Without Scouts, Polian Says Colts' Drafting System Doesn't Work
INDIANAPOLIS – As Bill Polian sees it, much of the credit should go to one place.
Polian, in his 12th season as the Colts' President, said while he may receive praise as one of the NFL's top personnel evaluators and drafters, the process by which the team selects players is very much a system and very much includes more than him.
A lot more.
The process, he said, begins with scouts.
And Polian said that system – a complex, grassroots process of evaluating players and information – is where much of the credit for the Colts' draft-day success must go.
"The whole draft comes from that," Polian said recently as he prepared for the 2009 NFL Draft, which will be held April 25-26 at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.
"Without the scouts, we wouldn't have had the kind of success we've had."
The Colts, in 11 previous drafts under Polian, have held nine first-round selections, five of whom – quarterback Peyton Manning, running back Edgerrin James, wide receiver Reggie Wayne, defensive end Dwight Freeney and running back Joseph Addai – have played in 21 Pro Bowls over the last 10 seasons.
In all, nine Colts draftees under Polian have appeared in 26 Pro Bowls.
The process for finding the players, Polian said, begins with a personnel position known as the area scout, whose job is – as Polian puts it – to be "the eyes and ears of the personnel department."
The Colts currently employee six area scouts, and throughout the season Polian said they compile "a complete dossier on each and every player" in their assigned area. The area scout must know the details of each player in his assigned area so he can be consulted during the weeks and months leading to draft when information on players is critical.
The later in the draft, Polian said, the more crucial the role of the area scout.
"He's the expert on the player," Polian said. "So when the 'between' players begin to meld together, when they're not as clearcut as they are in the first and sometimes the top of the second round, the area scout and the supervisory scout who's over those guys is very imant.
"They know the player so well they can draw clearcut distinctions. That's a critical role."
The next stage of the process, Polian said, comes when each area scout has gathered information on the player. At that stage, what is known as the regional scout evaluates players from different areas, thus determining the ranking on players across the nation.
"He's really important," Polian said, "because he's able to take a player from say, the Midwest, and compare him to a player from the South and say, 'OK, these two players play the same position. They play in BCS conferences. Here's where I think a player ought to be higher.'"
Polian said the system works because all scouts operate under the same structure, with the same rules. The enormity of the process is what makes taking as much subjectivity as possible out of the equation, and why Polian often says he doesn't want to hear a scout talk about "liking a player." Rather, he said, he wants to hear "why you like him and why he is going to make us a better football team."
"We all operate under the same criteria," he said.
But at the core of the system, he said, is the person who determines if a player can help the Colts based on the criteria. That person is the scout, and without that person, Polian said there really isn't a system at all.
"It's their operation of our system that makes it go," Polian said. "They're the experts on the system. They're the ultimate expert. In the end, you're always going to listen to them in terms of what a player is and what he isn't."