Colts counting on second-rounders to boost second-rate offense

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Darius Leonard gives details of racial profiling incident (2:20)

Colts LB Darius Leonard describes the details of being racially profiled while at a Chipotle in South Carolina. (2:20)

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indianapolis Colts made it no secret about their intentions before the draft: Become more explosive on offense.

The Colts didn't have a first-round pick but had two in the second round. Receiver Michael Pittman Jr. and running back Jonathan Taylor were selected with the expectation that they will have an opportunity to immediately contribute to an offense that sputtered along for more than half of last season.

“Offensively, we knew we needed to add some explosive playmakers,” general manager Chris Ballard said. “We didn’t care where they were at. Whether it was at wideout, tight end, running back -- we knew we needed to add explosive playmakers. That’s where Pittman and Taylor come into the equation.”

Pittman and Taylor have the potential to become the No. 1 options at their position for different reasons.

The Colts' third-round pick -- safety Julian Blackmon -- will be brought along slowly because of a torn ACL suffered in December 2019 while at the University of Utah. But he, too, could become a starter, possibly in 2021.

Here’s a look at how the Colts’ top three draft picks could have an impact on the roster this season:

WR Michael Pittman Jr.

The Colts needed to add some explosiveness to a passing game that was lethargic last season, partially due to injuries to the receivers and partially due to quarterback play. Indianapolis was 30th in the NFL in passing yards per game.

The Colts have speed in T.Y. Hilton and Parris Campbell (if he can stay healthy), but they lacked size at the position outside of Zach Pascal.

That’s where Pittman enters.

The 6-foot-4, 200-pound target had 101 receptions for 1,275 yards and 11 touchdowns last season at USC. He could be a perfect complementary piece to go with Hilton and Campbell.

“To go deep, to block, run slants, gos and posts and really have those tough-down catches,” Pittman said. “I feel like that’s what I can do because I am a big body, strong, fast guy, and I feel like that is made for me. So I’m excited for it.”

The Colts are aware that time is ticking for Hilton, who has been the team’s go-to receiver for most of his eight seasons with the organization. But the reality is he’ll turn 31 later this year, and Indianapolis has to start preparing to find his replacement.

“It usually takes receivers a little bit of time, but we think he has the maturity and the skill to develop probably faster than most,” coach Frank Reich said about Pittman. “But it still will take some time. But we are excited about that. You’ve got to have guys like a T.Y. Hilton who you know can be your dog -- he can be your go-to guy. Michael needs to develop into that for us. That’s our hope. That is our vision for him.”

RB Jonathan Taylor

The battle to become the Colts' top running back will be one of the more intriguing battles during training camp. Returner Marlon Mack is the incumbent following his first 1,000-yard rushing season in 2019.

Reich and offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni want to use as many running backs as possible to continue to build a ground game that finished seventh in the league last season.

“We do it by committee,” Reich said. “With Jonathan into the mix, I really envision that it’ll be Jonathan and Marlon really being that one-two punch. ... It’s a long season. It’s a grind, and when you run the ball as much as we run it, it’s really good to be able to change that up. I think their styles will really complement each other very well.”

Taylor is coming off back-to-back seasons of at least 2,000 rushing yards at Wisconsin. He’ll give the Colts a different look out of the backfield to go with Mack’s speed. Nyheim Hines will likely be used in multiple ways, including lining up out at receiver.

Taylor spent time breaking down film of securing the ball with running backs coach Tom Rathman during the offseason after the rookie fumbled 18 times, with 15 being recovered by the opposition, while in college.

Mack handled 52% of the team’s carries out of the backfield in 2019. He’ll likely want more this season to try to show his value for the free-agent market in 2021. The Colts declined to give him a contract extension this spring.

“You don’t count the reps, you make the reps count,” Taylor said. “So whenever you’re in, you’re on, make sure you are 100 percent. When people are at their jobs -- I know my mother is at her job, and she likes to do everything correctly to a ‘T’ as perfect as possible. I’m taking the same approach here. I mean whenever my number is called, I’m making sure I’m on at all times because it’s my job now.”

S Julian Blackmon

The former Utah standout might not be ready to play a snap until around October following his knee injury. The Colts are in no rush to bring him to the field. He suffered the injury less than seven months ago.

“He is a rangy, fast, athletic safety that can play corner, and he can play in the nickel,” Ballard said. “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, so we feel lucky to get him. He is a talented young man.”

Just like Taylor, whatever snaps Blackmon gets could be looked at as an audition for potentially stepping into a starting spot in 2021. The current starter at free safety, Malik Hooker, didn’t have his fifth-year option picked up, meaning he’ll become a free agent next offseason.