Polian: The Longer the Draft Goes, the More Difficult the Process
INDIANAPOLIS – As Bill Polian sees it, the NFL Draft gets trickier the longer it lasts.
It certainly gets harder to predict.
Polian, entering his 12th season as the Colts' president, said while the early stages of the NFL Draft are relatively predictable, he said that gets less and less true as the process continues.
The late stages of Round 1 are tougher than the early stages.
And after Round 2?
"Once you get past that, the decisions aren't as clear-cut," Polian said as he prepared for the 2009 NFL Draft, which will be held at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.
The Colts this season hold the No. 27 overall selection.
And Polian said while the difficulty is greater the deeper you go in the draft, he also said that by comparison, it is tougher to successfully draft in the latter third of the first round than the Top 10.
Not that the Colts haven't had success in both areas.
The Colts since 1998 – Polian's first season as the team's president – have had three selections in the Top 11:
• Peyton Manning, quarterback, No. 1 overall, 1998.
• Edgerrin James, running back, No. 4 overall, 1999.
• Dwight Freeney, defensive end, No. 11 overall, 2002.
Manning has been named the NFL's Most Valuable Player three times, has been to nine Pro Bowls and was the Most Valuable Player of Super Bowl XLI. James is the Colts' all-time leading rusher, led the NFL in rushing in 1999 and 2000 and played in four Pro Bowls for the Colts.
Freeney, the franchise's all-time sacks leader, led the NFL in sacks in 2004, and has played in four Pro Bowls.
The success later in the first rounds, if less dramatic and historic, has been solid and formed the core of seven consecutive playoff teams. Because of the team's success, his other six first-round selections with the Colts have come in the last third of Round 1:
• Rob Morris, linebacker, No. 28 overall, 2000.
• Reggie Wayne, wide receiver, No. 30 overall, 2001.
• Dallas Clark, tight end, No. 24 overall, 2003.
• Marlin Jackson, cornerback, No. 29 overall, 2005.
• Joseph Addai, running back, No. 30 overall, 2006.
• Anthony Gonzalez, wide receiver, No. 32 overall, 2007.
Morris played eight seasons with the Colts, starting three seasons and playing a key role in Super Bowl XLI, while Wayne has made three Pro Bowls and has emerged the last five seasons as one of the NFL's top players at his position. Clark has started six seasons, and also is one of the NFL's top players at his position.
Jackson, before a knee injury cost him the last part of last season, had started for a year and a half and made a critical interception to clinch the AFC Championship Game following the 2006 season, while Addai rushed for more than 1,000 yards in 2006 and 2007, making the Pro Bowl following his second season.
Gonzalez caught 37 passes for 576 yards and three touchdowns as a rookie and 57 more last season for 664 yards and four touchdowns.
"It's much harder to hit late, because 'A,' you don't have a choice," Polian said. "And 'B,' the level of talent is less clear. The biggest difficulty is you don't get to choose. You have to be prepared to take whoever falls to you, and you can't influence that."
Polian said, as expected, that causes nervous moments in the draft room – and at the Colts' complex in the days leading to the draft.
"I drive everybody crazy, because three days before the draft, I have everybody gone (drafted off the board)," he said, smiling. "(Senior Consultant to Player Personnel) Dom (Anile) used to say, 'No, no, he won't be gone. I know it. He'll be good.''
The Colts, successful in the first round, have found contributors and core players thereafter, too. Among the highlights:
• Bob Sanders, safety, second round, 2004. AP Defensive Player of the Year in 2007.
• Robert Mathis, defensive end, fifth round, 2003. Pro Bowl selection in 2008.
• Antoine Bethea, safety, sixth round, 2006. Pro Bowl selection in 2007.
• Kelvin Hayden, cornerback, second round, 2005. Returned interception for game-clinching touchdown in Super Bowl XLI.
• Ryan Diem, offensive tackle, fourth round, 2001. Has started seven seasons, first at guard, then at tackle.
The Colts in Polian's tenure also have selected players such as linebacker Mike Peterson, 2005 Pro Bowl linebacker Cato June, linebacker Marcus Washington (a Pro Bowl selection with Washington), linebacker David Thornton, guard Jake Scott, guard Rick DeMulling and cornerback Jason David in the later rounds. All started three or more seasons with the Colts before signing elsewhere.
Still, Polian said the process gets more fuzzy after the first round.
"It gets a little arbitrary when you get down there," Polian said. "As you go down the board, players aren't perfect. As you get down below the fourth round, how teams see them differs greatly."