Bill, Chris Polian Fired for Bad Decade of Drafting: A Review of Each Draft
In what the LA Times is calling an "NFL stunner," Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay fired vice chairman Bill Polian and general manager Chris Polian less than 24 hours after the team ended their worst season with Peyton Manning on the roster.
Most people will tell you they didn't see it coming—but don't count me among them.
You know why the Colts went 2-14 this season? Because they leaned so heavily on Peyton Manning. If one player is the difference between chasing the Super Bowl and chasing the first overall pick it can only mean one thing:
You've drafted terribly.
Aside from a couple of marquee names, the majority of picks from Polian were washed up by the time they turned 25. And over the past seven seasons the Colts' draft success has seemed to get worse and worse.
Don't believe me? I present to you every draft class from 1998—the year Bill took over as general manager—to last spring.
1998, The Year of the Peyton—and Nothing Else
Notable players drafted: QB Peyton Manning and G Steve McKinney
Except for Manning, only fourth-round pick Steve McKinney (a guard who played 11 seasons in the NFL) lived up to the expectations put on the 1998 draft class.
Wide receivers Jerome Pathon and E.G. Green, the 32nd and 71st overall picks, respectively, started a combined 34 games with Indianapolis. Linebacker Antony Jordan was cut after his rookie season and safety Corey Gaines never panned out.
1999, Picking James Over Williams
Notable players drafted: RB Edgerrin James, LB Mike Peterson and P Hunter Smith
I've got to hand it to Indianapolis—they made the right choice on this one.
When faced with the decision between highly rated running backs Edgerrin James and Ricky Williams, the Colts brass went with James. James retired in 2009 with 12,246 yards—10th most all-time (he was passed by LaDainian Tomlinson soon thereafter and currently sits 11th all-time).
Linebacker Mike Peterson is still in the league after 13 seasons and is closing in on 1,000 career tackles. Punter Hunter Smith retired in 2010 with 29,704 total punt yards (the equivalent of 16.8 miles).
Those picks aside, the four others from this year's draft didn't last more than a season or two in Indianapolis before leaving the team or flunking out of the league entirely. Remember Brandon Burlsworth? Paul Miranda? Corey Terry? Brad Scioli? Didn't think so.
2000, Taking a Swing at Defense—and Missing
Notable players drafted: LB Rob Morris and LB Marcus Washington
After a 1999 season that saw them win the AFC East for the first time since 1987, the Indianapolis Colts took a swing at defense—and the result was largely a miss.
Sure, they found two linebackers in Rob Morris and Marcus Washington (pictured) who enjoyed a total of 17 seasons in the league.
But Indianapolis only saw them start for seven of them.
The remaining 10 seasons saw Morris and Washington with other teams or riding the bench.
Cornerback David Macklin was a great third-round pick by the Colts but he was let go after only two seasons as a starter.
Other than those three, four additional defensive players were selected and none had even a moderate amount of success in the league.
2001, Back to Offense
Notable players drafted: WR Reggie Wayne, G Ryan Diem and G Rick DeMulling
Their defensive selections last year were so-so and I have to imagine this is the year the Indianapolis Colts decided they were "offense-or-bust."
Besides Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne is the most prolific wide receiver in franchise history. Picking him up with the 30th overall selection is one of the greatest moves by the club.
A couple of interior linemen in Ryan Diem and Rick DeMulling were added to the team and have contributed 15 seasons so far (Diem is still on the active roster).
2002, They Finally Pick a Great Defensive Player—and Nothing Else
Notable players drafted: DE Dwight Freeney and LB David Thornton
It took five years for Indianapolis to get some good defensive players through the draft, but when the dam burst it really burst.
First-round pick Dwight Freeney has 102.5 sacks in his 10 NFL seasons (and still counting...) and fourth-round pick David Thornton had three seasons as a starter with the team before leaving in free agency.
Other than that, the other six players selected had a combined 16 seasons in the NFL—a pathetic average of 2.6 seasons per player.
2003, Dallas Clark, Robert Mathis and 6 Guys Who Hardly Played
Notable players drafted: TE Dallas Clark and DE Robert Mathis
Sure, Dallas Clark (who's caught 46 of Peyton Manning's 399 career touchdowns) and Robert Mathis (with 83.5 career sacks and still counting) were picked this year.
But one look at the other players selected reveals a growing trend with the Indianapolis Colts—most draft picks stay only for a couple of years and then wash out.
There were six additional players chosen in 2003. Guess how many seasons the six of them played at least eight games.
That's right—the remaining six players combined for eight seasons where they played at least half the season.
2004, They Had 9 Picks and All They Got Was a Safety
Notable players drafted: S Bob Sanders
This is where Indianapolis starts to decline in its drafting ability.
Sure, they got Bob Sanders in the second round and he was part of the reason for Colts winning the Super Bowl two years later, but other than that this draft class was full of a bunch of nobodies.
2005, 10 Players Selected—Played for a Total of 25 Seasons
Notable players drafted: None
The Indianapolis Colts had a grand total of 10 draft picks in 2005.
Did they use them to trade up and get a better pick than 29th overall? No.
Did they get a handful of guys who made the roster for the next four or five years? No.
Did they draft 10 players who contributed a combined 25 seasons to the team?
Cornerback Kelvin Hayden out of Illinois was the "star" of the 2005 draft class and went on to an "illustrious" career of nine interceptions in six seasons with the Colts.
2006, Colts Pass on Maurice Jones-Drew
Notable players drafted: RB Joseph Addai and S Antoine Bethea
If 2004 was the year the decline began, 2006 is the year it took a nose dive.
The only players anyone can even remember are running back Joseph Addai, who was drafted to replace Edgerrin James (and instead has only averaged 742 rushing yards and 241 receiving yards per season) and safety Antoine Bethea (with 12 career interceptions).
Heck, two of the seven players drafted—Freddy Keiaho and T.J. Rushing—are out of the league entirely.
The worst part about this is that the club passed on Maurice Jones-Drew and let him fall to Jacksonville in the second round.
I'm sure Colts fans have heard of him. He's the guy who catches passes out of the backfield beautifully, led the league in rushing this year and would have been a perfect fit in Indianapolis' spread offense.
2007, 9 Players Drafted, 1 Still with Team
Notable players drafted: None
That's right, nine players were drafted in 2007 and only one—wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez (1,307 yards in five seasons)—is even still on the team.
Another fun fact: The nine guys selected have combined to give Indianapolis just 95 starts. That's 10 starts per player.
Maybe next time, just pull a Mike Ditka and trade away your entire draft class for a top-five draft pick.
2008, Half of This Year's Draft Class Already Retired
Notable players drafted: Pierre Garcon
You read the headline correctly—half of the players Indianapolis selected four years ago are already out of football.
Don't believe me? Look up Marcus Howard, Tom Santi, Steve Justice and Mike Hart.
Of the five remaining, only wide receiver Pierre Garcon has made even the slightest of impacts in the NFL—and that's being generous. The former seventh-round draft pick has averaged just 629 yards a season in Indianapolis' pass-happy offense.
And Jacob Tamme? He's only averaged 213 receiving yards a season. Hardly "notable."
2009, Another Failed Attempt to Revitalize Running Game—and Curtis Painter
Notable players drafted: Austin Collie
Let me get this straight, Indianapolis. You drafted Donald Brown in the first round even though Beanie Wells and LeSean McCoy were still available?
And you picked Curtis Painter in the sixth round, kept him around for three years and then signed Kerry Collins when Peyton Manning went down last spring?
The only notable player in this year's draft class was wide receiver Austin Collie, a fourth-round draft pick who is averaging 612 receiving yards a season.
2010, Name Someone From This Draft Class—I Dare You
Notable players drafted: None
In the spring of 2010, the Indianapolis Colts went into the NFL draft looking for a way to make another Super Bowl run after losing to the New Orleans Saints the winter before.
In the spring of 2012, two of the eight players they selected aren't even with the team anymore.
Only one of the players—the beautifully named linebacker Pat Angerer—has played a full season for the club. The remaining seven? Only 45 starts between them.
2011, The Year That Broke the Camel's Back
Notable players drafted: OT Anthony Castonzo
In the last four drafts, the only notable players have been wide receivers Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon.
But as the old proverb says, even a broken clock is right twice a day, right?
Not with Bill and Chris Polian at the helm.
Rookie Anthony Castonzo began to fulfill the expectations of any offensive lineman taken in the first-round by showing he's strong in run blocking and can protect off the edge.
Other than Castonzo, the four additional picks from last spring's draft class combined for just 40 games and seven starts.
Overall, A Decade Nearly Wasted
Since 1998, the year Peyton Manning was drafted, the Indianapolis Colts have had 109 draft selections—enough selections to fill two NFL rosters.
Instead of building a good team, or at the very least building a good team around Peyton Manning, the Colts have squandered their selections—and there's no more telling statistic of this than the fact that the average lifespan of an Indianapolis draft pick with the team is 2.8 years.
Jim Irsay didn't fire the Polians because he's thirsting for control (like some Washington Redskins owners we all know) or because he's a boneheaded billionaire who knows nothing about football (again, cue Redskins).
Irsay fired the Polians because the Indianapolis Colts have had a first-ballot Hall-of-Fame quarterback for 13 seasons and only earned one Super Bowl victory. Irsay knew he'd wasted the last 13 years with the Polians in charge and wanted to burn the Polian bridge before it had allowed any more subpar football players to come to Lucas Oil Stadium.