Colts’ Chris Ballard gets ‘explosive playmakers’ in Michael Pittman Jr., Jonathan Taylor

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Michael Pittman Jr. (left) Jonathan Taylor (center) and Julian Blackmon (right) (Photos By Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – As it turns out, Chris Ballard’s fourth draft began taking shape shortly after his Indianapolis Colts walked away from a disappointing finish to last season, and actually went into motion in mid-March.

It simply continued Friday with the second and third rounds of the NFL Draft.

As Ballard, Frank Reich and their support staff considered what went wrong during their 7-9 season, they identified a couple of areas that absolutely, positively, most definitely not only had to be addressed, but greatly upgraded.

“One being defensively we knew we needed a 3-technique (tackle), a dominant 3-technique,’’ Ballard said early Saturday morning.

That issue was resolved March 16 when he sent his first-round pick – 13th overall – to the San Francisco 49ers for defensive tackle DeForest Buckner.

“Kinda like I said the other day,’’ Ballard said, “I thought it was a no-brainer to make that decision.’’

Next on the list?

“We knew we needed to add some explosive playmakers,’’ he said. “We didn’t care where they were at, whether it was at wideout, tight end, running back. We knew we needed to add explosive playmakers and that’s where Pittman and Taylor come into the equation.’’

Pittman? That’s Michael Pittman Jr., a 6-4, 223-pound wideout out of USC taken with the second pick of round 2 (34th overall). He automatically upgrades a receivers room led by T.Y. Hilton and 2019 second-round pick Parris Campbell.

The scouts had Pittman ranked high on their board, and Reich “had a strong conviction on him,’’ Ballard said, adding the depth of the receivers in the draft “was about flavor.

“What flavor did you want? What we saw with Michael was he could win at all three levels. He was big, he’s strong to the ball, he competes, he got better every year in college.’’

Last season, Pittman had 101 catches, 1,275 yards and 11 touchdowns.

“We think he’s got a chance to be a heckuva player,’’ Ballard said.

Taylor? That’s Jonathan Taylor, an ultra-productive running back out of Wisconsin. How productive? In three seasons and 41 games, he generated 6,174 yards and 50 TDs on 926 carries. He’s a two-time Doak Walker Award winner, given to the nation’s top back.

Concerned Taylor wouldn’t last until the Colts were again on the clock at 44, Ballard made a trade with Cleveland and moved up to the No. 41 rung.

“Look, he’s a unique talent,’’ Ballard said. “Anytime a unique talent starts to fall a little bit, at that point we’re like, ‘Man, we need to go get the player.’

“To me, he’s too unique of a talent. There’s nothing worse on draft day than you say, ‘This guy is really going to make us better and help our football team win,’ and then he goes the pick in front of you.’’

Owner Jim Irsay pushed Ballard to go after Taylor, just the seventh player in FBS history to rush for over 6,000 yards and the first to do it in three seasons.

“There was a group of about six or seven players at 34 that we were kind of talking through and Jonathan was in that group,’’ Ballard said. “All of a sudden you get to 36, 37 . . . actually Mr. Irsay said, ‘Chris, y’all been talking about this guy, how much you love him. Y’all need to go get him.’ At that point, we became aggressive and worked out a deal with Cleveland.’’

Taylor joins a running back corps led by Marlon Mack, who’s coming off a career-best 1,091-yard season. Ballard doesn’t anticipate the two feature backs having a problem co-existing.

“I haven’t talked to Marlon yet, but Frank texted Marlon,’’ he said. “Look, we just drafted another good back. Marlon’s a special kid, a special teammate. He knows that Taylor’s going to make us better, and he’s going to make Marlon better.’’

In round 3, the Colts traded back from 75 to 85 in a trade with Detroit that added a fifth- and sixth-rounder to Ballard’s stash. At 85, they selected Utah cornerback-turned-safety Julian Blackmon.

“We were worried he (wouldn’t) be there in the fourth,’’ Ballard said.

Blackmon saw his draft stock drop after suffering a torn ACL in the Pac-12 championship game Dec. 6. He’s still in serious rehab mode.

“We know he won’t be ready probably until late August, early September, which means he might not even really help us until October,’’ Ballard said. “But he is a rangy, fast, athletic safety that can play corner and he can play in the nickel. He has a lot of value in our defense.’’

No QBs

So many were anticipating the Colts looking for their quarterback of the future in the draft. So many were disappointed.

“I told y’all the other day we’re not going to force that,’’ Ballard said. “It’s going to be a guy we have a strong conviction on, and we know that we think he can be our future.

“We’re not there, yet.’’

No moving back into round 1

Obviously, the Colts didn’t move back into the first round Thursday. That never was a possibility even though several national reports mentioned Indy was one of the teams considering such a move.

“We did not try to trade into the first round at all,’’ Ballard said. “Matter of fact, I was eating popcorn and just hanging out from about pick 19 to 32.

“There was no effort to try to get into the first round despite the reports out there that we were going to move up. There was no effort.’’

About that running back

An interesting tidbit regarding Taylor. The last time the Colts took a running back earlier was in 2009 when they selected Donald Brown with the 27th overall pick in 2009.

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

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