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Bill Polian's best Colts moves, number 9: Drafting Bob Sanders

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With former Colts GM Bill Polian going into the Hall of Fame this weekend, we're counting down the ten best moves of his tenure with the Colts. At number nine is the drafting of safety Bob Sanders in 2004.

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Bob Sanders' time with the Colts was plagued with injuries, but when he was on the field he was as good as any safety in the NFL and made a huge impact on the Colts' defense.

Sanders played eight seasons in the NFL, seven of which were with the Indianapolis Colts (the eighth was with the Chargers), playing in 50 games and starting 48 (48 of those games and 46 of the stars came in Indy).  His time in the NFL was, unfortunately, plagued by injury.  Since 1950, there has not been another starter on a team who had at least six different seasons of playing in six games or less.  Sanders stands out unique in that he kept his starting spot for so many years despite the injuries - and the reason why was obvious whenever he did stay on the field: he was really good.

In his seven years with the Colts, Sanders played in 48 games (starting 46) and recorded 217 tackles, 3.5 sacks, six interceptions, 16 passes defensed, two forced fumbles, and four fumble recoveries (including one returned for a touchdown).  In two seasons, he played in more than six games - in 2005 (he started 14) and in 2007 (he started 15).  In both of those seasons Sanders was named to the Pro Bowl, in both of those seasons Sanders was named a first-team All-Pro, and in both of those seasons the Colts' defense finished in the top two in the NFL in scoring defense - the two best defenses that the team had during the Peyton Manning era.  Furthermore, in 2007 Sanders was named the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year, marking the first time that a Colts' defender won the award.  In between those two seasons was the 2006 season in which the Colts went on a great run in the playoffs to win the Super Bowl.  One of the biggest keys to that run?  The return of Bob Sanders.  He played in just four regular season games in 2006, but he played in all four playoff games, notching 22 tackles and two picks while serving as a leader on the defense and one of their best players.  So, in other words, Sanders played a huge and very significant role in the three best defensive performances of the Peyton Manning era for the Colts.  When he was healthy, he was among the best safeties - and best defensive players period - in the NFL.

So, even though he didn't play a ton and struggled through injuries, he was a true game changer, and that's why he's number nine on this countdown of Bill Polian's best moves with the Colts.  Sanders was a nice value pick, as the Colts drafted him in the second round of the 2004 draft (44th overall) out of Iowa, and he played a key role during some of the best defensive periods in recent memory for the Colts.

Bill Polian saw that talent very clearly, as he loved Sanders entering the 2004 draft.  In his autobiography, The Game Plan: The Art of Building a Winning Football Team, Polian recounted how much he liked Sanders entering the draft.  For example, when the Colts' doctor told Polian before the draft that Sanders wouldn't pass their physical (because of a foot injury, something separate from the plague of injuries he suffered in the NFL), Polian wrote that, "I didn't fall on the floor, but everybody else in the room said my face turned white - chalk white, was how it was described."  When draft day arrived, Polian was confident that he could get Sanders in the second round because of that foot injury that likely took him off many draft boards, so he traded out of the first round.  When they were offered another opportunity to trade down, head coach Tony Dungy said to do it.  Polian, however, was afraid of one thing: "We might lose Bob Sanders."  Dungy assured Polian that wouldn't happen, but right after agreeing to the trade, Polian wrote that he had "buyer's remorse.  I said, "Oh, my God!  We're going to lose him."  Dungy again calmed Polian down and assured him that it wouldn't happen, and after much pacing and people remarking that Bill would blow the roof off or have a heart attack if Sanders was drafted, he ended up falling to the Colts and being drafted by them at number 44 overall.  But, as Bill records what his son Chris used to say, "If my father had to give up one of his sons for Bob, one of us would be gone."

The Colts got that playmaker that Bill Polian knew Sanders could be, but unfortunately injuries limited how good his time in Indianapolis was.  With that said, however, Sanders was an integral part of some of the best defensive periods of the era, and when he was healthy was among the best defensive players in the game.  For that, he's worthy of a spot on this list.