Colts use the NFL draft to fill two needs: Improve defense, help QB Anthony Richardson

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard started NFL draft weekend with two goals.

He wanted to improve his defense, and he wanted to give second-year quarterback Anthony Richardson a stronger supporting cast.

Ballard accomplished both by selecting the first defensive player in Round 1, pass rusher Laiatu Latu of UCLA, adding a potential deep receiving threat with Adonai Mitchell of Texas in the second round and using his final seven picks to plug holes along the offensive line and in the secondary.

Coach Shane Steichen couldn’t be happier with the results.

“When I look at defensive players in the draft, I kind of look at it from an offensive perspective, can this guy be a problem?” the second-year coach said. “I think he’s going to be a problem. He’s a high motor guy, he’s got nothing else but football and he loves it and that’s what he wants here.”

The Colts didn’t pull off the splashy first-day move Indy fans were hoping for and he didn’t follow the conventional wisdom by using early selections to add even more cornerbacks to an already young secondary.

Ballard took a different path.

Latu was the top defensive player on the Colts’ draft board when their turn came at No. 15 on Thursday, and Ballard didn’t hesitate to take someone who had overcome neck surgery to post 23 1/2 sacks over his final two college seasons.

He’s perhaps Indy’s most gifted outside pass rusher since Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney, and if he can replicate his college success, Latu’s presence should effectively help the secondary, too.

“I think he’s going to produce pretty quickly as a rusher. I think he knows how to rush,” Ballard said. “Now of course, there’s going to be an adjustment period as there is with any rookie rusher and he’s pretty polished. This guy is a pretty polished product in terms of rushing.”


Mitchell was confounded he lasted until the 52nd overall pick — and so were the Colts, especially after they traded down and still nabbed him.

At 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds with a resume that includes two national championships at Georgia before transferring to Texas, five TD catches in five College Football Playoff games and a 4.34-second 40-yard dash, Mitchell appears to be the prototypical big-play receiver any team could use. But what pushed him down the board were anonymous criticisms of his character, something Ballard chided in a profane rant Friday night.

“These are 21-, 22-year-old young men, and can people out there tell me they’re perfect in their lives? It’s crazy. It’s crap,” he said, describing his thoughts in more polite terms. “This is a good kid.”

Perhaps one who will make a major impact when working Richardson and his strong arm.

“He’s got the speed to take the top off,” Steichen said. “To add that speed, we know Anthony can throw it, it’s going to help all those guys.”


Indy wasn’t projected to have much need on an offensive line that returns all five starters and three key backups. But that didn’t prevent the Colts from selecting interior linemen Matt Gonclaves of Pittsburgh in Round 3 and center Tanor Bortolini of Wisconsin in Round 4.

“Look, you can never have enough good linemen,” Ballard said. “I think guys get better when there’s great competition.”


The Colts addressed their secondary needs Saturday by shoring up the depth chart at safety. Ballard likes the three cornerbacks he drafted last season and wants to give them time to develop.

But adding Latu, Jaylon Carlies of Missouri (who will start at linebacker), safety Jaylin Simpson of Auburn and cornerback Micah Abraham of Marshall on Saturday, the Colts think they’ve solidified a unit that needed an upgrade.

“Always take guys with length that can run, have an advantage,” Ballard said.


One trait Ballard found more in this draft than past seasons was versatility. The two offensive linemen can play multiple positions, Carlies could be a hybrid-type safety, receiver Anthony Gould of Oregon State is viewed as a return specialist and Indy’s final pick, Jonah Laulu has played both defensive end and tackle.

It’s not happenstance.

“You’re really looking for guys with upside that you think you can hit on,” Ballard said. “We know the odds are low but we’ve had some success hitting on the third day.”



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