Written By: Matt Deahl
Well, Bill Polian once again has left draft experts scratching their heads. With the 27th pick in the 1st round, the Colts selected the versatile Donald Brown (RB UConn), a shock to those predicting the Colts to beef up on the defensive tackle position to help stop the run. Although it seems like an odd pick, maybe more experts should have seen it coming. Last year, the Colts ranked 24th overall in run defense, which was blamed mostly on the undersized Keyunta Dawson and Eric Foster, a 7th round pick and an undrafted rookie respectively. Due to their offensive success, what most seem to have overlooked was the Colts ended the season ranked 31st in the league in rushing offense. Joseph Addai was expected to have a break out year, but averaged a mere 3.5 yds per carry and totaled a measly 544 yds on the season leaving fans at times begging for a Dominic Rhodes promotion.
Most felt the lack of run production was due to the beat up offensive line, but Polian’s Donald Brown selection shows his true concern. Still not convinced a RB was the way to go? Let’s take a peek at the upcoming season depth chart at running back: Joseph Addai, starter, and Mike Hart, backup. Yes, that’s right Mike Hart. The same Michigan Wolverine drafted in the sixth round that sat an entire season with an ACL tear. He might not even be back to full strength by training camp. So, let me think here, all I have is an unproven 6th round draft pick coming off a knee injury, and the kicker, he ran a 4.67…healthy! Look at the evidence, why wouldn’t the Colts pick a RB in the 1st round? The real question should have been, Why not pick Beanie Wells (RB, Ohio State)? Wells is considered a rare mix of size and speed being 6’1 237lbs and running a 4.59. He has a devastating stiff arm in the open field that leaves safeties and linebackers searching for their helmets. The question mark surrounding Wells is his durability. The Buckeye was sidelined for part of the season with a foot injury and the doubts have surrounded him since.
This situation seems familiar? Remember back in 1999, Polian chose a less popular Edgerrin James over the all-time NCAA rushing leader Ricky Williams. Polian believed that James was a more complete back and would better fit the Colts system. Hmm…Mr. Polian, I’m starting to have a little déjà vu. This year’s choice obviously received less attention, but with Addai’s performance last year it may be just as important to the success of the high powered Indy offense. Without a viable run game, defenses can throw an extra defender in the secondary to defend Peyton Manning’s aerial assault. The question to be answered in the future will be whether or not the Polian’s genius struck again? Personally, I believe that Polian has swung and missed at this one similar to his pick of Rob Morris in the first round of 2000. Brown was the leading rusher in the NCAA last year with 2083 yds and 5.7 yds a carry up from 4.8 yds the year before. Beanie only had 1197 yds last year, due to sitting out three games, but averaged 5.8 yds a carry down from 5.9 yds the year before and 5.5 yds the year before that. I do not believe the Colts can go wrong with picking Brown as a system back up but the problem I have is that they were pitched a potential homerun ball and decided to bunt. Take a hack at it! Adrian Peterson dropped in the draft to the number 7 spot due to reoccurring injuries similar to the reasons Beanie dropped. Don’t you believe those teams that passed on him are probably kicking themselves just about every day? I do not believe Wells can be as good as Peterson but Backs like Wells don’t come along too often. Wells is a big back and ensures that even if Addai doesn’t come out of his Junior year slump, and the offensive line is banged up again, you have a big back up that runs a 4.59 (faster than Knowshon Moreno at 4.60 & slower than Donald Brown at 4.51) with a chip on his shoulder ready to make his own holes. Colts fans will just have to wait and see if Polian has once again proven the experts and me wrong.
The Colts addressed their defensive line issues by trading up to get Fiji Moala (DT, USC) in the 2nd round, and Terrance Taylor (DT, Michigan) in the 4th round. In addition to the newly reacquired Ed Johnson, the Colts are thought to have added much needed size and strength to help stop the run and capitalize on double teams to DE Robert Mathis and DE Dwight Freeney. The Colts further bolstered their defense in the 3rd round by choosing Jerraud Powers (CB, Auburn). This physical corner is a great addition to a young and improving secondary. He is a great zone defender and a sure tackler, which is key in the Colts defensive system. These defensive draft contributions could greatly improve the Colts fantasy defense in 2009. In the past, the Colts defense relied on the “bend don’t break” adage. It is possible that with these additions they may become consistently dominant and capitalize on more turnovers. I do not think the Colts defense will be a draft and hold fantasy defense, but they will certainly be good enough to pick up on a week-to-week basis against good matchups. The defense will produce turnovers, but the line backing core is still too small and misses too many tackles. As it has in the past, the defense will certainly depend on the health of Bob Sanders and Dwight Freeney.
Austin Collie (WR, BYU) was picked by the Colts in the 4th round. This pick up was to further help the Colts deepen their receiving core after losing Marvin Harrison to free agency. Collie will make a nice backup, but will not see any immediate playing time. He may eventually see some time in the slot along with Pierre Garcon and Roy Hall. The Colts 6th and 7th round picks were influenced by one major off-season move, the loss of punter Hunter Smith. In the Colts 6th round they selected Curtis Painter, QB out of Purdue. Now you wonder how Hunter Smith could influence this pick? Well, Smith also served as third string, emergency QB for the Colts. The front office said they were planning on keeping three QB’s this year, hence the selection of Painter. The Colts picked Pat McAfee, Punter out of West Virginia, in the 7th round as a direct replacement for Hunter Smith.
Fantasy Impact – B
With Donald Brown possibly splitting time at running back and maybe emerging as the starter this could be a big pick up in keeper leagues or a late season flyer in regular leagues. Austin Collie could possibly emerge in the future as a slot receiver in the Colts pass happy system. The defense got bigger and hopefully better against the run which could allow fantasy owners to choose them more often week to week.
Draft Grade – B+
The Colts answered their weaknesses as well as enhancing on their strengths. They needed to enhance the running game and get bigger against the run which they did. In my opinion a linebacker would have been a good pickup in one of the later rounds and depending on the progression of Donald Brown versus Beanie Wells that will tell the true grade of this draft for the Colts.