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Colts’ 2022 NFL Draft class features plenty of Midwest ties
The Colts selected Cincinnati wide receiver Alec Pierce with the No. 53 overall pick in this year’s NFL Draft. (Credit: Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports)

Colts’ 2022 NFL Draft class features plenty of Midwest ties

INDIANAPOLIS (BVM) – With veteran quarterback Matt Ryan soon to be at the helm, there seems to be more optimism surrounding the Indianapolis Colts this year. Since the shocking retirement of Andrew Luck, the Colts have searched for their new signal-caller, going through the likes of Jacoby Brissett, Philip Rivers and Carson Wentz.

Last year, Wentz guided the Colts to a 9-8 record, but poor play down the stretch – particularly in a win-and-in game in Week 18 against the Jaguars – had the Colts searching for other options this offseason. With Wentz being dealt to the Washington Commanders and Indianapolis swinging another trade to bring Ryan in from the Atlanta Falcons, things finally feel more stabilized for Indy at the most important position in football.

That is perhaps all they need to become a legitimate threat in the AFC, as they have a solid offensive line led by all-pro guard Quenton Nelson, perhaps the best young running back in the game right now in Jonathan Taylor, and a strong defense led by Pro Bowl linebacker Darius Leonard.

All three of those guys were recent draft picks by the Colts who continue to excel at bringing in home-grown talent. We won’t know how good the team’s 2022 draft class is for a few years yet, but right now, it certainly seems promising, as Indianapolis has brought in some names quite familiar to many in the Midwest.

It starts with a couple of guys from right next door in Illinois. With no first-round pick thanks to trading for Carson Wentz in 2021, the Colts’ first selection came in Round 2 at No. 53 overall after trading down from No. 42. With the pick, the team selected wide receiver Alec Pierce.

Pierce was a leader of the receiving corps for Cincinnati, a team that made it all the way to the College Football Playoff last season under the direction of Luke Fickell. As a senior, the receiver caught 52 balls for 884 yards and eight touchdowns. 

“He’ll move around, he’ll compete … I like him outside,” head coach Frank Reich said about Pierce in a press conference after the draft. “I think he’s very good versus press, I think he’s got length and vertical speed to get down the field. I think for his size he’s a very good route runner, so it’ll be fun to see him grow and develop and compete over these next couple of months.”

While the move from Cincinnati to Indiana isn’t a far one, neither is the move from Pierce’s actual hometown, as he grew up in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, and was a standout at Glenbard West High School. Now, he has a chance to live out his pro dream and perhaps form a dynamic duo with top Colts’ receiver Michael Pittman.

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“It’s been wild, it’s really a dream come true,” Pierce said at his introductory press conference. “A ton of guys have reached out to me. I can tell they have a great culture here, a lot of great leaders. I’m excited to get to meet them in person and get to work.”

“He’s really competitive, he’s got really good ball skills,” Colts Area Scout Chad Henry added about Pierce after the draft. “He’s like a basketball player on the outside. You always think about guys for our team, we thought about pairing him up with Pittman, both on the outside. We’ve got a pretty interesting tandem there.”

The other Illinois native in this year’s draft class for the Colts is Eric Johnson of Plainfield who starred at Plainfield South High School in both football and wrestling. Johnson went on to play at FCS Missouri State where he appeared in 55 games across five years with the program.

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The 6-foot-4 defensive lineman racked up over 130 tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and four blocked field goals across his career with the Bears, earning all-conference honors in his final two seasons. A high-upside selection, the Colts picked Johnson at No. 159 overall in the fifth round, and he had a feeling after his pre-draft visit he could very well end up in Indy.

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“It was pretty good,” Johnson said in his introductory press conference about his visit with the Colts. “We went there and out of all the visits, the Colts visit was the most in-depth when it came to analyzing us as a player, the process we went through when it came to seeing the facilities, seeing the coaches, the staff. It was all very in-depth and getting the full look of everything we’d be going through.”

In between their selections of Pierce and Johnson, the Colts drafted for need by selecting Virginia tight end Jelani Woods early in the third round, and bolstered the secondary by taking Maryland safety Nick Cross later in Round 3.

Also in the third round came the selection of Bernhard Raimann, a talented offensive lineman out of Central Michigan. The trip from Kalamazoo to Indianapolis will be much shorter than Raimann’s past one, as he came over to Michigan from Austria in high school as a foreign-exchange student.

Raimann did not begin playing football until age 14 after seeing it on TV a year earlier. However, he has developed quicker than most. Originally a tight end, Raimann turned into a quality lineman for the Chippewas, allowing just one sack and 16 pressures in his time at left tackle.

“The guy’s played offensive line less than 20 games,” Henry said about Raimann. “I think the Senior Bowl was his 19th game playing offensive line. He’s really smart, he’s like a sponge, picks up things really quick. He’s got top-1% work ethic so I think he fits into our culture great.”

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After the third round, the Colts stayed relatively local with their next two picks as well. That began with selecting another tight end, Youngstown State’s Andrew Ogletree, with the 192nd pick of the draft. A former wide receiver, Ogletree transitioned to tight end where he caught 40 passes for the Penguins over his final two college seasons. Running a 4.7 in the 40-yard dash, Ogletree is a solid athlete who could have sneaky potential.

“We did a workout with him, watched the pro day, it’s been a cool process,” Henry said about Ogletree. “We had him in here for a visit, he’s a great kid, another super culture fit. We were really excited to get him and think he has tremendous upside.”

“I feel good about that room,” Reich said about his new-look tight end room after the draft. “The offense really wants to be tight-end centric in some ways. A lot of play making goes on in the middle of the field. You get unique matchups, there’s a lot of things you can do formationally, there’s a lot of things you can do when you put multiple tight ends on the field at the same time. But you always want to have enough good players that you can put those different personnel groups on the field.”

To finish up the sixth round, the Colts took Cincinnati defensive lineman Curtis Brooks. Pierce’s teammate over the last few years, Brooks came back to take advantage of the extra season of eligibility he was given due to Covid and made the most of it with 33 tackles, including 12.5 for loss and 7.5 sacks. He was a true force for a defense that made the College Football Playoff, and could end up being a late steal in the draft.

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“He’s a little bit undersized but really athletic and really showed people that in the pro day,” Henry said about Brooks.

The Colts finished their draft by selecting corner Rodney Thomas II from Yale in the seventh round. However, they again found plenty of Midwest talent when it came to the undrafted free agent pool.

Yet another Cincinnati Bearcat was brought in by Indy in the form of wide receiver Michael Young Jr., while another Ohio player, safety Sterling Weatherford from Miami University, will be returning home after playing his high school football at Hamilton Heights in Arcadia.

Meanwhile, the Colts have also brought in Jack Coan who played at Wisconsin and later in-state at Notre Dame, and Josh Seltzner, a lineman from Wisconsin. They concluded by picking up Cal wide receiver Kekoa Crawford who played at Michigan back in 2016 and 2017, as well as another Illinois native in Dallis Flowers who hails from Chicago and recently played cornerback at Pittsburg State.

Overall, each of the Colts’ draft picks and free agent signings accomplished one of the organization’s biggest goals: getting younger.

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“I think we needed an influx of youth,” Colts general manager Chris Ballard said in a press conference after the draft. “We’re still pretty young, but the group from ‘18, now they’re four years in the league. One of our big objectives was that we wanted to add as many good, young, talented players as we could to create as much competition as we could. We all know what makes people better, having to compete.”

Even despite the lack of a first-round pick, this homegrown organization continued to add plenty of talent to their team. Many of the guys the Colts selected may not be the flashiest names, but in a few years, they very well could be contributors on a successful squad. With so many already growing up or playing relatively close to Indianapolis, that success will be even more rewarding. 

The Colts already have a solid team, and are in position to contend for an AFC South title next season. Now, they will hope a solid 2022 draft class can get them over the hump and continue a winning culture for several years to come.

“Good weekend for us,” Ballard said. “Coming into our staff, both scouts and coaches coming together, making sure we got players that we all liked and got the talent that we look for and the character that we look for. Excited going forward about all of these guys that we got.”

Photo: The Colts selected Cincinnati wide receiver Alec Pierce with the No. 53 overall pick in this year’s NFL Draft. (Credit: Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports)