The Indianapolis Colts don't rely on free agency or trades to build a championship team, they do it through the draft. Rather than depend on outside help the Colts do it themselves, evaluating, drafting and grooming players who will play instrumental roles as the Colts contend for championships year after year.
Indianapolis has always been known as a favorite destination among players drafted in the lower rounds or those un-drafted free agents hoping to make a team because the Colts' philosophy offers every player a chance regardless of their draft position.
For those who make it, however, the pressure is high and the learning curve steep as Peyton Manning and other established veterans do not wait around for rookies to catch up.
If you make the final roster in Indianapolis, you are expected to play, which is why so much emphasis in the Colts' war room is placed on finding high-caliber individuals who can step up and fill in right away.
Nobody does it better than Vice Chairman Bill Polian and the Colts. Here is a look at the most successful player taken from each of the seven rounds (plus the best un-drafted free agent as well) over the past decade.
Dwight Freeney (Syracuse) - 11th Pick Overall, 2002.
The Colts probably draft better than anyone else in the league in the first round. In the past decade, the Colts have selected:
2001: Reggie Wayne
2002: Dwight Freeney
2003: Dallas Clark
2004: No Pick (Bob Sanders was their first pick in the second round)
2005: Marlin Jackson
2006: Joseph Addai
2007: Anthony Gonzalez
2008: No Pick
2009: Donald Brown
2010: Jerry Hughes
What is even more impressive than the dozens of the accolades the guys have won, is that all of the players above are still in the league and only Marlin Jackson (and just recently cut Bob Sanders) are no longer with the Colts.
Including Bob Sanders, the Colts' first round picks of the past decade have earned 17 trips to the Pro Bowl and an astonishing 10 All-Pro honors. That doesn't even include Peyton Manning or Edgerrin James!
Obviously its hard to choose from just one, but Dwight Freeney stands out amongst the group. A member of the NFL's All 2000's Team, Freeney is the most feared and most accomplished pass rusher in the game.
While Wayne and Clark are both deserving and might take the honors on lesser teams, Freeney is the Colts' best first-round draft selection of the decade.
Bob Sanders (Iowa) - 44th Pick Overall, 12th pick of the second round in 2004.
While I included Bob Sanders on the previous slide because the Colts' had vacated their first round pick that year, Sanders was drafted in the second round.
The Colts' have had a lot of nice second-round selections over the years, especially of late. Among the promising young players drafted in the second round are second-year defensive tackle Fili Moala and rookie middle linebacker Pat Angerer.
Starting cornerback Kelvin Hayden was also a second-round selection, but while all quality contributors, none of them came close to the production of 2007's AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
When healthy Bob Sanders played true to his nickname 'The Eraser,' snuffing out plays and wiping out any errors made by his teammates.
The two time Pro-Bowler and All-Pro selection may go down as one of the best second-round picks of the decade in the entire league.
Jerraud Powers (Auburn) - 92nd Pick Overall, 28th pick of the third round in 2008.
Bill Polian has been surprisingly terrible choosing players in the third round throughout the past decade. It has become a ugly blemish on his otherwise excellent draft record.
The list of notoriously awful players selected in round three include:
Daymeion Hughes - little used reserve no longer with the Colts
Quinn Pitcock - has since quit football
Freddy Keiaho - backup linebacker no longer with the Colts
Vincent Burns - never made the team
Gilbert Gardner - backup linebacker no longer with the Colts
You get the point... Then this previous year's third round pick, Kevin Thomas, a guy Colts' brass still has high hopes for, blew out his knee in training camp, landing him on IR.
The list is so bad and so long that I thought about just giving this pick a mulligan for this upcoming draft with the idea that whoever the Colts' select has to be better.
Thankfully however, one player has emerged from the wreckage, Jerraud Powers. The third year pro experienced the traditional Indianapolis trial by fire as starter Marlin Jackson went down with an injury, forcing the rookie to step in and play major minutes during the Colts' Super Bowl run.
Since then, Powers has cemented himself as a starting cornerback, giving hope that the third-round draft jinx in Indy may finally be lifted.
Austin Collie (BYU) - 127th Pick Overall, 27th pick of the fourth round in 2009.
Once the fourth round is over, the Colts' fans breathe a sigh of relief and can once expect good players to be taken.
Over the years the fourth round has been generous to the Colts. Players that have had significant roles within the organization include linebacker David Thornton out of North Carolina, offensive lineman Steve Scuillo, nickle cornerback Jason David, backup safety and special teams contributor Matt Giordano, Clint Session, Jacob Tamme and Austin Collie.
While the group didn't manage to collect any Pro Bowl honors, the recent group of Clint Session, Jacob Tamme and Austin Collie is quite impressive.
It was a close call between Collie and Session for the honor of best fourth-round pick, however as long as Collie can fully recover for a few scary concussions, he has the most promise and will make the biggest impact for the Colts.
Before being IR'ed for the head trauma, Collie was among the league leaders in yards and touchdown catches, finishing with 58 catches for 649 yards and 8 scores in only six full games and parts of three more. He is still considered one of the best young receivers in the league.
Robert Mathis (Alabama A&M) - 138th Pick Overall, third pick of the fifth round 2003.
Another round where Polian has whiffed more than he has struck gold, Robert Mathis more than makes up for any misses. In fact, he is probably the lone nugget of the group, but a big nugget at that.
To think that the 235-pound massively undersized situational pass rusher, who probably wasn't going to make the team but if so would serve chiefly to spell Dwight Freeney occasionally, has gone on to become nearly Freeney's equal, is incredible.
Mathis has racked up three straight Pro Bowl selections and managed to get to the quarterback 11 times in 2010, bringing his career total to 74 sacks.
Bill Polian never dreamed he was going to be getting such a monster who, teamed with the more aristocratic Freeney, would form the most feared pass rush in football.
Bill Polian and the Colts have done well mining the sixth round, which has produced three current Colts starters, along with netting three Pro Bowl selections and one All-Pro honor.
The Colts who were selected in the sixth round and are currently starting are Antoine Bethea, Pierre Garcon and Charlie Johnson. Mike Hart is a key reserve who was also taken in the next-to-last round.
Two of my all-time favorite Colts, Cato June and Antoine Bethea, battle it out for the honor of being the top player selected in this round.
Should Bethea keep up the same level of production for the next year or two, he will undoubtedly become the more valuable Colt. The two time Pro Bowler is the anchor of the defense and one of the Colts' team leaders.
However, Cato June's service to the Colts cannot be discounted either, especially his breakout 2005 campaign, in which he earned First Team All-Pro honors.
June endeared himself to the Indianapolis fans because of his style of play and for always saving his best performances for the biggest stages, including four interceptions during Prime Time night games (two returned for touchdowns) in 2005 and two more interceptions of Tom Brady in a matchup that same season.
Pat McAfee (West Virginia) - 222nd overall, 13th pick in the seventh round 2009 NFL Draft
You can't hope for a lot in the seventh round, so to get a quality starter who has already become one of the best young punters in the league is a great success.
Needing a punter after Hunter "The Punter" Smith signed with the Redskins, the Colts took quite the risk in predicting that McAfee would fall to them with the 222nd pick.
The gamble paid off as McAfee has already established himself with his play and won the fans over with his open and fun-loving demeanor off the field.
Pro Bowls should be in the punter's future.
Gary Brackett, Undrafted Free Agent out of Rutgers 2003
Without question, center Jeff Saturday is the Colts' best free agent signing. He would rank high on the list for the league as well.
Unfortunately, he entered the league before the decade deadline of 2001. Saturday, however, is not the only great Colt to go un-drafted.
Long time starting middle linebacker Gary Brackett, current starting safety Melvin Bullitt, and backup running back Dominic Rhodes head the list of un-drafted free agents who made the team the hard way, yet excelled.
While a case could be made for Bullitt and Rhodes, the clear winner is Brackett, who since joining the team in 2003 out of Rutgers, has been nothing short of the ultimate competitor, team leader and consummate professional.
So much for being too small and too slow. No matter how many tackles he makes (he's made over 700), Brackett is continually forced to prove himself and has yet to be honored with a spot in the Pro Bowl.
One of the biggest Pro Bowl snubs of the decade, Brackett continues to go out and perform at the highest levels, giving hope to all un-drafted free agents around the league.