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Bill Polian's best Colts moves, number two: Drafting Edgerrin James

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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 two is the drafting of running back Edgerrin James in 1999.

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In order to understand everything that went into drafting Edgerrin James for the Indianapolis Colts, we need to back up shorty before the 1999 NFL Draft.  For the past five seasons, the Colts had running back Marshall Faulk, one of the league's top backs.  The future Hall of Famer rushed for more than 1,000 yards in four of his five seasons in Indianapolis, and he racked up a league-leading 2,227 total yards from scrimmage in 1998, forming a great offensive trio with rookie quarterback Peyton Manning and exciting wide receiver Marvin Harrison.

And Colts' second-year general manager Bill Polian then pulled the trigger on a trade.  Faulk had wanted a new contract and Polian knew that it could be a distraction to his young team, so the day before the 1999 NFL Draft Polian sent one of the league's most exciting running backs to the St. Louis Rams for a second and fifth round draft pick.  "When word got out about the deal," Polian wrote in his autobiography, The Game Plan: The Art of Building a Winning Football Team, "it was earth-shattering news at our facility.  The building was very small by the standards of NFL team headquarters today, so I could hear some people yelling, 'What?  No!  They can't do that!'"

There was still reason for hope for Colts fans, however.  Ricky Williams, a running back out of the University of Texas, had won the Heisman trophy in 1998 as the country's best player and was seen as the clear choice for a Colts team now without their star running back and picking fourth in the draft.  The move made too much sense - the reigning Heisman winner and the best player in college football, available, and at a position the Colts needed?  It made perfect sense.

And then, with the fourth overall pick of the 1999 NFL Draft, Bill Polian and the Colts selected running back Edgerrin James out of Miami.  Fans were shocked, and those making the decision were aware of the implications.  As Polian records in his book, personnel director Dom Anile tossed the keys to his car to scout Tom Telesco and said, "here, Tommy, go start my car."  But, as Polian wrote, Edgerrin James "had incredible gifts to go along with a clear love for the game and desire to excel."

In the end, Bill Polian turned out to be right, as so often seemed to be the case.  "Edge" spent seven seasons in Indianapolis, racking up a resume that may some day get him into the Pro Football Hall of Fame to join the man who drafted him.  He hold Colts franchise records in rushing attempts, rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, 100-yard rushing games, single-season rushing years, and single-game rushing yards.  While with the Colts he was named to four Pro Bowls and one first-team All-Pro team, leading the league in rushing yards twice.  He was named the NFL's Rookie of the Year in 1999, and years later was inducted into the Colts' Ring of Honor.  He was also named to the NFL's All-Decade Team of the 2000s.  In 2015 he was a semi-finalist for the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, and his 12,246 career rushing yards rank 11th in NFL history.  During his seven years with the Colts, Edge rushed for 9,226 yards and 64 touchdowns, averaging 4.2 yards per carry, and caught 356 passes for 2,839 yards and 11 scores, averaging 8 yards per catch.  Total, Edge accounted for 12,065 yards from scrimmage and 75 touchdowns during his time in Indianapolis - averaging 1,723.6 total yards and 10.7 touchdowns per season.  He recorded five 1,000-yard rushing seasons with the Colts and four seasons with double-digit rushing touchdowns.

There's little doubt about it: Edgerrin James was fantastic during his time with the Colts, and he still remains a fan-favorite in Indianapolis.  Considering how disliked the moves at the time were to trade Marshall Faulk and pass up Ricky Williams, it was a bold move by Bill Polian but one that worked out incredibly well for the Colts.  The drafting of Edge just helped to further show that, when it came to the draft, Bill Polian clearly had the edge.