When Bill Polian drafted tight end Dallas Clark in the first round of the 2003 NFL Draft, the position wasn't nearly as important nor influential as it is today. Today, it is common for a team to have a receiving tight end who can make plays in the passing game, but it was far less common ten years ago. As the league has turned more and more into a passing league, the receiving tight end has become more and more important.
The Colts had a very good one paired with quarterback Peyton Manning during his tenure with the Colts, as Clark ended up as one of the best receiving tight ends in the league while with Indy. In nine years with the Colts, Clark played in 115 games (starting 111), as well as 12 playoff games, and caught 491 passes for 5,734 yards and 50 touchdowns, averaging 11.7 yards per catch (all including playoffs). Clark made one Pro Bowl berth and one first-team All-Pro team, both during the 2009 season in which he was tremendous, catching 100 passes for 1,106 yards and ten scores. In the Colts' regular season franchise record books, Clark ranks fourth in career receptions (behind only Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, and Raymond Berry), fourth in most consecutive games with a reception, eighth in single-season receptions, tied for second in receptions in a single game, ninth in most games with a reception, eight in career receiving yards, 20th in single-season receiving yards, tenth in most 100+ yard receiving games, tied for the fourth-most 1,000+ yard seasons, sixth in career receiving touchdowns, ninth in single-season receiving touchdowns, and fifth in most games with a touchdown reception.
Clark was fantastic during his time with the Colts, serving as one of Peyton Manning's best and most reliable receiving threats - something that was on display most clearly in 2009, when he was one of the most dangerous offensive weapons in the NFL. Bill Polian, in his autobiography The Game Plan: The Art of Building a Winning Football Team, described their scouting of Clark in 2003 as follows: "you were getting a guy with extraordinary speed and whose body type was not ideal for the position but who had good athleticism." Polian wrote that Clark was what they called a "holy shit!" player, because that's what you would say when you watched the tape and wanted to run it back to watch it again (other examples, Polian wrote, were guys like Bob Sanders, Dwight Freeney, and Robert Mathis, among others).
When you think of Peyton Manning's top receiving targets in Indianapolis, you rightfully think of Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne. But it might be easy to forget about Dallas Clark, who during his prime was as good of a receiving tight end in the NFL as anybody and who served as a key piece to the Colts' offensive success during the era. He certainly fits on a list of Bill Polian's best moves while with the Colts.