Polian's First-Round Philosophy: No Big Hits, No Big Misses
INDIANAPOLIS – As Bill Polian sees it, the philosophy is simple.
It's also a philosophy that in some ways can explain not only the Colts' draft-day success in the last decade, but their status as one of the NFL's most consistent franchises.
Polian, preparing for his 12th NFL Draft as the Colts' president, said when it comes to the first round of the draft, his is a philosophy not based on acquiring the occasional superstar, but rather something more tailored to securing long-term success.
It's not flashy. It's not complex.
But Polian said what it lacks in flair, it makes up for in more imant ways.
"No big hits, no big misses," Polian said recently as he and Colts officials prepared for the 2009 NFL Draft, which will be held April 25-26 at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.
No big hits, no big misses . . .
Polian said that phrase was something he and Senior Consultant to Player Personnel Dom Anile discussed often while working together in Carolina, and in Indianapolis, and it long has set the tone for the Colts' first rounds.
"Take the best player, make sure he's the best player by your standards and don't look back," Polian said.
The success of the approach can be seen in a decade's worth of first-round drafts:
• 1998, Peyton Manning, quarterback. A nine-time Pro Bowl selection, Manning is the second player in NFL history to be named Associated Press Most Valuable Player three times, so named after the 2003, 2004 and 2008 seasons. Manning has started every game of an 11-year NFL career.
• 1999, Edgerrin James, running back. A four-time Pro Bowl selection – 1999, 2000, 2004 and 2005 – he is the franchise's all-time leading rusher. He played seven seasons with the Colts before signing with the Arizona Cardinals as a free agent in the 2006 offseason.
• 2000, Rob Morris, linebacker. He started 67 games in eight seasons with the Colts, and was the team's starting middle linebacker from 2001-2004. He also started at strong-side backer during the team's Super Bowl XLI postseason run.
• 2001, Reggie Wayne, wide receiver. A three-time Pro Bowl selection, he has emerged as one of the top players in the NFL at his position the last five seasons. He led the NFL in receiving yards in 2007 and scored the first Colts touchdown in Super Bowl XLI.
• 2002, Dwight Freeney, defensive end. The all-time sacks leader in franchise history, Freeney led the NFL in sacks in 2004 and made the Pro Bowl each season from 2003-2005. He returned to the Pro Bowl this past season one year after missing the last two months of the season with a foot injury.
• 2003, Dallas Clark, tight end. One of the NFL's top players at his position, he set a franchise record last season for receptions and yards receiving by a tight end.
• 2004, Bob Sanders, safety. A second-round selection, he was the first player selected by the Colts in 2004. He has made two Pro Bowls and in 2007, he was the consensus selection for the AP's Defensive Player of the Year.
• 2005, Marlin Jackson, cornerback. He played nickelback as a rookie, then moved to safety in his second season, following which he made the AFC Championship Game-clinching interception against New England in the RCA Dome. Has started at corner the last two seasons.
• 2006, Joseph Addai, running back. A 1,000-yard rusher his first two seasons, he became the first player in NFL history to rush for more than 1,000 yards without starting a game. He did that as a rookie and the following season, he was named to the Pro Bowl.
• 2007, Anthony Gonzalez, wide receiver. The Colts' most recent first-round selection, he has started 11 games in two seasons, catching 94 passes for 1,240 yards and seven touchdowns.
• 2008, Mike Pollak, guard. A second-round selection, he was the Colts' first selection in 2008. He started the final 13 games of the regular season.
Combined, the aforementioned players have three MVPs, a Defensive Player of the Year Award and 23 Pro Bowl appearances. Eight of the first nine players played on the Colts' Super Bowl XLI-winning team, with James – who left as a free agent the previous offseason – the lone exception.
How important is the first-round success? Polian said it can't be underestimated.
"You need to hit it (the first-round selection), because if you don't, the penalty you pay under the (NFL's salary) cap is rather extreme," Polian sad. "It costs you three things you never get back: time, money and the pick. You can't ever get those things back, and the money – if it's a high first-rounder – will stay with you as well: a first-rounder, period.
"It will stay with you for a long, long time. It's dead money you get nothing out of. You have to replace it and it's not easy to do that."