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Highlights from Colts GM Chris Ballard’s pre-draft press conference

On Friday afternoon, less than one week before the 2024 NFL Draft, Colts’ GM Chris Ballard met with reporters for about 20 minutes to discuss a variety of topics.

Here are the highlights from it and what you need to know:

– With a young quarterback, or any quarterback, you’ve got to be able to protect him. Ballard thinks the offensive line did well with that last year and will continue to. You’ve also got to be able to continue to add playmakers around him as well. Notes the importance of re-signing Michael Pittman, Jonathan Taylor being healthy, along with Alec Pierce and Josh Downs taking steps forward.

– More on Taylor: with him coming into this offseason fully healthy, Ballard said he expects a big year from him.

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– Colts need more playmaking on offense and Ballard was asked about the significance of YAC in helping with that. He says teams are always looking for guys who are “dangerous with the ball in their hands,” but notes that a lot of YAC can be obtained when plays break downs and a scramble drill ensuses because pass-catchers are then operating in space.

– Balance of drafting players who do one thing at an elite level versus a more well-rounded player who can do a few things at a high level: Ballard makes it clear there is no perfect player. They all have strengths and weaknesses, but it’s about figuring out what that player does really well and consistently putting him in those positions. Ballard is meeting with the coaching staff on Friday and Saturday to discuss what the “vision” is for several draft prospects.

– In January, Ballard mentioned not giving Gus Bradley enough on defense yet didn’t make many outside additions in free agency. Ballard said that was in part about who was available and the circumstances around it. He adds that getting Dallis Flowers back from injury will help, and while last year the Colts relied heavily on rookies in the secondary, JuJu Brents, Jaylon Jones, etc. are no longer rookies and improved play should come with that.

– A majority of the team’s best players need to come from the draft. Free agency is too expensive, and it’s not a long-term answer. In today’s NFL, rookies coming in are more ready to play and it’s often expected that they contribute in some capacity. Ballard adds that you have to get two or three guys each year who can make an immediate impact.

– There is a tug-of-war that takes place, and a “balance” that has to be struck between a GM focusing on long-term needs and the coaching staff often focused on wanting immediate help.

– The Colts re-signed a number of their own players to shorter, three-year deals. Ballard says that, in part, it’s because of the player’s ages, but this is also a trend that’s taking place league-wide.

– Ballard reiterates the importance of blocking and protecting for your quarterback. Adds that if you look at the playoff teams, they have that ability.

– Ballard was asked about how why they structured DeForest Buckner’s deal the way they did, which freed up about $14 million in cap space: “It gives us flexibility.”

– Shane Steichen is able to quickly identify the strengths of a prospect and establish a vision for how he would fit into his offensive system. “That makes it fun,” said Ballard.

– Ballard has 19 to 21 prospects with first-round grades.

– Ballard notes that there is offensive line depth throughout this draft class, giving teams the ability to land a good player in the middle to even late rounds. He adds that receiver is in a similar spot. “Those two position groups stand out. They’re both really good.”

– Ballard thinks that there will be a lot of offensive players taken early in the first round, and that speaks to the talent that is on that side of the ball in this year’s class. It’s not a weak defensive class, but a really strong offensive class, especially at the top.

– Ballard on trading down more often than trading up: “I just go off history. The more picks you have the better chance you have to hit. Now, of course, you’re not going to hit on all of them, but it gives you a better chance to hit.” Adds that if they see someone in striking distance they will move up, as they did with Jonathan Taylor, but it also takes someone else wanting to make the trade.

– Ballard on trading up in the first round: “I think it would depend. There would have to be someone within striking distance we felt was really unique and a difference-maker for us.

Drew Ogletree has been removed from the commissioner’s exempt list and is back with the team. Ogletree was cleared of domestic violence charges, and Ballard is “absolutely comfortable” with the info he received.

– Ballard spoke very highly of new defensive line coach Charlie Partridge’s ability to develop players.

Story originally appeared on Colts Wire