A big, mushy CHFF wet kiss for Bill Polian
Cold, Hard Football Facts for Nov 13, 2006
By Cold, Hard Football Facts contributor Jonathan Comey
The Indianapolis Colts have a lot of important pieces in their puzzle, from unstoppable receivers to their unflappable quarterback.
But one of their most important pieces is president Bill Polian. He's known for his volatile personality, which allegedly includes luxury-box outbursts and occasionally accosting minor employees of his opponents. But he has also won NFL Executive of the Year honors five times.
Indianapolis, which remains atop the Dominant Dozen despite a not-so-dominant win over Buffalo on Sunday, has built a regular-season dynasty with the best draft-day performances in the league over the past decade.
In fact, the Colts have made an incredible run of first-round picks, one of the great runs in modern NFL history. Polian, who arrived at the end of the 1997 season, has been largely responsible. What follows are Indy's last 10 top draft picks. Each player since Peyton Manning in 1998 was selected by Polian's staff. It's truly an impressive collection of talent:
1996: WR Marvin Harrison
1997: T Tarik Glenn
1998: QB Peyton Manning
1999: RB Edgerrin James
2000: LB Rob Morris
2001: WR Reggie Wayne
2002: DE Dwight Freeney
2003: TE Dallas Clark
2004: S Bob Sanders (second round)
2005: DB Marlin Jackson
2006: RB Joseph Addai
Two of these guys – Harrison and Manning – are locks for the Hall of Fame. James has a shot, though his ill-advised trip to Arizona certainly decreases his chances. But he left Indy as the most productive player in the history of the game (125.7 YPG from scrimmage). Glenn has a shot, too, as a multiple Pro Bowl performer and the top lineman on one of the league's all-time great offenses. But linemen, even great ones, have an uphill climb. Wayne and Freeney are perennial Pro Bowlers with an outside shot at canonization in Canton.
Clark doesn't have big numbers, but has been the team's No. 1 tight end since his rookie year. Addai leads all rookies with 568 rushing yards through nine games.
Morris has probably been an underachiever for a guy taken in the first round, but he was the team's top middle linebacker for four-plus seasons. Jackson has been a disappointment, too, and has been unable to truly crack the starting lineup. He has 107 tackles and 1 INT for the Colts in 23 NFL games.
Even 2004, the year without a No. 1 pick, was a great one for Polian: He nabbed dynamic dynamo safety Bob Sanders with the team's first pick in the second round.
While no other team in the post-merger era has had such a long and remarkable run of No. 1 picks, there are a few runners-up.
The Steelers picked up three Hall of Famers with their No. 1 picks over this period: quarterback Terry Bradshaw (1970), running back Franco Harris (1972) and wide receiver Lynn Swann (1974).
They fared pretty well in other rounds, too, highlighted by their four Hall of Famers in 1974: Swann, Jack Lambert (second round), John Stallworth (fourth) and Mike Webster (fifth). There was also second-rounder Jack Ham (1971) and third-rounder Mel Blount (1970). That's an unprecedented haul for five drafts.
San Francisco (1981-85)
The 49ers picked Ronnie Lott (1981), one of just five Live Ball Era defenders in the Hall of Fame, and the immortal Jerry Rice (1985). They didn't have No. 1 picks in 1982 or 1983, but with their top picks in the second round, they selected Pro Bowl tackle Bubba Paris and versatile running back Roger Craig, respectively. They also picked a linebacker named Todd Shell with their No. 1 selection in 1984. Hey, they can't all be home runs.
The Cowboys made a famous run from 1988-1990, picking "triplets" Michael Irvin, Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith. They almost ruined it by using a 1990 supplemental pick on superfluous QB Steve Walsh.
Those are the highlights, and Indy's run over the past 10 years looks impressive by any measure, even against some of the better drafts in modern NFL history. Of course, those Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Dallas teams parlayed their big draft picks into 12 Super Bowl titles. Polian is still searching for No. 1.
Some teams, however, go entire decades without drafting a single impact player – like the Raiders, who haven't struck first-round gold since Charles Woodson in 1998.
Consider Tampa Bay. In 1995, they had two first-round picks and used them on two guys that would set the tone for a decade of defensive dominance and a Super Bowl championship in 2002: Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks.
Geniuses, right? Well, until the next draft, when they added two more defensive "stars" in the first round: DE Regan Upshaw and DT Marcus Jones, both total busts.
Polian, who also built the Buffalo Bills into a power in the early 1990s, has been nearly perfect making picks over his tenure with Indy. It's one of the reasons, besides the existence of Peyton Manning, that the Colts have been so great.
Not bad for a guy whose best 40 time is somewhere in the mid-6.0 range. Now, Polian has to do what he couldn't do in Buffalo, where he was GM as they team lost three of four straight Super Bowls – translate rampant regular-season success into a big, fat championship ring.
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