As the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft progressed last night, things couldn't have been working out much better for the Indianapolis Colts. A run on offensive lineman and other offensive players kept pushing the defensive talent down the board, guaranteeing that the Colts would have the opportunity to draft a good defensive option with the 29th overall pick.
There was Alabama safety Landon Collins, Florida State defensive tackle Eddie Goldman, Texas defensive tackle Malcom Brown, and UCLA inside linebacker Eric Kendricks still available, to name a few. And then NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell walked across the stage and announced that, with the 29th overall pick, the Colts selected Miami wide receiver Phillip Dorsett.
The pick was immediately greeted with shock amongst Colts fans as they tried to grasp the fact that the team just took a wide receiver with their first round pick instead of a defensive player that seemed so logical. There was a lot of anger, a lot of confusion, and a lot of disappointment.
My place today isn't to try to dispel any of that. I'm not particularly a fan of the pick either, though I do think that Dorsett is a very good player. The Colts went with their best player available, and while I didn't consider Dorsett to be the BPA there, I'm not going to be as critical of the team for their draft strategy. Maybe their player rankings, but even then, I like Dorsett. Either way, however, what I'm attempting to do with this article isn't to make all Colts fans love the pick or try to persuade you either way; rather I hope to show a little bit as to why the Colts made the move and, more importantly, what it can tell us about the way they're building their team.
The driving factor behind the Colts taking Phillip Dorsett was that he was their top rated player available on their board. But there has to be some measure of opinion to that as well, either with the way they rank players or the way they pick them. What if a quarterback had been the best player available on their board? They wouldn't have taken him. So for as much as we talk about value, there is at least some measure of decision left to be made even with that strategy.
For the Colts, I think this shows us something about the way they are building their team, something that we had already seen but wondered if it might be different this offseason. And in a number of ways, it's very similar to the way the Colts built the team around Peyton Manning.
After drafting Manning first overall in the 1998 NFL Draft, getting one of the top prospects in recent memory while doing so, general manager Bill Polian built the team around offense. In 1999, he used a first round pick on running back Edgerrin James. In 2001, he used a first round pick on wide receiver Reggie Wayne. In 2003, he used a first round pick on tight end Dallas Clark. And this was adding to an offense that already had talented players like Marvin Harrison and Tarik Glenn. He focused attention on adding other players as well, such as slot wideout Brandon Stokley and center Jeff Saturday. In short, the Colts built around Manning and the offense.
And it worked out very well for them. They won more games in a decade than any other team in NFL history. They made the playoffs eleven times, won two AFC Championship games, and won a Super Bowl. Manning won four NFL MVP awards while the offense put up what owner Jim Irsay has referred to as "Star Wars numbers." All things considered, the strategy worked out very well for the Colts in building around Manning. They built their offense to be elite, hired a defensive-minded head coach, and hoped that the defense would be good enough.
Look at what the Colts and Ryan Grigson have done so far in the Andrew Luck era. They drafted a quarterback first overall in the 2012 NFL Draft who was considered to be one of the best prospects in recent memory. They used a first round pick on a running back to get Trent Richardson. They used a first round pick this year on a wide receiver in Phillip Dorsett. They added tight ends Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen in the second and third rounds in 2012 and wide receiver T.Y. Hilton in the third round of that same draft. Some of their most notable free agent signings have been on the offensive side of the football as well, adding right tackle Gosder Cherilus in 2013 and then wide receiver Andre Johnson and running back Frank Gore in 2015. Obviously, the Colts are building their offense to be elite, they hired a defensive-minded head coach in Chuck Pagano, and are hoping that the defense is good enough.
I don't think this is a bad strategy at all. In fact, it worked out very well for Polian and the Colts. Many fans wish that there would have been more Super Bowl titles, but the best way to build a Super Bowl team is to build one that consistently makes the playoffs. Once you're in the postseason, anything can happen. Under Manning, the Colts did that eleven times. So far under Luck, the Colts are three-for-three.
This post isn't to condemn the Colts' strategy as being a bad one; in fact, I think it can work out well. But most fans expected a defensive emphasis in this year's draft, and instead were greeted with a wide receiver. And just like the drafting of a Miami wide receiver in the first round entering Manning's fourth year, a pick met with much chagrin by fans, the Colts have drafted a Miami wide receiver in the first round entering Luck's fourth year, a pick also met with much chagrin by fans. I don't at all want to set such high expectations for Dorsett right from the start by comparing him to Reggie Wayne, but the philosophies in drafting the two seem very similar. The Colts are building around their offense, and that isn't necessarily a bad move - especially when you have guys like Peyton Manning or Andrew Luck under center.