Not really fair for any GM, but Polian has already drafted circles around the rest of the league (starting in the back of round 1, trading back twice and still getting the defensive player of the year) so really what else is fair competition. Also I played with the all time NFL leaderboards for the last series so now it's time for my other favorite, draft history.
The team Bill Polian took over after the 1997 season had just finished a 3-13 season, ranking 20th in points scored and 26th in points allowed. The team featured zero Pro Bowlers that season, but had several past and/or future Pro Bowlers including Marshall Faulk, Marvin Harrison and rookie right guard Tarik Glenn. The team was lead by Quarterback Jim Harbaugh who at the age of 34 had just turned in a classic "game manager" season with 61.4% completion, 10TDs to 4 INTs, a low number of pass attempts and low per attempt numbers. He did this while being sacked 41 times, or once every 8.5 attempts. He wasn't hurting the Colts, but he didn't add a whole lot. Of the 27 defensive players on the 1997 Colts roster they combined for a single Pro Bowl in the entire length of their 27 careers (and the one was Bertrand Berry a rookie who started only one game and recorded no statistics. He made his one Pro Bowl in 2004 with the Cardinals).
So the defense lacked any top level talent (despite having three first round picks), the O-line was porous, the QB was old and merely average. The good news was that they had a established star at RB, a promising young WR and the Colts held the first overall pick, pick #2 (32 overall) in the 2nd round, as well as picks #71, #93, #135, #190 and #231.
So how much better a draft could the Colts have had with if they could see 10 years into the future?
Clearly the #1 pick was used correctly. Between #1 and #32 future stars like Charles Woodson, Grant Wistrom, Kyle Turley, Greg Ellis, Fred Taylor, Tra Thomas, Keith Brooking, Takeo Spikes, Randy Moss and Alan Faneca come off the board. Obviously none of these players are better than Manning.
At #32 the Colts picked Jerome Pathon. 3,350 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns isn't bad, but in the next 40 picks future all-pro CBs Patrick Surtain and Samari Rolle are selected along with linemen Olin Kreutz and Flozell Adams, and DE Leonard Little (speaking of Leonard Little, remember to scroll down to Grimey's comment too).
With their 3rd round pick the Colts took E.G. Green. Green played only 29 games in his career finishing with 54 receptions for 665 yards and two touchdowns. Green began the Polian tradition of missing on third round picks. Instead of Green the Colts could have had LB Jeremiah Trotter, RB Ahman Green, KR/PR Allen Rossum, G Mike Goff or WR Hines Ward.
With the first pick of the fourth round the Colts took C/G Steve McKinney who would be the Colts starting LG for the next four years before signing with the Texans and starting 64 straight games as their center. A great pick for a team that struggled to protect the QB, but what else was available? Not too much, the 42 players selected before the Colts next pick combined for 1 Pro Bowl. The Pro Bowl belonged to safety Lance Schulters. Other notables among those 42 are Tim "The only man in the Pats uniform I've ever rooted for" Dwight, RB Micheal Pittman and T Jason Fabin.
In the fifth the Colts took linebacker Antony Jordan who started 3 games as a rookie, disappeared for a season, reemerged to play a few games for the Falcons before retiring. 6 time Pro Bowl center Matt Birk is the biggest name among those the Colts missed out on. Other possible picks were Jags center John Wade, Eagles one time Pro Bowl defender Ike Reese, Titans guard Benji Olsen and quarterback Matt Hasselbeck.
Seventh rounders Aaron Taylor and Corey Gaines never played in a NFL game. The Colts missed out on tackle Epraim Salaam, guard Chirs Liwienski and safety Pat Tillman.
So no looking back on the draft, who would have been the best choices?
1(1). Peyton Manning
2(32). Patrick Surtain
Surtain beats out Samari Rolle by virtue of more games played, more games started more INTs and a second team all-pro selection in addition to the 1 first team selection they both have. Kreutz is a tough pass, but the Colts were able to nearly half their sacks allowed while nearly doubling their pass attempts with Jay Leeuwenburg remaining at center. The link above explains passing on Little just fine.
3(71). HInes Ward
The Colts get their compliment to Marvin here in the third round with the second best WR in the draft (after Randy Moss).
4(93). Tim Dwight
McKinney was a good player and pick, but since I know the future I'll get just as good linemen later and instead give the Colts an explosive return game (and be a homer) with Tim Dwight. Dwight is/was a great returnman (top 3 in both KR and PR TDs among active players), a deep threat as 3rd/4th WR (nearly the same career numbers as actual Colts 2nd round pick Jerome Pathon) and can carry the ball well on reverses, end arounds and trick plays (career 7.2 YPC on 53 attempts).
5(135). Matt Birk
Now the O-line. With no future all-pros on the board now it's time to kick a no (but awesome) name like Jay Leeunwenburg to the bench.
7(190). Ephraim Salaam
129 starts at tackle including 5 years on the left side is great value for a seventh round pick.
7(235). Pat Williams
The Vikings gigantic nose tackle went undrafted in 1998. Pat Williams is the unmovable object in the Vikings stellar run D while DT partner Kevin Williams uses quickness to penetrate the line. The two time Pro Bowler and 2007 2nd team all pro totally shuts down the run.
My draft from the Colts picks
Peyton Manning, Patrick Surtain, Hines Ward, Tim Dwight, Matt Birk, Ephraim Salaam and Pat Williams.
So did I beat Polian (in this obscenely unfair challenge)? Would you guys change any of my picks?