Kyle Rodriguez takes a look at the history of Bill Polian's drafting for the Colts, starting with 1998.
Writer's note: This series was something I worked on throughout the 2011 season, producing years 1998-2003 on Coltsider. With the firing of Bill Polian, and the onset of Colts Authority, it seemed reasonable to repost the articles written, as many have not yet read them, as well as to continue where I left off. This is the first part of the series, and the rest will follow. (Originally posted September 29th, 2011)
In lieu of the grumbling that has persisted over the past two years about Bill Polian and the Colts' front office in general, I've embarked on a project that has, and will, taken more work than any previous writing project of mine. I'll be going through each draft one by one, judging each pick on a few key points in order to more fully understand how well the Colts have drafted over the last 13 years:
This will be measured by the player's approximated value (AV), a stat created by the good folks at Pro Football Reference. AV is PFR's attempt to put a single number on a player's production for one season. While AV is not a perfect statistic, it's the easiest way to compare player's production across years.
We'll be averaging the player's total AV over their entire career to get his season averages. That way, we can judge some of the younger players on a similar level as players whose career is over. The player's AV will be compared to the average AV for that pick over the past 13 years.
So, for example, Peyton Manning's total career AV (220) would be averaged over his 13 years to get 16.9. Then, I did the same process for all other #1 overall picks in the last 13 years, and found what the average AV (per season) was for a first overall pick. We'll also look at the median AV, in order to balance out the outlying picks. While this system is obviously not perfect, it's just one way to judge all players' career production on a somewhat level playing field. (Data is through the 2010 season, as 2011 data is not complete at the time when the numbers were run)
Here, I'll judge how the team needed the player drafted. I'll inspect the previous year's team; the greater the need, the more favorably it will reflect upon the front office. It doesn't do the team much good if the team is already set at that position.
3. Pre-Draft Rankings
While the need is important to consider, the BPA strategy should be considered as well. This gives a team credit for getting a steal of a player, while punishing them for reaching on a prospect, especially if it doesn't work out.
For this, we'll be taking a look at the players directly after the Colts' pick. This will give us an idea of who the Colts may have missed on when taking their actual pick. So, with that out of the way, let's move on to the first draft of the Manning/Polian era: 1998.
#1: QB Peyton Manning
Career AV (Season Average): 16.9
Average #1 AV: 8.05
Median #1 AV: 8.4
Manning's career has been one of the most productive in the history of the NFL, and his AV numbers reflect that quite adequately. Manning's average was over twice the average number one overall pick, and by far the highest. It's fairly easy to say that the Colts nailed this one in terms of that.
While Jim Harbaugh had some good seasons with the Colts, he wasn't the franchise quarterback the Colts needed. In 1997, Harbaugh had decent rate stats (2nd in completion %, 8th in passer rating), but couldn't be relied upon to carry the team. He was also 34 at this point, and the Colts needed a quarterback.
Pre-Draft Rankings: (A)
Manning deserved to be the number one pick, and was widely touted as either the first or second overall pick.
Average Career AV for next 10 picks: 48.9
Manning's Career AV: 159
The first round pick was going to be either Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf, this much was positive. The Colts made the right pick with Manning. Leaf went on to be a huge bust, while Manning could be the best quarterback of all time.
Overall: (A++++) Manning has been the savior of the Colts' franchise, the GOAT, and has led the Colts on an unprecedented run of success. This pick was an absolute home run, grand slam, hole in one, etc.
#32 WR Jerome Pathon
Career AV: 4.125
Average AV: 4.9
Median AV: 4.5
Pathon's production wasn't terrible, but it was below average. He started for two years at wide receiver with the Colts, but had his final year cut short by injury problems.
The Colts' receivers during the 1997 season were Marvin Harrison, Aaron Bailey, Sean Dawkins, Chris Doering, Nate Jacquest, Kaipo McGuire, and Brian Stablein. Stablein, Dawkins, Bailey, and Harrison were the only receivers to consistently get time. Harrison, of course, would be a mainstay for years to come. Dawkins was a decent number two receiver, but was on the last year of his contract with the Colts. Stablein and Bailey were mainly regulated to return duties, Stablein was gone in 1998, and Bailey only lasted one more year. The Colts needed quality receivers to give a rookie Manning some weapons to work with. There were bigger problems however, as the defense was awful, bringing down the final grade just a tad.
Pre-Draft Rankings: (C+)
Pathon was rated as the 10th best receiver going into the draft, but was the 4th one picked by the Colts. However, he was expected to go in the 2nd round due to his ability to return kicks/punts. So, his place drafted was as expected, but there were better targets left on the board (according to the draft experts). Although, to be fair, Pathon had a better career than all of them, save Hines Ward.
Average Career AV for next 10 picks: 32.1
Pathon's Career AV: 29
The next few draft picks weren't great, but the Colts did miss out on at least one player that could have helped shore up their defense. Corey Chavous was picked up on the very next pick, and was a decent safety, making the Pro Bowl in 2003.
Overall: (C) Pathon didn't have the greatest career, in fact it wasn't even average for his draft position. But, the intent was good here, and the Colts did get some production from him. The Colts needed a receiver, and in a draft largely void of receivers that panned out, I can't put too much blame on them.
#71 WR E.G. Green Production: (D)
Career AV: 2.33
Average AV: 3.72
Median AV: 3.17
Green averaged 18 catches a season for the Colts, and only had a positive DVOA in his final year, which he only played seven games.
As stated above, WR was one of the Colts biggest needs, although with the pick before, it's questionable why the Colts didn't go defense here.
Pre-Draft Rankings: (A-)
Green was projected to go in the second round (actually ranked about Pathon), and the Colts snatched him up when he slid to the Colts' third round selection. The only reason this gets notched down is that Hines Ward was still on the board, getting picked late in that round. Ward was ranked above Green before the draft (slightly), but slid due to his inexperience.
Average Career AV for next 10 picks: 26.7
Green's Career AV: 7
Out of the next few players, only Jeremiah Trotter and Ahman Green had notable careers. Neither of them filled a big need for the Colts at the time anyway, but Green's lack of production is still underwhelming.
Overall: (C) While Green's career was not as productive as Pathon's, and was far below average, it looked like a steal of a pick at the time. There weren't many other viable options at this point in the draft (although I still hold that passing on Ward was a big mistake). A good attempt, but the pick just didn't work out in this case, partially due to injuries.
#93 OG Steve McKinney
Career AV: 5.1
Average AV: 2.47
Median AV: 1.71
McKinney had a very good career for his position, averaging an AV of 5.1 over a 10 year career. McKinney had all of his best years with the Colts, and was a starter all four years he was in Indy. In fact, only one #93 pick had a better average AV than McKinney since, and that was Tony Moaeki, who had an incredible rookie season.
The Colts needed an offensive guard in 1998, Doug Widell and Tarik Glenn were the starters in 1997, and Glenn was moving to tackle in '98, while Widell retired after nine years in the league. Again, the Colts could have gone defense here, but guard definitely was a big need that McKinney filled.
Pre-Draft Rankings: (A)
McKinney was predicted to go in the fourth round, but was actually graded as the fourth best guard. He was the sixth one taken. The Colts snatched him up at the right time.
Average Career AV for next 10 picks: 22.2
McKinney's Career AV: 42
Nobody really sticks out from the next few picks, McKinney was the guy here.
Overall: (A) The Colts absolutely made the right pick here. McKinney gave the Colts good production all throughout his rookie contract. The pick was the perfect choice at the time, and it worked out.
#135 LB Antony Jordan
Career AV: 0.33
Average AV: 1.4
Median AV: 1.17
Jordan only lasted one year with the Colts, and was cut the next offseason.
The Colts needed to upgrade their defense, including linebacker, but LB wasn't as big of a need as defensive end or secondary.
Pre-Draft Rankings: (D-)
Jordan was ranked as a 7th rounder or UFA before the draft,, but came out of nowhere in the fifth. Polian took a gamble here on a player he liked, and it failed.
Average Career AV for next 10 picks: 10
Jordan's Career AV: 1
Not a whole lot going on in the fifth round, but the Colts did miss on LB Ike Reese, who ended up having a solid career as a depth LB and special teamer. For what it's worth, Reese was ranked above Jordan before the draft.
Overall: (D-) Just a bad pick all around here. The Colts took a risk on a player, and it didn't pay off.
#190 OG Aaron Taylor
Taylor never played a down in the NFL. This late in the draft, it's not that uncommon, which is why it's not an F.
See McKinney. Again though, grade slightly lower since it's been addressed once already in the draft.
Pre-Draft Rankings: (A-)
Taylor was the recipient of the Outland Trophy in '97 (top interior lineman), and was regarded as a fourth round prospect. Scouts saw Taylor as a solid player, but with limited potential due to unexceptional physical measurables. For the Colts to get him with their seventh round pick was a steal.
Average Career AV for next 10 picks: 10.9
Taylor's Career AV: 0
This is the beginning of the seventh round, so there really isn't much to compare to. Offensive linemen Ephraim Salaam and Trey Teague were two players picked 9 and 10 picks later, respectively. Both players turned out to have solid NFL careers. Note: Taylor was rated ahead of both in pre-draft rankings.
Overall: (B) I give the Colts credit here. Taylor looked like a steal of a pick in the seventh round. He looked to be at least a good depth at guard/center, perhaps eventually a starter. He just didn't pan out though, after the Colts cut him, the Bears picked him up. He didn't work out there either. He was just a good college player who didn't work out in the pros.
#231 S Corey Gaines
Gaines was a compensatory pick, and didn't work out. There is virtually no information on him on the internet. I did find that Gaines happened to play in NFL England for a year, for the Frankfurt Galaxy. Note: for #231 picks, eight out of the last 13 have not made any impact at all in the NFL. So, a miss here is fairly common. Not to mention that out of the next 10 picks, none accumulated any points for their Career AV.
1998 Draft Overall
Sum of Colts' career AV (averages): 28.81
Sum of average picks: 23.33 (Medians: 19.95)
Total for Colts' CarAV: 239
Total of next 10 picks' CarAV averages: 150.8
Total Context +/-: +88.2 (Basically all due to Manning)
Hit %: 2/7- 28.6%
The 1998 was a huge success, mainly due to the excellence of Peyton Manning. While that much is obvious, it's good to note that the Colts did a decent job on their other picks as well.
In hindsight, you'd wish to have picks such as Jerome Pathon and E.G. Green back, but when you look at the picks in context, it's hard to fault the Colts for them. Sometimes players just don't work out, it's part of drafting.
You can fault the Colts, however, for the pick of Antony Jordan. The Colts' scouts must have really liked him for some reason, because I can't explain at all why he would be drafted that early. But, with that being the sole glaring error on this draft, I give the draft as a whole an A-. More production from the two receivers, or a more plausible pick in the fifth round, would have bumped it up to an A for me.
You could argue that this is more in the B/B+ range, due to the risky Jordan pick and lack of production from Green and Pathon. However, I think that the grand slam of Peyton Manning and Steve McKinney more than makes up for it.
That's all for good ole' 1998, next week I'll be looking at Edgerrin James and the 1999 draft.
I'm not as negative on Green. I always thought he was a good player but he just couldn't stay on the field. And if you remember, the Colts were a step ahead of Tennessee in the 99 playoff game until Green broke his leg. He had the talent but just couldn't stay healthy.
Great article! I didn't read it the first time around, and I'm glad you have decided to repost it. Looking forward to the others.
Thanks for reposting this Kyle. I didn't read this back in Sep. so it's new to me. Very interesting stuff. Looking forward for the rest of the drafts. Very interesting to revisit these drafts with the added perspective of hindsight. Just out of curiosity, what would you grade this draft if we had selected Leaf? D-?
@Peyton for President Fun Fact: Ryan Leaf had an AV of -1 in his rookie year. lol
It's pretty crazy to think of the difference one decision made for the franchise. When you think of it in those terms, you can understand why Irsay wouldn't want to be the guy who passed up on Luck....... AV of -1 lol. You have to give some credit to the Chargers for rebounding from that historic bust. I wonder if we would have gotten Eli if the Colts took Leaf? Or would we would have ended up with Rivers? What if? I think it's safe to say Polian would have been gone long before this year if that was the case.
@Peyton for President Leaf had an average AV of .667. He was a huge bust. I'd give that pick a grade overall of D-. Overall, the Draft would have netted about 12 points, with the average being 23. So, yeah, D- seems about right. :D
Man, as a Washington alum, I am appalled how badly the Huskies have done for the Colts. Emtman (1st round) good but too injured, Pathon (2nd Rd okay, but nothing special, Triplett (2nd round, okay, but nothing special--minor revival under Dungy). Makes me hesitate to advise drafting RB Chris Polk in the 2nd round. A starter from day 1, three 1,000+ yard seasons, good catching passes. Oh, wait, he's a Husky. Bad history there, no thanks. Bummer. I liked Pathon, but LOVED McKinney.
@Bobman I think this "analysis" suffers from the same unrealistic-expectations-problemas saying the recent drafts sucked.
Okay, but nothing special is not bad for a 2nd round pick. You shouldn't be appaled.
The Colts could have had Hines Ward. Wow... I wonder how close they were to taking him.instead of Pathon.
Great work again Kyle. It's so much fun to revisit this stuff with better perspective that time provides.
As always, Manning masks some problems here. You can see that aside from Manning it's not much different than later drafts. Manning is an aberration of untold proportions. If you take someone else the rest of this draft looks ho-hum. Steve McKinney would be the hit in that scenario.
So for the folks that want to say the last few have stunk let me ask this: without Manning was the 1998 draft better than 2008? Not really--Garçon and Tamme alone are better than this draft minus 18. 2009? Not a chance! Powers, Collie and McAfee definitely outperform this group.
The point is that Peyton Manning is a once-in-a-lifetime pick. No matter what they picked after it's a letdown. That doesn't mean Polian's last few drafts were bad.
Nicely put. Manning ALWAYS screws up Football outsiders' computer projections--there's just no way to measure his impact. Even among other A+ players. He is the iceberg, the rest of us can only HOPE to be the titanic. I have no idea what that means, but it sounded good....
@Bobman You're so right. There's a great study out there that says you're more likely to get Brad Johnson than Peyton Manning:
That's why it's so impossible for us to know what Luck will do. Manning was a no-brainer in hindsight but at the time the media was split as to who was the best QB. What fans should expect with Luck is Brad Johnson--that's the fair, reasonable expectation to have based on average production from a QB selected first overall.
Manning is just that much of an anomaly.
I just want to keep out of Art Schlichter, Heath Shuler, Rick Mirer, Akili Smith, Dan McGwire territory. NO... that's not true, I want Peyton version 2.0. And much like after Elway's or Marino's departure, hard to even contemplate. Even getting somebody like Jake Plummer or Matt Hasselbeck or Chad Pennington would probably provide a handful of playoff games and pro bowls, but would still be a disappointment. I may get over being spoiled, but I don't wanna....
A big mystery for me is whatever happened to Anthony Gonzalez? He was just a stud for two years, got hurt, and seemed to be back healthy, but can hardly break the lineup. His WR AV his first two years was at least average for a 1st round WR, probably higher. But for a whole career... he's a mystery, wrapped in a riddle, wearing a blue horseshoe.