People commonly say not to judge draft classes until after the third season. While all the talk recently has been about the Colts 2014 draft class (and rightfully so), it also has been three seasons since the 2011 draft class took the field. Let's take a time out from looking to the future of the 2014 class and for a moment look back at how the 2011 draft panned out, in the final draft of Bill Polian's career as Colts general manager.
Round One (22) - LT Anthony Castonzo, Boston College
We've talked a lot about Anthony Castonzo recently, as the Colts picked up his fifth-year option in an expected - yet still good - move. While Bill Polian's later drafts with the Colts produced some questionable first round picks, his last one with the team featured a great pick in the first round. Castonzo was drafted to protect Peyton Manning's blindside in the legendary quarterback's final years of his career, but due to a serious neck injury to the signal caller Castonzo ended up protecting guys like Kerry Collins, Curtis Painter, and Dan Orlovsky in his rookie season. The next year the Colts drafted Andrew Luck, and ever since Castonzo has been protecting the new franchise quarterback's blindside, starting every single game the past two seasons and 44 of 48 possible games in his career (missing four his rookie season). Castonzo is a consistent player who also provides good production from the left tackle position. This was a good pick for the Colts and one that Bill Polian absolutely got right.
GRADE: A -
Round Two (49)- OT Ben Ijalana, Villanova
The selection of Ben Ijalana is one of those that is hard to fault the general manager for but that just didn't turn out. Polian traded up in the second round to get Ijalana, who's stock was rising and who was projected to be a solid tackle at the NFL level - ideally, Polian had addressed both tackle positions in the first two rounds of the draft. Four games into his rookie season, however (with zero starts), Ijalana tore his ACL and was done for the year. In training camp in 2012, very shortly after being cleared to practice again, Ijalana tore his ACL yet again, ending his season. The New York Jets claimed him off of waivers at the start of the 2013 season but he did not play in a game last season - though he is still on the roster. Ultimately, it was a good pick by Bill Polian, but it just didn't work out due to back-to-back torn ACLs. As such, this is a hard one to grade, since I don't really fault Polian yet recognize that Ijalana hardly played at all for the Colts. I've settled on somewhere around the middle.
GRADE: C -
Round Three (87) - DT Drake Nevis, LSU
Nevis was drafted in hopes that he could step in at defensive tackle for the Colts, and he showed a bit of promise early on. Ultimately, he made it two years with the Colts, appearing in 14 games (starting 3) and racking up 35 tackles, 1 sack, and 1 pass deflection. He spent last year with three different teams (the San Diego Chargers, Dallas Cowboys, and currently the Jacksonville Jaguars) and played in 12 games, recording 15 tackles. Nevis never really turned into the player the Colts hoped he could be along the defensive line, although a change in defensive systems probably didn't help. The Colts hoped Nevis could get into the backfield and make plays, but that impact just wasn't there. It wasn't a bad pick either, but Drake Nevis's impact on the Colts was minimal in his two seasons with the team.
GRADE: D +
Round Four (119)- RB Delone Carter, Syracuse
Many people, including myself, thought that Carter ad a good chance to one day become the Colts starting running back, and for 3 games in his rookie season he was. In total, in two seasons with the Colts, Carter played in 26 games (starting 3) and rushed 133 times for 499 yards (3.8 yards per carry) and 5 touchdowns. His rookie season showed great promise, but he had trouble hanging onto the football and lost 3 fumbles despite only having 101 carries. When the new coaching staff came in for the 2012 season, Carter was buried on the depth chart and typically only got in on short yardage plays. He proved to be pretty effective in those situations, but he saw only 32 carries on the year (though scored 3 touchdowns and didn't lose a fumble). I continued to have hopes for Carter coming into the 2013 season, but was traded to the Baltimore Ravens for wide receiver David Reed, which I'll hold off on any comments on (ok, that trade SUCKED). But the trade won't come into play here - only Carter's contributions to the Colts. It's a strange one because I feel like he could have done more if given the chance, but even still he contributed more than some other fourth round picks would have.
GRADE: C +
Round Six (188)- CB Chris Rucker, Michigan State
This one was a bit of a mystery at the time, given the fact that Rucker had been suspended by Michigan State for drunk driving and perhaps could have been had as an undrafted free agent. In the sixth round the Colts could have used this pick better than in drafting Rucker, and the corner only spent one season with the Colts. He played in 15 games (starting 4) and recorded 36 tackles and 2 pass deflections. He wasn't terrible in his rookie season with the Colts, but he didn't do anything to necessitate his remaining on the team and with a new coaching staff coming in the next year, they obviously didn't value him enough to keep him around. Rucker had a decent impact for a sixth round player, but it wasn't sustained over time and Rucker hasn't signed anywhere since his time with the Colts.
GRADE: D +
In Bill Polian's last few years with the Colts, his reputation as a tremendous drafter took quite a hit, something that Colts fans still haven't learned to move on from since. Looking big picture at his time in Indy, he nailed a lot of picks, but there's also no denying that in his later years he missed on more than he hit on. The 2011 draft wasn't terrible, but he did miss on a few picks. I'd say that this draft class was just average - it produced one good starter, a few guys who contributed for a couple of seasons, and then a few who had a minimal impact. Three years out, the Colts only have one out of the five players of the draft class still on the team, which probably says more about the draft class than I ever could. In those three years, however, they did contribute and the draft class as a whole can probably best be described as average - not terrible, but not great either.
OVERALL GRADE: C