Over the last twenty years, only one team in the NFL has been better than the Indianapolis Colts at the draft.
According to data recently compiled by the Washington Post, the Colts' average draft value over the past two decades is 15.27, a mark that is behind only the Pittsburgh Steelers (16.37). The Green Bay Packers (14.86), Baltimore Ravens (14.71), and New England Patriots (14.71) round out the top five, and it's no surprise that those top five teams have been consistent contenders in recent memory, with each team winning at least one Super Bowl during that span.
Draft value, according to the Washington Post, is a metric created by Pro Football Reference that "weighs factors such as games started, individual stats, team performance and all-pro honors." It doesn't factor in playoff numbers and can't include those things that aren't measured by numbers, while it focuses heavily on longevity (meaning that newer draft picks aren't accurately reflected). One other thing that is important to understand is that this draft value metric only reflects the value a player gave to the team that drafted him, not in his overall career (if he spent it with multiple teams). In other words, Peyton Manning's draft value for the Colts (144) only reflects his time in Indianapolis, not his time in Denver (though that means it does still reflect the bulk of his career). Overall, this metric appears to do a good job of giving a numerical representation of each team's success at drafting over the past twenty years.
It's no surprise to see the Colts rated so highly on this list, as for years Bill Polian nailed his draft picks and built the foundation of a very successful football team. Polian is now in the Hall of Fame in large part due to the work he did in Indianapolis and, by extension, because of his drafting. The Colts were truly built through the draft, including a couple of key pieces put in place even before Polian arrived.
The Washington Post list dates back twenty years to 1996, which is when the Colts began a remarkable run of first round picks. Here's their first round picks for eight years in a row (1996-2004), with the player's draft value in parenthesis:
1996: Marvin Harrison, WR (124)
1997: Tarik Glenn, LT (85)
1998: Peyton Manning, QB (144)
1999: Edgerrin James, RB (98)
2000: Rob Morris, LB (24)
2001: Reggie Wayne, WR (117)
2002: Dwight Freeney, DE (75)
2003: Dallas Clark, TE (47)
Overall, that's a tremendous eight-year run that added a number of crucial contributors to the Colts team. In addition were other selections, like the fourth round choice of tackle Ryan Diem in 2001 (draft value: 70) or the fifth round choice of defensive end Robert Mathis in 2003 (65) or the sixth round choice of safety Antoine Bethea in 2006 (43). In more recent years, left tackle Anthony Castonzo (33), quarterback Andrew Luck (45), and wide receiver T.Y. Hilton (36) are among the notable Colts' picks.
Bill Polian was among the best in the NFL at drafting during his tenure with the Colts, as he added a number of very good players and built his team through the draft process rather than free agency. Polian's reputation as a great drafter is reflected in this list, as the Colts have been one of the best in the NFL at drafting over the past twenty years. Now, it's up to Ryan Grigson to keep it going.