I haven't linked to Pro Football Focus much in the last few months because, sometime over the summer, they switched from having their stats system being free to using to a 'premium stats' format (aka, pay a monthly fee to read our crap). Personally, I think this was a poor decision on their part, and goes against a lot of what we champion here when it comes to free access to information. While in a recession, with people barely able to afford house payments, who the hell has $24 bucks a month to pay for PFF's stats analysis of players?
But, I digress.
Despite going to a pay-for-content format, PFF still does a decent job pumping out articles, especially those evaluating the draft. As I often say, the opinions of PFF writer Khaled Elsayed are not the be-all and end-all when it comes to player evaluation, but they do provide a glimpse into what some think of the Colts and personnel guru Bill Polian.
As we all know, Polian is arguably the best personnel man the league has ever seen. He's won NFL Executive of the Year six times, and many in the press corps have often told 'dirty bloggers' like me that the only reason more executives have not been put in the Hall of Fame in recent years is because everyone is waiting for Polian to retire. When he does, he'll be 'first ballot.'
However, in recent years, we've seen some serious flaws in the seemingly impenetrable armor that is Polian's draft record, which is the place where the current Colts president hangs his hat. As he often tells us on his radio show, the Colts are a small market franchise that does not think spending money on free agents is financially sound. Instead, the Colts rely heavily on the draft, along with collegiate free agents, to build their rosters. This is a winning formula that has provided impressive results.
But, according to PFF, the 2007 and 2008 draft classes for Polian grade somewhere between Dunce and Failing. For a team built solely through the draft, poor draft classes are simply not acceptable when the only way talent is getting replenished if via the college ranks. As a result, older starters are kept long after their usefulness. Details after the jump.
Most people here know my feelings about the 2007 NFL Draft for the Colts. It was a train wreck. Both first day picks are no longer on the active roster. Both third round picks didn't last more than two seasons with the team. The only pick worth anything was 5th rounder Clint Session, who has emerged as a nice option at WILL linebacker. But, projected starters like Anthony Gonalez, Tony Ugoh, Dante Hughes, and Quinn Pitcock all disappointed.
32. Anthony Gonzalez, WR, Indianapolis Colts
Value: It started off so well as he seemed the heir apparent to Brandon Stokley in the slot, but he never really took the chance. Solid in 2008, out for 2009 bar 13 snaps, this year he’s managed just 12 appearances on the field. With Dallas Clark out there may be some opportunities present, but it seems that the Colts are looking beyond Gonzalez at the receiver position.
Interesting Stat: Before Monday night, he had just two balls thrown at him in the past season-and-a-half.
Re-do Pick: Not a great year for defensive tackles, instead the Colts try to find some offensive line help. With Doug Free still available, they get a tackle to replace Tarik Glenn.
42. Tony Ugoh, OT, Indianapolis
Role: Free agent
Impact: His presence served to prove that Peyton Manning can win even with the most terrible of tackles protecting his blindside. Gave up 41 quarterback pressures in 2008, and it didn’t take long for the Colts to give up on him in 2009. Picks are always worse when you trade up for them and they bomb.
95. [Dante Hughes], CB, Indianapolis
Role: Backup for the Chargers.
Impact: None. Released before 2009 season after struggling to get on the field the season before.
98. Quinn Pitcock, DT, Indianapolis
Role: Free agent.
Impact: Retired after one year due to personal issues before attempting a comeback earlier this year.
PFF goes on to say that Melvin Bullitt was a bit of a steal as an undrafted rookie, but makes no mention of Session (he doesn't cover Rounds 4-7 in the articles). Still, while having Session is a plus, when your top four picks from a draft are, essentially, no longer a part of your team three years later, that's not a good draft.
For the 2008 Draft, it doesn't get much better in PFF's mind:
28. (59) Indianapolis — Mike Pollak
Role: Starting at right guard for the Colts
Impact: It seems like the Colts think he’s destined to succeed. The truth is he’s been pretty poor since the start, so much so that the Colts had to bench him. His run blocking especially has been terrible.
30. (93) Indianapolis — Philip Wheeler
Role: Starter at outside linebacker for the Colts
Impact: Looked solid when he got his chance as a two-down linebacker last year but hasn’t built on that this season. Looks like he won’t do much wrong or much right to this point. Is that enough?
I'm fairly certain the Wheeler grade needs adjusting seeing as he just lost his starting job to a rookie playing out of position (Pat Angerer). Wheeler has been pretty terrible this season despite the fact Bill Polian sung his praises during training camp. Maybe that was Bill hoping something would get salvaged out of the '08 Draft, because even though Pollak is a starter, the guy he replaced (Ryan Lilja) is five times better and is having a Pro Bowl year with the Chiefs after mysteriously getting cut by the Colts in March.
We still don't have any real reason why Lilja was cut, a move that might go down as one of the more idiotic moves Polian has made in Indy (and there aren't that many).
As for the later rounds, PFF only lists Pierre Garcon as a good 'value pick' for the Colts, but does so with little enthusiasm:
Pierre Garcon — Peyton Manning can work with pretty much everything, fortunately. Garcon has had some good moments, but right now looks out of his depth. Leads league in dropped passes and was streaky last year.
That's a pretty accurate assessment. 2010 was Garcon's year to prove he could be consistent. So far, he has failed. I would argue that Mike Hart is a better value pick in 2008 at this point. He's a solid running back and excellent on special teams. Hell, this season, the Colts would be 3-5 right now without him, in my opinion.
What seems pretty clear is both the '07 and '08 Drafts for the Colts were duds, and Polian and Jim Caldwell are living off the 2009 Draft. Fili Moala (second round), Jerraud Powers (third round), Austin Collie (fourth round), and Pat McAfee (sixth round) are all starters. The only surprise non-starter is first round pick Donald Brown, who (so far) has been a disappointment. Not only has he been unable to supplant Joseph Addai as the starter, but Brown's poor play has essentially allowed Mike Hart to leap frog him on the depth chart.
From the 2010 Draft, the waters are still a bit murky. While second rounder Pat Angerer has looked OK, the Colts seemingly wasted a third round pick on injury prone corner Kevin Thomas. Thomas hurt himself in the team's first post-Draft practice back in April, and has been out since. First round pick Jerry Hughes has struggled to get on the field as both a pass rusher and as a special teamer despite the Colts fully expecting him to do so when they drafted him.
Other players from the 2010 Draft, like Brody Eldridge and Kavell Conner, have shown flashes. Jacques McClendon and Ricardo Mathews are often healthy scratches from the active roster.
Now, the reason we're focusing a bit on this is that as the injuries continue to mount for this team, the strain on the depth chart will only get worse. And when the team has poorly drafted in recent years (like in 2007 and 2008), that lack of talent makes it nigh impossible for this team to truly compete. Again, when the draft is the sole source of key talent for a team, the pressure for draft classes to succeed increases. So, for me, comparing how Colts picks pan out to other teams (like the Patriots) is not accurate. The Patriots are willing to trade key veterans for picks, or (in some cases) key picks for veterans. See the recent moves for players like Randy Moss, Deion Branch, and Wes Welker. For a team like the Colts, if one or two of their draft classes either busts or fails to deliver (as the '07 and '08 classes seem to have done) it requires them to:
- Lean more heavily on players like Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark, and Dwight Freeney.
- Use lesser talented, often untested players in key positions, especially when there are injuries.
It's critical for the short and long term future of this franchise for players like Jerry Hughes to develop from the 2010 class. For me, the '07 and '08 drafts were two of the worst in Polian's tenure in Indianapolis, with the 2007 class sniffing 'bust.' Is this a sign the old redhead is 'finished' as a talent evaluator? No, of course not.
However, it does mean that the 'Polian Way' of evaluation is not infallible. In fact, recent years, it has under performed fairly significantly. Polian and the Colts can ill-afford poor drafts like '07 sand '08 going forward, especially with Peyton Manning getting up there in age.