So far on this list, we've looked at a game-changing safety like Bob Sanders, a reliable safety like Antoine Bethea, and a dynamic pass rusher like Robert Mathis as some of Bill Polian's best moves with the Indianapolis Colts, but today we take a look at the best defensive player from the era of Colts' football: defensive end Dwight Freeney.
Drafted in the first round (11th overall) of the 2002 NFL Draft, Freeney spent eleven seasons with the Colts, playing in 163 games (143 starts) and recording 298 tackles, 107.5 sacks, 43 forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries (one returned for a touchdown), 16 passes defensed, and a safety. When he left the Colts, he was their all-time career sack leader (since surpassed by Robert Mathis), and his 111.5 total sacks in his career ranks 20th all-time in NFL history. During much of the 2000s, however, no one was as dominant of a pass rusher as Freeney was, and for that he was named to the NFL's All-Decade team of the 2000s. In 2004, Freeney racked up a league-leading 16 sacks, and he recorded seven double-digit sack seasons total - seven of the 18 such seasons in Colts history. He set a franchise record with nine consecutive games with a sack, and in games in which he recorded a sack the Colts were 60-21 (.741). He made the Pro Bowl seven times and was a three-time first-team All-Pro.
As I mentioned earlier, Freeney was the best defensive player that the Colts had during the Bill Polian era. He was as dominant of a pass rusher as there was in the league and he proved to be an incredibly important part of what the Colts did. They were a team that was built to take an early lead (with a high-powered offense) and then, with the team playing from behind and needing to throw more, they had Freeney and Robert Mathis to go after the opposing quarterback - something that worked very well for the team.
When the Colts were entering the draft, Bill Polian told Tony Dungy that he had narrowed it down to a few choices, one of them being Freeney. Dungy said that he'd take speed any time, which sealed the deal for the general manager: Freeney was going to be their pick at number 11. As he wrote in his book The Game Plan: The Art of Building a Winning Football Team, "Dwight had exceptional first-step quickness. He had exceptional explosion, because in that 268-pound body there was what we called a quick-twitch athlete - people who move quickly and explosively. Dwight also was an exceptionally relentless rusher; he was the Energizer bunny. He was strong enough to handle run blocks, so he could play right-handed and pick off trap-blockers and do all those kinds of things that you want a right defensive end to do."
Though the Colts drafted Freeney at number eleven overall, he ended up being the best and most important defensive player in the Peyton Manning and, arguably, the second-most important player on the team overall. He enjoyed fantastic success with the Colts, and that's why he comes in at number four on our list of Bill Polian's best moves in Indianapolis.