First of all, I’m an avid Colts fan. I was born and raised in Bloomington, and was a fan all the way back to the Jim Harbaugh days, so don’t think I’m a troll. It’s hard for me to be objective about my Colts. But the sad fact is that they are not as dominant as they once were. This explains why I think that has happened. I’m no NFL expert, so feel free to tell me I’m an idiot.
With the string of 12-win seasons coming to an end this year, it’s painfully obvious we’re at the end of our arc. This year, in particular, it’s easy to point to the injuries as a key factor, and I’m certainly not going to discount that. The Colts have been absolutely riddled by injuries, and it’s killing us. However, even though we won 14 games last year (and could have won 16), it’s often overlooked that we also could very easily have been 10-6 or 11-5 last year. Seven of the Colts wins from last year were by 4 points or less, and seven games required the Colts to come from behind in the 4th quarter to win. Hats off to Peyton for pulling our butts out of the fire one time after another. However, cracks started appearing in the armor last year.
The problem is two-fold. First and foremost, the NFL system, quite simply, works the way it’s supposed to. The whole setup of the NFL is to create parity among the league so that, "on any given Sunday", one team could possibly defeat another. When you win consistently, which the Colts have done for the last 7 seasons, you consistently get low draft picks. That means you will never have access to the elite talent coming in from the college ranks. I’m not saying it’s impossible to find some nuggets, but you’ve got to be WAY better at finding talent to pick it up with picks 26-32 than you do picks 1-15. If you don’t do it, that’s not so much a knock on your ability to draft as it is the NFL system working.
Second, you absolutely MUST hit with at least one of your first two picks every year. This is where you find your difference makers. Recently, the Colts simply have not done this. Obviously, it’s harder to do this at the end of the rounds than at the beginning, but if you want to stay dominant, you have to find a way. Historically, close to 50% of the players voted to the Pro Bowl were first-round draft picks. While the Pro Bowl is not the best measure of NFL talent, it is an easy snapshot of where the difference makers are typically found. You can find them in later rounds (and Polian is as good as anybody at doing that), but for the most part, you’re going to find role players and glue guys in the later rounds. The fact is that Polian’s last few drafts have been less than adequate
Early in the last decade, the Colts did drafted incredibly well. 2001 1st round pick was Reggie Wayne. 2002 1st round pick was Dwight Freeney. 2003 1st round pick was Dallas Clark. 2004 2nd round (Colts traded 1st round pick) was Bob Sanders. This was the core group of guys that the Colts put around Peyton and Marvin early in the decade that elevated the Colts to the best team in the league, year-in and year-out.
2005 is where… well, I won’t say that’s where the problems start, but that’s where the drop-off occurs. The 4 previous years yielded 4 Pro-Bowlers. Since then… the Colts have drafted only 2- Joseph Addai and Antoine Bethea.
The 2005 brought us Marlin Jackson and Kelvin Hayden. 2006 was Addai and Tim Jennings. 2007 was a disaster: Anthony Gonalez and Tony Ugoh (who also cost us our 1st rounder in 2008). 2008 was Mike Pollack. 2009 looks like it will be a good year overall, but first rounders Donald Brown and Fili Moala have been disappointing. Once again, nothing against any of these guys. Some of them are quite good. But nobody in their right mind is going to put them in the same area code as the 2001-2004 drafts. And while Addai and Bethea may be Pro Bowlers, they are also not in the same class as Freeney, Sanders (when he was healthy), Wayne, and Clark.
Here’s the fact- the Colts will be good as long as they have Peyton, but unless they can get an infusion of youthful talent sometime very soon, or unless some of their younger players suddenly blossom into an elite-level players, they are on the way down. All of the Colts best players are getting older. I’m don’t subscribe to the theory that we’re past our prime, but we’re certainly nearing the end of it. The Colts absolutely MUST have a good draft the next two years if we are to have a chance of returning to the Super Bowl.
So there it is- one man’s not-so-humble opinion. Please- tell me why I’m wrong.