2011 NFL Draft: Indianapolis Colts' 10 Greatest Draft Day Steals
Though the later rounds of the 2011 NFL Draft may be discarded by most, true draft geeks cling to one tantalizing hope every year—that a stud safety or explosive kick returner will slip through the cracks and fall into their team's lap in the sixth or seventh round.
Infrequent as this may be (most third-day guys are off the roster in the matter of a year or two), there are historical instances of success—the proverbial gold in the hills—that fuel these fantasies and keep fans tuned in to the picks that no pundits could possibly project.
Here's a look back at the Indianapolis Colts' 10 most significant draft day coups.
10. Jason Belser
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You may have never heard of Jason Belser, and there's likely a good reason for that.
Belser wasn't a one-man highlight reel and his career numbers never threatened any records, but for an eighth-round pick in the 1992 NFL Draft (No. 197 overall), the Colts could have done a lot worse.
Belser played with the Colts for eight seasons before moving on to Kansas City and retiring with 870 career tackles, 14 career interceptions and nine career sacks.
Not bad production for an eighth-round safety.
9. Charlie Johnson
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Charlie Johnson was largely berated by analysts for his 2010 performance, even though he played the year on a bum foot initially injured in training camp.
But this sixth-round pick in the 2006 NFL Draft (No. 199 overall) out of Oklahoma State has been an invaluable utility line player for the Colts in recent years.
Johnson finished Super Bowl XLI at right tackle in relief of the injured Ryan Diem, performing admirably against a vaunted Chicago defense, and he has started at both guard and tackle in his Indianapolis career.
He might not be dominant at any one position, but for a player most saw as a throwaway line pick deep in the draft—a reserve tackle at best—Johnson has certainly surpassed expectations and proved himself worthy of wearing the horseshoe.
8. Cato June
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Cato June may currently be relegated to UFL play, but there was a time when Colts fans viewed him as a great linebacker.
June, a former Michigan safety, was taken with the 25th pick in the sixth round of the 2003 NFL Draft (No. 198 overall) and spent his rookie year primarily on special teams.
He managed to win a starting spot his second year in the league and never looked back.
June topped his first year as a starter with a Pro Bowl selection in 2005 and a Super Bowl ring in 2006.
While he may have been too light for the position and his long-term outlook was never tremendous, June still proved to be an instrumental part of the Colts linebacking corps in his four-year tender.
7. Pierre Garcon
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Maddeningly inconsistent? Check.
Questionable route-running ability? Check.
But the 205th pick of the 2008 NFL Draft (Round 6, pick No. 39) has shown flashes of brilliance and can't be classified as anything other than a steal.
A solid returner as a rookie, Garcon seemingly became an overnight starter in his second season when Anthony Gonzalez blew out his knee in a season-opening win over Jacksonville, and he has yet to relinquish his spot on the depth chart.
Known for both tremendous yards-after-catch ability and uncooperative hands, Garcon is the ultimate boom-or-bust player, just as likely to drop a pass as he is likely to show up on highlight reels with a one-handed stab or brutal stiff arm.
You can't argue his numbers, though—especially in the postseason, where he has quickly become the Colts' most dynamic playoff weapon.
6. Austin Collie
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The Colts were fortunate to land steals at the wide receiver position in back-to-back years: Pierre Garcon in 2008 and Austin Collie in 2009.
The former Brigham Young star was drafted higher than most on this list, registering the No. 127 overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft (Round 4, pick No. 27).
However, had NFL teams known the kind of player Collie would become, it wouldn't be a stretch to say that he would be a first-round pick if teams were allowed a 2009 draft do-over.
When not plagued by concussions (or, in the Colts' preferred nomenclature, "concussion-like symptoms"), Collie has caught everything within reach and claimed a spot as one of the league's premier slot receivers.
In 2010, he even showed that he could dominate at a wideout position, boasting 12 receptions for 171 yards and two touchdowns in a Week 3 victory at Denver, playing in relief of an injured Garcon.
5. Jake Scott
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When a division rival snatches your former fifth-round pick to the tune of $5 million per year, chances are you did something right with the pick.
Former Idaho guard Jake Scott was selected as the 141st overall player in the 2004 NFL Draft.
He started nine games his rookie year before becoming a full-time, 16-game starter in 2005 and a key component of the Colts run game in the team's 2006 title run.
Scott may be the best road grader the Colts have had in the Manning era.
It's no coincidence that running backs such as Edgerrin James, Joseph Addai and Chris Johnson have had some of their best seasons running behind him.
4. Jeff Herrod
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Chances are few outside of Indianapolis have heard of Jeff Herrod, but there was a time when the former Mississippi linebacker was one of the few bright spots on a dreadful Indianapolis roster.
Herrod, who was arguably one of the best rush linebackers in the Indy era, was taken with the 243rd overall pick in the 1988 NFL Draft (Round 9, pick No. 22).
He was the team's Defensive Player of the Year in 1989, 1990 and 1992.
This draft steal notched nine years with the Colts before spending a year in Philadelphia and finally retiring with Indianapolis in 1998.
Herrod finished his career with 1,042 tackles, 14.5 sacks, six forced fumbles, five interceptions and two defensive touchdowns.
3. Eugene Daniel
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Traveling even further back in time—at least in terms of the 27-year-old Indianapolis franchise—Eugene Daniel has to be recognized as one of the franchise's greater draft steals.
Selected with the 205th overall pick in the 1984 NFL Draft (Round 8), the former LSU cornerback proved to be a mainstay in the Colts secondary.
Though certainly far from a shutdown corner, there is something to be said for Daniel's longevity, especially in an era where the Colts often fired their head coach midseason.
Daniel managed to stay with the Colts for 13 NFL seasons before playing his final season in Baltimore.
At one point in his career, Daniel played 185 consecutive games, a number almost unheard of for a defensive player (and since surpassed by Peyton Manning).
For his career, Daniel tallied 38 interceptions, a number amongst the tops in club history.
2. Antoine Bethea
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Rarely does a rookie step in and become a starter for a championship team.
Antoine Bethea bucked the trend in 2006 and put Howard University on the map when he did.
Expectations may not have been high for the 2006 NFL Draft's 207th overall selection (Round 6), but Bethea impressed early in camp and gained a tremendous opportunity to showcase his talents with injuries to safeties Bob Sanders and Mike Doss.
Since starting 18 games for the 2006 Super Bowl squad, Bethea has only missed three games since 2007 and has proven to be the rare rock in the Colts secondary.
The former Howard Bison has also been selected to one Pro Bowl (2007) and named an alternate to two others (2009 and 2010).
Against initial expectations, his 351 career tackles and 11 career interceptions have proved infinitely more valuable and useful than the numbers posted by former teammate Sanders, once viewed as the more impactful of the two safeties.
1. Robert Mathis
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Robert Mathis might be the poster boy for modern day draft steals.
In retrospect, it's absurd that the three-time Pro Bowler lasted until the fifth round of the 2003 NFL Draft (No. 138 overall).
Though Mathis has certainly benefited from playing opposite arguably the league's best pass-rusher in Dwight Freeney, he has definitely proved his worth in this league.
He has finished half of his seasons with double-digit sack totals. In his eight-year Colt career, Mathis has registered 74 sacks and doesn't appear to be slowing any time soon.
If the 2003 NFL Draft were to be rewritten tomorrow, Mathis would very likely be a top five pick.