Polling Polian on Draft Strategy: Part One

(AP/Michael Conroy)

During the NFL Scouting Combine, ColtPower's Eric Hartz got the chance to ask Bill Polian about his draft strategy -- specifically, if he would stick to his "best player available" philosophy or if the Colts had positions of need they needed to address this year. See his answer inside ...

"No, we always try to draft the best player available, and the best example I can give you is Reggie Wayne," Polian said. "We had a very big need for a cornerback that year, we could not agree on who that person should be. So we turned around, traded down, and took Reggie Wayne, who was the best player available at that pick. And it turned out to be the right thing.

"And it always is, you should take the best player. You might be wrong in the assessment of the player, but as long as you take the best player your odds of success are very much greater than they would be otherwise."

* * *

With that quote in mind, let's take a look at Polian's first-round draft picks while with the Colts:

1998
Peyton Manning, QB
No. 1 overall
1999

Clark was Polian's pick in 2003
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Edgerrin James, RB
No. 4 overall
2000
Rob Morris, LB
No. 28 overall
2001
Reggie Wayne, WR
No. 30 overall
2002
Dwight Freeney, DE
No. 11 overall
2003
Dallas Clark, TE
No. 24 overall
2005
Marlin Jackson, CB
No. 29 overall
2006
Joseph Addai, RB
No. 30 overall
2007
Anthony Gonzalez, WR
No. 32 overall

It's difficult to say that Polian was "wrong" about any of these picks. Manning, obviously, holds every Colts passing record and is well on his way to holding most of the NFL passing records. James led the league in rushing for two seasons and is the franchise's all-time leading rusher, and No. 11 on the NFL's all-time rushing list.

Morris is perhaps the least distinguished player on this list, and he and James are the only players who aren't still with the Colts. While Morris never became a star, he was a starter for several seasons and played a key role in the playoffs on the way to the Super Bowl XLI title.

Wayne, who Polian used as an example, was a return to top draft form for Polian. The Miami product has turned into a top-flight receiver, leading the NFL in receiving yardage in 2007 and has been to three straight Pro Bowls.


Edgerrin James, taken fourth overall in 1999, is the franchise's all-time rushing leader
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The pick that Polian traded away was the 22nd selection, which the New York Giants used to select Will Allen. The Colts netted a third-rounder and sixth-rounder and selected Cory Bird and Jason Doering, respectively.

James was injured in the 2001 season and the team struggled to a 6-10 record, which gave them the 11th pick in the draft. Once again, Polian hit a home run with the pick, selecting Dwight Freeney. Freeney has been to four Pro Bowls, has been an All-Pro three times, and is the franchise's all time sack leader.

The hits continued in 2003 with the selection of Dallas Clark. Clark has never been to a Pro Bowl, but he owns all of the team's seasonal tight end records and is on pace to break many of the team's career records.

In 2005, Polian decided on Marlin Jackson, who has turned into a solid starter before being sidelined by a knee injury last year. The next year, it was time to replace the departed James and the pick was Addai, who gained 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons and went to the Pro Bowl in 2007. Gonzalez, the choice in 2007, contributed as a rookie with 37 catches for 576 yards and three touchdowns, and upped those numbers to 57 catches for 664 yards and four TDs.

Taken as a group, this collection of Colts makes for a pretty impressive stable. Manning and James are both future Hall of Famers, and this group has been to 21 Pro Bowls and formed the core of the team that won Super Bowl XLI.

Polian hasn't done too poorly in the second round either, turning up players like Mike Peterson (1999), Marcus Washington (2000), Bob Sanders (2004), Kelvin Hayden (2005), Tim Jennings (2006), Tony Ugoh (2007) and Mike Pollak (2008).

So, Polian certainly deserves a tip of the hat for his drafting prowess. But were these players really the "best available" when the Colts took them? Subscribers, keep an eye out for Part Two, where we look at who the Colts could have had with their first round picks, and try to find some trends in Polian's draft strategy.


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