Re-Grading the Indianapolis Colts' Past 5 Drafts
To improve in the future, we must look to the past.
As the 2014 NFL draft inches closer, much of our analysis will be forward-looking. As such, we've looked at potential prospects, team needs and ideal fits. But today, we look behind us. How have the Colts drafted in previous seasons and how does that affect the team's makeup now?
Each of the successes or failures in recent drafts has affected what the Colts need now. So now we go back to those recent drafts, each of them since 2009, and re-grade the drafts. Our perceptions at the time mean little, how have the picks panned out and why?
2009: The Under-Appreciated Draft
Round 1, pick 27: RB Donald Brown, Connecticut
Round 2, pick 56: DT Fili Moala, USC
Round 3, pick 92: CB Jerraud Powers, Auburn
Round 4, pick 127: WR Austin Collie, BYU
Round 4, pick 136: DT Terrance Taylor, Michigan
Round 6, pick 201: QB Curtis Painter, Purdue
Round 7, pick 222: P Pat McAfee, West Virginia
Round 7, pick 236: T Jaimie Thomas, Maryland
While this draft has been lumped into the group of "late Bill Polian years" by fans and has a negative reputation, the 2009 draft was actually very productive. Brown and Moala both have become solid role players, while Powers became a starting cornerback.
Many largely view Brown as a disappointment, and he is, but he still adds value to the draft. Brown was one of the few bright spots on the 2011 Colts, and the 2013 Colts are likely without a playoff win without his contributions. It took longer than anybody would have liked, but he's developed into a starting-caliber back in the league. Brown's 2013 season was the best yards-per-carry average ever for a Colts running back with at least 100 carries, and his 2011 season was the second-highest since 1985.
Collie looked like a Pro Bowl wide receiver before his concussion issues, which highlights the biggest negative with this class: injuries. Injuries have hampered the careers of several of these players, notably Brown, Powers and Collie, who have still been solid players, but their impact has been limited.
Then there's McAfee, who has quietly become one of the league's best punters. He and Moala are the only ones of this draft class who have earned second contracts with Indianapolis.
Taylor, Painter and Thomas all can be lumped into a group of bad picks.
2010: The Under-Utilized Linebackers
Round 1, pick 31: DE Jerry Hughes, TCU
Round 2, pick 63: LB Pat Angerer, Iowa
Round 3, pick 94: CB Kevin Thomas, USC
Round 4, pick 129: G Jacques McClendon, Tennessee
Round 5, pick 162: TE Brody Eldridge, Oklahoma
Round 7, pick 238: DT Ricardo Mathews, Cincinnati
Round 7, pick 240: LB Kavell Conner, Clemson
Round 7, pick 246: DB Ray Fisher, Indiana
The 2010 draft fits in with those stereotypical drafts from late in Polian's career. Hughes was a disappointing first-round selection, although he was mis-used (and under-used) from the beginning. His turnaround in Buffalo really comes as little surprise considering how he flashed in Pagano's scheme in 2012. He can be a productive player still, but he was a huge disappointment in Indianapolis.
Pat Angerer and Kavell Conner both contributed from the get-go in Indianapolis, as injuries forced them into the lineup. Angerer was a fan favorite and one of the team's most fun players to watch in 2011 but injuries and an unfavorable scheme change set him back in the last two years. Conner was a fantastic find in the seventh round, and he arguably played the best of any of the 2010 Colts picks, but for whatever reason, he couldn't get onto the field in 2013, and he was signed by San Diego in the offseason.
Mathews was the only other real contributor from this draft, another sneaky find late in the draft. But he also wasn't helped by the scheme change in 2012, although he did make the team in each of the past two seasons. He signed in Houston this offseason.
Thomas was a big miss in this draft, with players like Jimmy Graham, Alterraun Verner, Mike Williams, Geno Atkins and Kam Chancellor all taken soon after. McClendon and Eldridge never turned into consistent contributors. Fisher was cut before Week 1 in 2010.
2011: Finally, a Real Left Tackle
Round 1, pick 22: OT Anthony Castonzo, Boston College
Round 2, pick 49: OT Ben Ijalana, Villanova
Round 3, pick 87: DT Drake Nevis, LSU
Round 4, pick 119: RB Delone Carter, Syracuse
Round 6, pick 188: CB Chris Rucker, Michigan State
As a parting gift, Polian finally graced the Colts with a real left tackle by drafting Anthony Castonzo in the first round of the 2014 draft, thus ending the curse of Tarik Glenn. Castonzo was hindered by injuries during his rookie year, but he has developed in to a mid-tier left tackle. Could he be improved upon? Of course, but he's dependable enough to where the Colts don't have to worry. He's been the Colts' best offensive lineman in each of the past two seasons.
Ijalana and Nevis fall into the far-too-full "hampered by injuries" category. Both players flashed high potential when on the field but injuries kept that from ever coming to fruition.
Fans loved Delone Carter for a period, but in the end he was a slow back with limited potential in goalline sets. Rucker was a late pick that never materialized.
Castonzo is what saves this draft. Without him, it goes down as one of the least-productive drafts in Colts history.
2012: The Future Is Now
Round 1, pick 1: QB Andrew Luck, Stanford
Round 2, pick 34: TE Coby Fleener, Stanford
Round 3, pick 64: TE Dwayne Allen, Clemson
Round 3, pick 92: WR T.Y. Hilton, Florida International
Round 5, pick 136: NT Josh Chapman, Alabama
Round 5, pick 170: RB Vick Ballard, Mississippi State
Round 6, pick 206: WR LaVon Brazill, Ohio
Round 7, pick 208: OL Justin Anderson, Georgia
Round 7, pick 214: LB Tim Fugger, Vanderbilt
Round 7, pick 253: QB Chandler Harnish, Northern Illinois
One of the greatest draft classes in Colts history, arguably the greatest, the 2012 draft class helped turn the Colts' "rebuilding" period into a forgotten phrase.
First, of course, there was Andrew Luck, the franchise savior and heir to the Peyton Manning throne. The most-hyped prospect since Manning, or Elway or some other historic player, Luck has done well to create his own image in Indianapolis, and he has quickly gained fans' loyalty after a messy breakup between Manning and the franchise. Was he a no-brainer pick? Absolutely, the Colts got lucky. But it doesn't change the fact that they picked him, and so far it's worked out perfectly.
But Luck wasn't the only pick from this draft, a difference between the Manning draft in 1998 and GM Ryan Grigson's initial draft. Fleener and Allen have developing to do, but they look to be the tight end pair of the future for Indianapolis. Chapman and Ballard have had some injuries but both have contributed thus far. Their full impact still is difficult to judge, however.
Perhaps the best pick of the draft, value-wise, was Hilton. Overlooked in pre-draft analysis, Hilton has become one of the most explosive receivers in the league, and he is a phenomenal talent to pair with Luck. His talents mesh with Reggie Wayne's perfectly, and he and Luck orchestrated one of the franchise's most thrilling playoff wins last season. He should be a Colt for a long, long time.
Anderson, Fugger and Harnish have all been cut (although Harnish has been on the practice squad), a disappointing trend in Grigson's early drafts. It's the only negative from the 2012 draft, but even with those disappointments, the draft is as productive as it gets.
2013: Here's Hoping
Round 1, pick 24: OLB Bjoern Werner, Florida State
Round 3, pick 86: OL Hugh Thornton, Illinois
Round 4, pick 121: OL Khaled Holmes, USC
Round 5, pick 139: DT Montori Hughes, Tennessee-Martin
Round 6, pick 192: S John Boyett, Oregon
Round 7, pick 230: RB Kerwynn Williams, Utah State
Round 7, pick 254: TE Justice Cunningham, South Carolina
It's difficult to really judge the 2013 draft, but if I must, there's nothing to say but that it's been disappointing. Werner and Thornton both saw the field in different roles in 2013 but were largely ineffective. Thornton certainly flashed ability, but it was mixed in amidst some very rough stretches. Werner has some improvements he can make, but he was one of the more disappointing rookie edge players in 2013.
Holmes and Hughes could barely get on the field as rookies, but the team still has kept a supportive voice, and the two could play big roles going forward.
None of the final three picks are on the team any longer and were cut by mid-September.
This draft has plenty of room to improve, and it will need to in order to save face. Right now, the grade has to be low but don't be fooled into thinking that it's the end for the class. There is still plenty of time to save the grade if guys like Thornton and Werner develop into dependable starters and Holmes and Hughes develop into role players, at least. But if that doesn't happen, this draft will go into the "vomit-inducing" category reserved for the 2007 debacle.