Colts’ GM Chris Ballard: ‘We got good players’ in the draft

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Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard watches before an NFL football game between the Indianapolis Colts and the Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

INDIANAPOLIS – Chris Ballard and Frank Reich sat side-by-side Saturday evening, alternately explaining how they were unable to scratch every itch with seven picks in the NFL Draft, and how quarterback Sam Ehlinger possesses that critical ‘it’ factor, and how defensive ends Kwity Paye and Dayo Odeyingbo bring disruptive presences to the defense, and how Kylen Granson is a perfect addition to the tight ends room.

It was a scene that took place at virtually every other NFL headquarters following a draft that consisted of 259 selections, stretched over three days and consumed 13 hours and 42 minutes.

“Every GM right now is up here talking to the media, telling them “We just hit a home run,’’’ Ballard said with a wry smile.

He paused.

“Now, let’s get to the real world.’’

In that realm, no one really knows. GMs across the league talk up their selections and defend why they took Player A in round 2 when everyone knows they should have taken Player B, or at least not Player A.

Before anyone has a chance to take a breath, analysts across the country will affix grades to the Colts, New England Patriots, Tennessee Titans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and every other team. There will be a handful of A’s, some B’s, a slew of C’s and a few D’s.

“I always laugh this time of year because they’ll come out with draft grades and everybody will make all these assumptions of how it’s going to end up,’’ Ballard said. “But none of us know the story of how it’s going to go.

“Do we believe we got good players? Absolutely we do. I’d be stupid up here to say, ‘You know what? We just screwed this up. That sucked.’ No, we think we did well. If we’re right, they’ll come in and play. I think we’ve been pretty good at doing this.’’

Ballard’s first four drafts as the Colts’ GM consisted of 38 picks. Twenty-seven remain on the roster, and several are major players (Quenton Nelson, Darius Leonard, Braden Smith, Nyheim Hines, Grover Stewart, Khari Willis, Bobby Okereke, Jonathan Taylor, Michael Pittman Jr.).

The latest draft added seven more prospects to a roster looking to build on last season’s 11-5 record and wild-card playoff berth.

“Do we expect these guys to come in and play pretty significant roles? Absolutely you do,’’ Ballard said. “But it doesn’t always work that way. They’ll come in, they’ll work and they’ll earn their time. They’re not guaranteed starting jobs. They’ve got to earn that. That’s the reality of who we are and what our league’s about.’’

Added Reich: “This is a prove-it league.’’

Ballard believes the Colts added important components through the draft, even though it wasn’t able to address the team’s glaring need at left tackle. A remedy might come by adding another veteran free agent to the mix.

“We think we have a very good football team,’’ Ballard said. “Now, we’ve got to prove it. What I think doesn’t really matter. I can sit here and tell you, ‘Hey, we’re a no-doubt Super Bowl team.’ But that’s not reality until you go out and you practice and you play and you get better and you lose a game that everybody thought you should win . . . you’ve got to go through the process.

“(I) always judge it at the end of the season, not in March, not in April, not in September. I guess we’ll see.’’

Until then, here’s a recap of the Colts’ latest draft class:

ROUND 1 (21st overall)

  • Player: DE Kwity Paye, Michigan
  • Ballard on Paye: “He was the best player on the board at the time and fit us, not only from an athletic and performance standpoint but from a character standpoint, which I think you all know is a premium for us.’’

ROUND 2 (54th overall)

  • Player: DE Dayo Odeyingbo, Vanderbilt
  • Ballard on Odeyingbo: “We thought he was a first-round talent, and it’s hard to pass up a guy that you have that high, even with the circumstances with the injury (torn Achilles in late January).’’

ROUND 4 (127th overall)

  • Player: TE Kylen Granson, SMU
  • Reich on Granson: “We’re excited about Kylen and the dimension he brings. When you watch the tape, you see he’s explosive. He has explosive speed, he has foot and body quickness. He’s also dynamic with the football in his hands as a tight end which can be a great element for our football team.’’

ROUND 5 (165th overall)

  • Player: S Shawn Davis, Florida
  • Ballard on Davis: “He plays the way we want to play. He’s aggressive. He’s tough. He’s got good ball skills.’’

ROUND 6 (218th overall)

  • Player: QB Sam Ehlinger, Texas
  • Reich on Ehlinger: “First, just the character. More than anything, Sam is just a winner. He has those intangible traits that it takes at this position to be a good decision-maker. I think he has the traits of what it takes to have poise under pressure. No moment’s too big. The other thing that jumps off the tape is his ability to extend plays. He’s very dynamic in that regard.’’

ROUND 7 (229th overall)

  • Player: WR Michael Strachan, Charleston
  • Ballard on Strachan: “Mike is a big target (6-5, 226 pounds) who needs some developmental work, but he’s got a really unique skillset at wideout.’’

ROUND 7 (248th overall)

  • Player: OT/G Will Fries, Penn State
  • Ballard on Fries: “I told y’all there was some depth at offensive line. Look, Will started 40 games at Penn State. He’s got a lot of versatility. He can play guard and tackle, which is important.’’

Listen to the Colts Blue Zone Podcast for weekly coverage and analysis of the Indianapolis Colts.

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

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