Size of School and Level of Competition Not a Huge Factor in NFL Draft, Polian Says
INDIANAPOLIS – The examples are many, and when listing them, Colts President Bill Polian has some high-profile ones from which to draw.
There's Antoine Bethea. And Robert Mathis.
Those are two of the players Polian has drafted from lesser-known schools since joining the Colts, but Polian said the best example of level of competition not necessarily being an overwhelming issue on draft day may come from his days as the general manager of the Buffalo Bills.
Andre Reed's not a Hall of Famer. Yet.
But he played 16 years in the NFL, and helped the Bills to four Super Bowls.
"Andre Reed is the best example," Polian, entering his 12th season as the Colts' president, said recently as he prepared for the 2009 NFL Draft, which is scheduled to be held April 25-26 at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. "He should be in the Hall of Fame and I hope someday soon he will be.
"He played at Kutztown State."
Reed, a wide receiver who played 15 seasons and appeared in seven Pro Bowls for Buffalo, may have been one of Polian's first and best-known small-school finds, but he was far from the last.
Polian since joining the Colts has had consistent small-school success with players such as:
• Mathis, defensive end, Alabama A&M. A fifth-round selection in the 2003 NFL Draft, Mathis has led the Colts in sacks each of the last four seasons. This past season, he was named to the Pro Bowl for the first time in his six-year NFL career.
• Bethea, safety, Howard. A sixth-round selection in the 2006 NFL Draft, Bethea has averaged more than 100 tackles a season in his first three seasons and has seven interceptions and eight passes defensed during that span. He was named to the Pro Bowl following the 2007 season.
Polian also selected wide receiver Pierre Garcon from Mount Union and guard/center Jamey Richard from the University of Buffalo in last year's draft. Richard started four games at center and three at guard as a rookie, but Polian said it's debatable whether a player from a Mid-American Conference school such as Buffalo qualifies as a "small school" selection.
"I don't think level of competition is an issue and we know the Mid-American is a good level of competition," Polian said. "People have been drafted high and have performed well in the NFL from the Mid-American Conference for years and years.
"I've never been a big believer in level of competition being a detriment as long as the players have the other qualities necessary to succeed."
Polian, long considered one of the NFL's best evaluators of college talent, said productivity at the college level is a major consideration for any prospect, but he said it's particularly true of a player from a smaller college. Mathis set an NCAA Division 1-AA record with 20 sacks as a senior and Bethea was a three-time All-Mideast Conference selection, but Polian also said the means by which to measure such prospects against players from bigger conferences are also greater now than they were in the past.
"Obviously, you don't want guys who are average at that level," Polian said. "You want somebody who dominates at that level, but now there are so many all-star games and other avenues where you can compare that that's even easier than it used to be."
But Polian said All-Star game or not, a player can be evaluated for – and make it in the NFL – whatever his level of competition.
"Andre Reed never appeared in an All-Star game to my knowledge, but we were still convinced as a staff in Buffalo that he would make it," Polian said.