INDIANAPOLIS – It took a major trade, some work in free agency and a different looking start to the draft, but it sounds like Chris Ballard has successfully tried to address his two biggest off-season priorities.
“When we sat down after the season, there were a couple of things we really identified,” Ballard said in the early hours of Saturday morning, after taking WR-Michael Pittman, RB-Jonathan Taylor and DB-Julian Blackmon on Day 2 of the 2020 NFL Draft.
“Defensively, we knew we needed a dominant three-technique. Offensively, we knew we needed to add some explosive playmakers. We didn’t care where they were at, whether it was wideout, tight end, running back, we knew we needed to add explosive playmakers.”
What were other highlights from Ballard recapping the first two days of the Draft?
On the chatter about trying to trade back into Round 1 for a quarterback:
“We did not try to trade into the first round at all. As matter of fact, I was eating popcorn and just hanging out from about pick 19 to 32. There was no effort to get into the first round, despite the reports out there that we were going to move up. There was no effort.”
“I told you all the other day, we are not going to force that. We are not going to force that. It’s going to be a guy that we have a strong conviction on and we know that we think he can be our future. We are not there yet.”
On USC WR-Michael Pittman at No. 34:
“Our scouts liked him. Frank (Reich) had a strong conviction on him also. What we saw with Michael was a guy who could win at all three levels. He was big. He’s strong to the ball. He competes. He got better every year in college. He’s the type of teammate we want. We think he’s got a chance to be a heck of a player.”
“We thought about (trading back from No. 34). We had a couple of offers, but they weren’t ones that made you turn your head and say, ‘We need to do this.’ Then when (Tee) Higgins went at 33, we said it was time to take Pittman. We had Pittman ranked really high on our board. I liked him. This kid is going to be a heck of a pro. We are excited about getting him.”
On trading up for Wisconsin RB-Jonathan Taylor at No. 41:
“He’s a unique talent. Anytime a unique talent starts to fall a little bit, at that point, we were like, ‘We need to go get the player.’ We knew there were other teams behind us that could have coveted him. I don’t know about the guys in front of us. But we got two picks away and we decided to go get him. To be quite honest, we got the 5th (round pick) back and it’s a higher 5th. To me, he’s too unique of a talent.”
“There was a group of 6 or 7 players at 34 that we were talking through. Jonathan was in that group. Then you go to 36, 37, we started talking. Actually, Mr. Irsay said, ‘Chris, you all have been talking about this guy, how much you love him, you all need to go get him.’ At that point, we became aggressive and worked out a deal with Cleveland.”
Ballard added that Frank Reich texted Marlon Mack about the team taking Taylor: “Marlon is a good kid. He’s a special teammate. He knows that Taylor is going to make us better and that he’s going to make Marlon better. The answer is, ‘Let’s go. Let’s go win.’”
On trading back and taking Utah DB-Julian Blackmon at No. 85:
“Really it came down to I didn’t want to lose him behind us. We thought there was a chance he would be there in the 3rd. We were worried if he’d be there in the 4th. He’s got the ACL injury. We know he probably won’t be ready until late August/early September, which means that he might not really help us until October. He’s 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 and can play a bunch of multiple spots. This is his first year playing safety and we liked him at corner, too. We feel lucky to get him. He’s a talented young man.”
On the logistics of the draft:
“It was great. Really, no different than being in the draft room. They are all on the Zoom call. I’ve got them in a little bigger screen, so I can see more people. I give (our scouts) and our IT guys who worked their tails off…I couldn’t have done this (without them). No freaking way. I would have had one computer and been doing it really old school. They did a tremendous job organizing this. Everybody was on the call. We had 20-something people, our scouts, Frank. Frank was connected to the coaches. I would text back and forth with the coaches. With the trade calls, that was fun. Kevin Rogers, Ed (Dodds) and I were fielding all the trade calls. Then (cap man) Mike Bluem would call in the trade. It went well. It was really good. This is work. It was really neat to have (my family) here and get to see how it all operates and how everything goes. I bet if you asked every head coach and GM in this league, that’s something they’ll remember for the rest of their lives.”