The over Colts' have made some pretty wise selections over the past 10 years, but it's not just Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne and Dwight Freeney that make Vice Chairman Bill Polian look good. Later round and free-agent steals are really where GM's earn their reputation, and nobody has been better over the past few decades than Bill Polian. With six NFL Executive of the Year Awards and six Super Bowl appearances, including one Super Bowl title, it's fair to say that Mr. Polian knows a thing or two about how to draft.
Selecting Peyton Manning over Ryan Leaf and Edgerrin James over Ricky Williams may have been Bill Polian's greatest moves and certainly cemented his and the Colts' legacy.
Had Polian missed on both of those picks, the Colts would have no doubt had better draft positioning to work with for years to come. Nevertheless, the Colts haven't been too shabby when it comes to scrutinizing and selecting talent.
Here is a list of some of Mr. Polian's displays of draft dexterity over the past decade of football—a decade in which the Colts ruled the roost putting together the highest winning percentage in the history of the NFL over a 10 year time span.
Dwight Freeney: Selected 11th overall in the 2002 draft out of The University of Syracuse
Picking in the first round certainly enhances the chances of hitting on a draft pick, but it's no guarantee.
By selecting Dwight Freeney, however, the Colts' guaranteed themselves one of the most ferocious and feared pass rushers in the game.
Upon entering the league Dwight Freeney quickly established himself as one of the best—if not the best— defensive ends in the game.
So far in his illustrious career Freeney has racked up
- Six Pro Bowl selections (2003, 2004, 2005, 2008, 2009, 2010)
- Three First-Team All-Pro selections (2004, 2005, 2009)
- One Second-Team All-Pro selection
and helped the Colts win Super Bowl XLI. Freeney was also a member of the NFL All Decade Team for the 2000's.
Thankfully for the Colts, Freeney is still going strong.
Reggie Wayne: Selected 30th overall in the 2001 NFL Draft out of the University Of Miami.
Originally, Wayne was a sideshow to Marvin Harrison. Drafted to provide Harrison some respite from constant double teams, it didn't take long for Wayne to emerge from his shadow and grab the spotlight for himself.
Starting his rookie season, Wayne saw his numbers increase every year, from 27 catches and no touchdowns in 2001, to 86 grabs and nice scores on the way to a Super Bowl in 2006.
With Harrison deciding to retire a few seasons later, Wayne's production has only furthered increased.
As the go-to receiver in Indy, the five time Pro Bowl and three time All Pro has averaged 99 catches per year since 2006.
Not bad for the sixth receiver taken in the 2001 draft.
Dallas Clark - selected 24th overall in the 2003 draft out of the University of Iowa
I realize that its easier to find success picking in the first rounds that all of these first three selections have all come from the Colts' respective top picks.
But when you realize that at one point or another unforgettable stars such as Daniel Graham, Anthony Becht and Jerramy Stevens were fellow first round selections, Clark's first round selection starts to look pretty good.
393 receptions, 44 touchdowns and the 2009 Alumni Tight Player of the Year seem to validate that.
Robert Mathis - Selected 138th overall (fifth round) in the 2003 NFL Draft out of Alabama A&M
You could argue that given how late he was selected and how incredibly prolific he has been at taking down the quarterback, that Mathis should be higher on the list.
In fact, since overcoming a slow rookie season, Mathis has been nearly as dominant as Dwight Freeney. The two have formed the most formidable pass rush in the NFL, combining for 154.5 sacks since 2003.
Mathis's 74 sacks may have come as a surprise at first, but no one is taking the three time Pro Bowler lightly anymore. Mathis tied for 10th in the NFL this past year with 11 sacks.
When ESPN's Len Pasquarelli asked back in 2005 how he could explain his success, the laid back Mathis responded "I really don't know why, "I'm just a role player, a special-teams guy and a [part-time] defensive lineman, that's all. I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing."
For a 235 pound defensive end who was originally selected as a back-up situational pass rusher, it's fair to say Mathis is doing a lot more then what he drafted to do.
Bob Sanders: Selected 44th overall (second round) in the 2004 draft out of the University of Iowa.
The University of Iowa has certainly been good to the Colts.
While Bob Sanders is no longer on the team, you can't leave off a player that won the AP Defensive Player of the Year Award. Although Sanders was often injured during his tenure in Indianapolis, which eventually lead to his departure, the two time Pro Bowl and All Pro Selection was one of the most feared hitters in the game.
"The hitman", or "the eraser", as Coach Tony Dungy aptly dubbed him, was the Colts' Dwight Freeney of the secondary. Unfortunately after signing a big contract extension to stay with the Colts after the 2007 season, a series of serious injuries made Sanders too much of a liability and cap hit to keep him with the franchise.
However during his seven year career with the Colts, Sanders certainly made his presence felt recording 290 tackles and six interceptions.
Even though it was said that Sanders may have signed a one-year contract with the San Diego Chargers, it appears that those reports were false giving many in Colts' fans a small glimmer of hope that Sanders would be back in blue next year.
Antonie Bethea - Selected 207th overall (sixth round) in the 2006 NFL Draft out of Howard University
Anytime a team can find a starter in after the fifth round its a steal. Finding a future Pro Bowler? That's lucky.
I don't think you will hear complaints from the Colts front office, as Indianapolis is indeed fortunate to have the two time Pro Bowl selection on the roster. After cementing himself in the starting lineup early in his 2006 rookie season campaign, Bethae has been a mainstay in the Colts' secondary, recording 12 interceptions and 526 (340 solo) tackles in his five year career.
With his secondary running mate Sanders in and out of the lineup with injuries, Bethea has served as the anchor of a consistently good Colts' pass defense.
Not bad for an overlooked sixth round choice.
Selected 199th (sixth round) overall in 2006 out of Oklahoma State University
Taken seven picks before his eventual teammate Bethea, Johnson was originally slotted as a backup guard. Instead, due to the retirement of Pro-Bowl left tackle Tarik Glenn, Johnson was given a chance to start at the position. After initially losing out to underachiever Tony Ugoh, Johnson was forced into the role after the eventual draft bust went down with injuries.
Since then, Johnson filled in at left guard and right tackle before finally settling in at left tackle this past season. The jack-of-all-trades has shown remarkable improvement and helped hold together a shoddy offensive line.
Not bad for a guy many saw as a mere afterthought.
Austin Collie: Selected 127th (fourth round) overall in the 2009 NFL draft out of BYU
Some critics argue that you need three years to properly evaluate a player. I disagree. Rookies are asked to step up and play significant roles all the time.
In fact, last year the Colts asked the BYU rookie to do just that when slot receiver Anthony Gonzalez was forced to go on IR during the first week of the season. Collie filled in surprisingly well, putting together a solid rookie campaign, catching 60 receptions for 676 yards and seven touchdowns.
After the promising rookie season and an exceptional playoffs where he hauled in two touchdowns and accumulated 241 yards in three games, Collie picked up where he left off to start the 2010 season.
Posting 44 catches and six touchdowns through the first six games, Collie was among the league leaders in yards and touchdowns. However, a vicious hit sidelined what should have been Collie's first Pro Bowl season.
Still, if he can come back from hit and the at least two subsequent concussions he suffered in an attempted comeback, the Colts should have the best slot receiver in the league.
Honorable Mention - Pierre Garcon, sixth round. It was a toss up between Garcon and Collie, but Collie has been more impressive in a shorter amount of time.