFL's 2019 Defensive Player of the Year, in free agency, Ballard used his first three picks on offense. Eventually, he got back to the defense.
Indy traded up to take hard-hitting safety Nick Cross of Maryland late in the third round. The Colts also drafted defensive tackles Eric Johnson of Missouri State and Curtis Brooks of Cincinnati in the fifth and sixth rounds, and closed out the weekend by taking safety Rodney Thomas II of Yale in Round 7.
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Irsay also credited Ballard with doing the best he could with an awkward quarterback situation by dealing Carson Wentz for a third-round pick and then acquiring Matt Ryan for another third round pick.
"He parted the sea," Irsay said. "I don't think anyone, him included, thought you get what he did for Carson, bring Matt Ryan in here and make that situation happen."
"I think we needed an influx of youth and we were still pretty young," Ballard said. "Look, we all know what makes people better — having to compete — and we think we've added some guys who can push that competition to that level, to another level."
Since moving to Indianapolis in 1984, the Colts drafted only two Cincinnati Bearcats: linebacker Tyjuan Hagler in 2005 and defensive tackle Ricardo Matthews in 2010. They doubled that total this weekend with Pierce and Brooks.
Pierce was thrilled for his former teammates — and the one who will be in the same locker room in the NFL.
"It's been really special the past couple of days seeing guys go, seeing Ahmad (Gardner) go fourth overall, more guys go yesterday and even more today. I think we're up to nine now," Pierce said before addressing the selection of Brooks. "I'm super happy for him. He's going to be a special player."