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Examining the Colts’ talent evaluation and how to escape roster purgatory

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NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Tennessee Titans Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

After a long break, I’m back with my usual vengeance.

News Flash: The Colts front office is happy settling for mediocrity. Ok, ok. Not really a news flash since we all know it’s true. Also, it seems like there is no guarantee Jim Irsay is content to keep Ryan Grigson and/or Chuck Pagano. The fact Irsay hasn’t made an announcement has got to be concerning for them.

However, everyone, including myself, was surprised when Ryan Grigson and Chuck Pagano got contract extensions last offseason. Given the talent and on-field production again digressed, there is obviously a problem. Last year I said something similar but it bears repeating, Grigson should be replaced. However, I don’t necessarily think it is due to the disconnect between coaches or personnel decisions that simply haven’t worked. The reason Grigson should be fired is he has shown an inability to properly value talent.

Let’s look at the most obvious situation where placing the right value on a player is paramount: the draft.

Draft

Aside from Andrew Luck, Ty Hilton, and a few other hits, Grigson has widely missed on his draft picks. First of all, let’s stop giving Grigson credit for picking Luck. He had no choice. Irsay made that decision. Let’s take a quick look at his draft stats.

  • He’s largely missed on three out of the four first round picks he had a say in, with Ryan Kelly being the lone exception.
  • From his first three drafts, only 5 of the 22 players he selected are still on the active roster and of those 5 players, Luck is the only first rounder.
  • Of the 7 players selected in the 2013 draft, none are on the active roster.
  • In Rounds 4-7, there are currently 7 out of 24 players on the active roster. Of those 7, all were drafted in the past two drafts, which can be framed as he has 7 out of 10 success rate in the past two drafts or that he has a 0 out of 14 success rate in his first three drafts.

However, this article isn’t about Grigson’s misses, as abundant as they may be, but about his valuation of talent skills.

The first example is Bjoern Werner. Werner was immensely talented at Florida State. However, he had limited football experience and only played in a 4-3. Grigson expected him to make the jump to 3-4 OLB but Werner never showed the athleticism necessary to play in space. But for some reason, Grigson valued Werner highly. Basically, Grigson placed a first round value on an limited athlete who was expected to make a jump from a very simple 4-3 defense to a very complex 3-4 defense. That seems a bit off. For those wondering, I would’ve taken Xavier Rhodes or Datone Jones with that pick instead since both fit Pagano’s scheme so much better.

The second example is maybe the worst trade in Colts history, i.e., the Trent Richardson Experience. Grigson considered Richardson a first round talent. In fact, Grigson actually said, had they traded back with Cleveland in 2012, they would have taken Trent with the third pick. Let that sink in for a second, Grigson played out a scenario in his head where he didn’t take Luck and traded back to take Trent Richardson instead. No Luck. All Trent. Whoa. I just shuddered. In this case, Grigson placed a first round value on a RB who had a suspect first year behind a great offensive line. Had Grigson even attempted to do some due diligence about Richardson’s work ethic, this decision would have been obvious. Now had I had that first round pick back, I too would’ve messed that up by taking Louis Nix but in my defense no one outside of NFL front offices really knew the extent of Nix’s knee issues.

The final example I’ll bring up now is the one that put me over the edge, drafting Phillip Dorsett. When this pick was made, I wanted to throw my television. The best safety in the draft, Landon Collins, was still on the board. The Colts desperately needed safety help. Collins was highly rated by most analysts as a top 15-20 pick. This was the no-brainer of no-brainers. So why, oh why, did Grigson select Dorsett? Because, as Grigson explained, Dorsett was the highest rated player on their board, a top 15 rated guy. I thought he was just overstating his feelings about Dorsett.

Then the picture of Dorsett’s name card was posted from the Colts official account. It had a little 14 in the corner. 14? Wait, seriously? 14? How? What? Dorsett was the 14th ranked player on Grigson’s board. Dorsett showed little to no talent as a route runner, since he only ran go and posts routes at Miami, with maybe a post-corner dabbled in there. He had very suspect hands. I mean who knew a Hurricane could have such effective Gator arms? The only thing that really set him apart was his speed. True. Blue. Speed.

Here’s the thing. WRs need to be able to catch. You want to know who was a super-fast WR who had suspect hands and ran a limited route tree? DHB. Yeah, Derrius Heyward-Bey. Now thankfully, Grigson didn’t take him at 7 overall like Al Davis did but Al Davis was notorious for passing up good football players for speed. Aside for the Gruden year, the Raiders never contended in the modern NFL with Davis calling all the shots.

The biggest head scratcher about Dorsett though wasn’t that the Colts took him but that they took a WR at all in the first round. If you remember correctly, this was the off-season of the Miami love fest. Frank Gore was coming and with him Andre Johnson, whom the Colts expected to be their WR3. So basically, Grigson passed on the best safety in the draft who would start on day 1 for a WR4 not expected to play any significant time for 2-3 years. This makes zero sense. Now, I did commend Grigson for sticking to his board but common sense has got to kick in sometimes. When you’re building a roster and have a Giant gaping hole at safety, logic says if you’ve got players similarly graded, you take the one at the position of need rather than the pick expected to sit the bench the first few years. So basically, Grigson placed a first round value on a super-fast WR4 with suspect hands who could run a very limited route tree.

So how does Grigson evaluate? Does he look at one trait above all else? Well, umm, yes. Yes, he does. He’s said as much. It’s speed. Straight line speed. Speed that doesn’t really translate to today’s NFL. Grigson actually said he believes the 40 yard dash is the most important drill at the Combine. WHAT?!? I mean, seriously? Now let me also note when Grigson drafted Bjoern Werner, who had a horrendous Combine, Grigson said the 40 yard dash was overrated. But I digress.

The problem with Grigson is he doesn’t seem to have a standard pedagogy he goes back to when evaluating talent. He doesn’t seem to have a formula. As a fan, I don’t necessarily feel comfortable giving him another draft to muddle and potentially mess up. The current roster is talent deficient. But by goodness, it is gritty. So, I mean, that’s something.

Needless to say, Grigson has been all over the map in how he values talent. Admittedly, I thought the Ryan Kelly pick was fantastic and a no-brainer last year. Now, I also mocked Kelly to the Colts in basically every mock draft because I felt so strongly about him then. Who know? Maybe Grigson read some blogs and got his draft strategy that way. The thing is, it doesn’t necessarily seem too far out of the realm of possibility for that to have happened. That’s a problem. The good thing is I’ve got a solution. It’s fire Grigson.

Now I’m not going to be all fire and brimstone here, I want to provide a solution too. Firing Grigson leaves the Colts with the unique opportunity to court another as GM. The Colts would likely be the most coveted GM spot in the NFL. They already have a proven franchise QB, an owner who has high expectations, and an owner who is willing to open his pocket books to put the best possible product on the field. That’s about as tempting an offer as anyone can imagine.

First, I want to dismiss the idea Peyton Manning would be hired on as GM. Is he one of the best football minds of this generation? Umm, yeah. Undoubtedly. Is Jim Irsay courting him to come in and lead the team? Of course he is. Whether you want to admit it or not, Irsay is very intelligent and knows how to make a splash. Is Peyton ready? Probably not. He’s had no experience in that situation and has only been out of the NFL for a very short time. In my humble opinion, if Peyton were to join the franchise, it’d be as an executive and he likely wouldn’t do it unless he could get part ownership of the team. That’s just my guess, no sources.

Now to what I’d look for in a GM.

First, he needs to have a proven track record in scouting. A no brainer, I know, but it is important none the less. Being able to accurately target talented players who will excel in your system is paramount to the success of the team. The Colts have been lacking in that regard. Experience in a top organization is also a big plus here.

Second, he needs to have some experience handling the intricacies of the salary cap. Remember in Grigson’s first year he thought he’d have several compensatory picks, and possibly as high as a third rounder for Pierre Garcon, but the Colts got Mr. Irrelevant because Grigson over-spent on fringe roster guys. In 2013, the Colts lost Pierre Garcon, Jeff Saturday, Jacob Tamme, Phillip Wheeler, Jamaal Anderson and Dan Orlovsky, which likely would have netted four compensatory picks but each of those loses were offset by Grigson signing Mike McGlynn, Brandon McKinney, Cory Redding (a solid addition), Samson Satele, Drew Stanton and Tom Zbikowski. The Colts were lined up for several high compensatory picks in 2013 but Grigson didn’t understand the salary cap or the implications of when he signed players and their appropriate value.

Lastly, I’d look for a candidate who is known to properly value talent. A GM needs to recognize when to pull the trigger on a player, whether in the draft or free agency, and when to pass. A quality GM needs to look at their current roster and not draft for luxury when glaring holes exist. Grigson has made so many mistakes in drafting players out of position, for luxury, or even cutting players who would likely excel in the Colts system for who knows why. Needless to say, this may be my biggest factor.

As for who I’d target if I were Jim Irsay? I mentioned it on Twitter but I’ll repeat it here, the Colts should go after Kansas City’s Director of Player Personnel, Chris Ballard. He checks all of my boxes and is very well respected in the NFL community. He’d be a home-run for the Colts organization. As the Chiefs have been eliminated from the playoffs, Irsay can interview Ballard without needing the Chiefs permission. He’s got a good situation in Kansas City but the allure of Luck could be a deciding factor. What GM doesn’t want to walk into a ready made situation with a franchise QB waiting for you? For Colts fans everywhere, I hope Irsay takes a swing at getting Ballard and finally cuts ties with Grigson.