Colts take big swings on both sides of ball in NFL Draft

Apr. 28—INDIANAPOLIS — Chris Ballard had three expressed goals for the 2024 NFL Draft — add explosive playmakers on both sides of the ball, protect second-year quarterback Anthony Richardson and surround him with more weapons.

On paper, at least, it appears the Indianapolis Colts general manager went 3-for-3.

The draft opened with big swings on prolific UCLA pass rusher Laiatu Latu in the first round and dangerous Texas wide receiver Adonai Mitchell in Round 2.

A pair of versatile offensive linemen followed with a surprise trade up for Pitt offensive tackle Matt Goncalves in the third round and the selection of Wisconsin center Tanor Bortolini to start Day 3.

The fifth round started with electric Oregon State wide receiver/kick returner Anthony Gould, and the remaining four picks were used to add depth and competition on defense.

The result had Colts head coach Shane Steichen smiling widely Saturday night as he thought about the new offensive depth chart.

"It's actually a good problem to have because we've got a lot of dudes. We do," Steichen said. "We've got to do a great job. Obviously, there's one football that goes around, but we've got a lot of talent. We've got to ultilize that talent. That's our job to put those guys in position to go do it, but we're fired up about what we have on offense."

Mitchell is the most intriguing offensive addition.

Few question his play-making ability. He has elite athleticism and played at a high level for two major college programs, beginning his career at Georgia before finishing at Texas.

He played in the College Football Playoff after each of his three seasons and saved some of his best plays for the biggest moments.

But there were questions raised by anonymous sources about reportedly poor interviews with NFL teams and the idea he can appear to be disinterested at times on the field if he's not the focal point of the play call.

Ballard strongly pushed back against those claims during an often profane reponse Friday night, and Steichen made his thoughts on the player clear a day later.

"I think he's got a rare ability to separate at the top of routes," Steichen said. "He's got an arsenal of releases versus press man (coverage), you can see it show up on tape. The guy had 11 touchdowns (last season). I think he averaged 14.4 yards a catch. The guy is a competitor. To get him where we got him, I couldn't be more fired up about it."

Steichen was equally effusive about Latu, the 15th overall pick and the first defensive player selected.

He had 23.5 sacks over two seasons at UCLA after being medically retired following a neck injury suffered at Washington.

Latu gained clearance from Dr. Robert Watkins — the man who performed former Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning's neck surgery — and he's been praised for his relentless energy and on-field effort.

Steichen's glad he won't be drawing up ways to block Latu.

"When I look at defensive players in the draft and I get an opportunity to watch these guys, I kind of look at it from an offensive perspective as well," Steichen said. "Like, 'Hey, is this guy going to be a problem to deal with?' When I watched his tape, I said I think he is going to be a problem. He has an arsenal of pass-rush moves. He's got the euro step. He's got the spin move. He's got speed to power, and the guy is relentless.

"I mean, he goes after that ball. He's a high-motor guy. You guys talked to him the other day, and you got nothing else but football. He loves it, and that's what we want here, and that's our culture."

After the Colts re-signed the vast majority of their in-house free agents, the rookies are joining a roster with all 22 intended starters returning.

It's another good problem for Indianapolis — one created intentionally by the general manager.

If all goes as planned, this will be a very difficult 53-man roster to make in August.

"There's going to be great competition up front, both sides of the ball, both o-line and d-line," Ballard said. "It'll be really good competiton at wideout, depending on how many we keep. We get some guys back that did some things at the end of the year that we really liked. I think across the board we'll continue to work. There's a few spots we want to continue to add between now and the season.

"Like I always tell you all, there's no perfect team. There's not. ... You go to work, and you take your time and you don't press and you make sure that by the time the season starts, when you get into the season, you can plug those positions. But, yeah, I'm pleased about where we're at right now."