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What was the Colts’ best ever draft class?

New England Patriots v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

With the NFL Draft coming up in a few weeks, it’s always a fun discussion to talk about the history of draft classes for each teams. Some drafts classes have been horrible, whereas others have produced top-level talent and contributors.

For the Colts, they’ve had a lot of bad drafts, but they’ve also had some very good ones (especially with Bill Polian). But what’s their best class? That’s a question that ESPN’s Brian Burke and Doug Clawson sought to answer for each team.

They did so by looking at Pro Football Reference’s Approximate Value metric, which takes into account a variety of things (including games played, games started, awards, Pro Bowls, All-Pro recognitions, stats, etc.) to determine a numerical value to a player’s career. For reference purposes, Peyton Manning is firmly in place the leader in career Approximate Value, as he has a value of 271 with the next closest player being Brett Favre at 255 and then Jerry Rice at 250. It’s not a perfect metric, but it’s a valuable and helpful one to give some sort of baseline as to how successful a player’s career was.

So Burke and Clawson looked at the combined approximate value for each draft class of each team while those players were still with the team that drafted them, calculating what each team’s best class was since 1967 (in the modern era).

Can you guess what the Colts’ best class is?

Surprisingly, it’s not the draft in which they took Manning (1998) but rather the 2001 draft, which produced players with a combined career approximate value of 300 for the Colts.

Reggie Wayne (first round) highlighted a 2001 class that also included tackle Ryan Diem (fourth round), who started for 11 seasons in Indianapolis. Hard as it might be to believe, this class outproduced the 1998 Peyton Manning class in terms of AV, because the next-best player in '98 was center Steve McKinney, who started for four seasons in Indy.

For context, the Colts’ best draft class actually ranks 24th out of the 32 teams when ranking their best draft classes by this metric, but the Colts did get a couple of key players out of that 2003 draft. They grabbed Reggie Wayne in the first round, and he became one of the all-time Colts greats. He spent 14 games with the Colts and played in 211 games, producing a Hall of Fame resume as a receiver as he ranks tenth all-time in both receptions and receiving yards. He had a career AV of 117.

The draft also got the Colts a very good starter in Ryan Diem, their fourth round pick who spent eleven seasons with the team as their starting right tackle, playing in 157 career games. He had a career AV of 70.

The rest of the draft, however, didn’t turn out as well. The Colts’ seventh round pick was a solid find, as they grabbed Rick DeMulling, who spent four years with the Colts and played in 48 games, spending three seasons as their starting left guard. He had an AV of 31 with the Colts. But Idrees Bashir (second round), Cory Bird (third round), Raymond Walls (fifth round), and Jason Doering (sixth round) don’t have very high career AV scores. In fact, using the AV numbers posted on PFR’s draft page for the Colts the 2001 class’ AV it adds up to just 250, so it’s unclear how ESPN got the 300 number.

It could be argued that the 1998 draft class was better because the Colts got Manning, but the rest of the picks never really turned out that well. And plenty of other drafts, such as 1999 (with Edgerrin James, Mike Peterson, and Hunter Smith) saw the Colts add some good players too. But what was their best class? In this ranking by ESPN using AV, it was 2001. Do you agree?