I admit it. I don't do a lot of draft coverage. The reason?
When it comes to the Colts, it's all just talk.
There are at least four prime reasons the Colts defy the draft experts every year.
1. The Colts use their own scouts.
I know this sounds like something every team does, but it's not. In fact, most of the teams in the NFL use a group scouting service that feeds information to all the teams that help pay for it. There are two primary scouting bodies in the NFL (BLESTO and The National). Together they service 25 of the 32 teams. Only the Colts, Pats, Ravens, Bears, Browns, Raiders, and Redskins employ their own scouting staffs.
The result is that Indy often has different grades on players than the rest of the league. That's not just because the Colts are looking for different things (they are), but also because the Colts are using a different set of eyes than most of the other teams.
2. The Colts aren't afraid to trade, but they don't always trade.
There is simply no way to predict trades in the NFL. We know the Colts are willing to wheel and deal in the first two rounds, having moved down in 2001 and 2004 to draft Reggie Wayne and Bob Sanders and moved up to draft Ugoh in 2007. The Colts like who they like, and if they think that player is available to them in a later slot, they will trade down to get him. However, lots of people thought the Colts should have moved down in 2002 before drafting Dwight Freeney. The Colts knew that Freeney was a hotter prospect than the experts assumed, however, so they didn't deal down, and just took the passer rusher.
The moral of this story is that you can't trust the Colts to always do the same thing every time. Bill Polian will deal if he feels there's value in it, but won't trade just because other people think he should. The Colts keep a bead on what other teams plan on doing as well, so they have a feel for whether or not the guys they target will be available to them.
3. The Colts use a secret metric to evaluate players.
Scouting is great, but the Colts focus on acquiring undervalued talents. To that end, they employ a mathematical system that players must measure up to in order to be considered for selection. In other words, it doesn't matter what any media draft expert thinks about a player, unless he has access to the Colts 'secret sauce' he has no way of knowing whether Indy would even consider the guy. Because the Colts' entire philosophy is based on valuing what other teams don't, Indy is always going to be going against the grain. Mel Kiper could know for a fact that 25 other teams love a player, but that would have no bearing on how the Colts' feel about him. The operative word in Indianapolis is 'value'.
4. Need doesn't enter into it.
That's perhaps a little overstating it. In the past, Polian has talked about the draft in terms of the intersection of talent and need. In other words, if a player is super talented, it doesn't matter if the team needs him or not. This philosophy directly led to the selections of Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark. At a time when most of the league expected the Colts to draft for defense, Indy went with the best players available. You could argue that this is why Don Brown and not Ziggy Hood is a Colt today. You just can't look at the Colts roster, guess at a weak spot and figure they have to fill it in the first round of the draft. The Colts do address trouble areas through the draft, but if they feel they have a chance to draft a more talented, more valuable player, they'll do it. They aren't slaves to the 'need board'.
Having said of that, I've never had a harder time figuring out what the Colts will do than I have this year. Two years ago, a lot of us were hoping for Anthony Gonzalez. Last year, we guessed that the Colts would go DT, RB in the first two rounds, and they went RB, DT. This year, the only thing the Colts really need is new offensive tackles. However, because the recent record for the Horse in drafting offensive lineman hasn't been strong, it's hard to get too excited about a new crop of projects.
My Best Guess: Ultimately, my best guess is that the Colts have a bead on a left tackle. I believe they cut Lilja planning to move CJ to guard, and I think they did that because they think there will be a good LT option at 31.
What I Expect: I believe the Colts will draft at least two corners during this draft, but I would be surprised if either them come in the first two rounds. Since 2002, the Colts have drafted at least two defensive backs in every draft but 2008 (0) and 2009 (1-Powers in the third round). The Colts need another corner or two, but they love to get 'value' with those picks, so look for them to spend later round picks on corners.
What Won't Surprise Me: I haven't seen any player in any mock draft that screams "I'm a Colt!" the way Gonzo did. I don't know, but this smells like a deal down kind of year.
What Will Suprise Me: If the Colts trade up. Someone wrote me last week (a fan of another team), saying the Colts should trade way up and go for Suh. I said, "Sure, if they'll take the this year's 1 and 2 and next year's 1. Otherwise, forget it." If the Colts do have their eye on someone and they feel like they can't get him without moving up, they'll pull the trigger. I just don't see that guy out there right now, though. If he is there, I'd guess he was a pass rusher.
What I Secretly Hope For: A new tight end. I know. Too many weapons already, but I look at Dallas Clark and the career numbers for tight ends and they tend to drop off fast. I have my doubts about Dallas's ability to be productive much past the 2011 season. I would shed no tears if the Colts nabbed his replacement now. If the Colts see an oddball TE that they think can become a dynamic weapon in the passing game, they should take him.