Indianapolis Colts 2011 NFL Draft Preview

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If there’s one thing that can be expected when it comes to the Indianapolis Colts in the NFL Draft, it’s the unexpected.

Don’t believe what any mock draft says; chances are it won’t be right.

Why do the Colts annually defy seemingly conventional wisdom each April? It historically has worked, but is Indianapolis no longer executing its own strategy well enough?

By Drew Allen

The Colts generally have adopted the  “best player available” drafting strategy under now-Vice Chairman Bill Polian. Time and again, Indianapolis has passed on opportunities to draft a player who would fill a team need and instead has opted for the top player on the board when the team went on the clock.

There exists an abundance of examples: skill-position players Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark were the Colts’ first-round picks in 2001 and 2003, respectively, when analysts pointed to defense as the franchise’s biggest need. Same case with Anthony Gonzalez in 2007 and Donald Brown in 2009. Last year, most mockers had Indy selecting an offensive lineman like Rodger Saffold in the first round, and the Colts instead took defensive end Jerry Hughes — the only remaining player on the board whom Polian gave a first-round grade.

Plenty of “BPA” picks have panned out for Indy, including Wayne and Clark, but several recent ones, such as Gonzalez, Brown and Hughes, have yet to make a significant impact on the team. It’s a predicament, especially seeing a guy like Saffold become a quality starter from the left tackle position as a rookie in St. Louis.

What might concern your typical Colts fan, though, is not that the “BPA” approach isn’t working but rather that the team’s front office isn’t correctly determining the best players in the draft.

I tend to believe the latter theory. First of all, it really irks me to hear analysts talk about a certain team’s “biggest need” heading into the draft. If you ask me, every team has the same biggest need: more talent. If an executive has an eye for ability to succeed at the pro level, as Polian has had for many years, that talent eventually can morph into a product capable of winning on the field.

That’s why I believe the Colts might have been better off taking Saffold in the first round last year. It’s not so much that he he would have filled a need as it is that he was, in fact, the best player available to the Colts. His extensive work coupled with Hughes’ extremely limited impact in Indy in 2010 strongly suggest this.

Are the Colts not seeing which players in the draft are more talented? Actually, a few observers think Indy has been need-picking lately (ex. defensive tackles Fili Moala and Terrance Taylor in the 2009 draft when it could have had Jaguars DT Terrance Knighton) and consider that the cause of the organization’s multiple recent whiffs.

Perhaps part of the problem has been the Colts’ usual first-round draft spot: the high 20s and early 30s. That won’t be the case this year. Indy picks 22nd overall, its highest slot since 2002 (provided the Colts don’t trade out of it).

Who will be there at No. 22? It’s difficult to say. What’s even harder to determine is who the Colts will take; as usual, one can expect the unexpected.

A lot of mocks naturally have Indy taking an offensive lineman. Predicting that is dicey because offensive linemen, particularly tackles, generally see inherent increases in their draft stocks simply because of the position they play. That’s why I have a hard time guaranteeing a guy like Colorado tackle Nate Solder or Wisconsin tackle Gabe Carimi — both guys get mocked at No. 22 quite regularly — will be available for the Colts to select.

But let’s say both are available and a guy like Alabama wideout Julio Jones falls (unrealistic, I know, but it’s hypothetical like any other mock). You take Jones. Best talent on the board. Linemen late in the first round are always a risk anyway.

I can’t read Polian’s mind (or his draft board), but I can offer some musings on who might be available when the Colts go on the clock Thursday.

  • Nate Solder, OT, Colorado. Seems like the most common prediction I’m seeing. At 6-foot-8, 319-pound convert from tight end, Solder definitely has the footwork to play left tackle — actually, he has exceptional footwork for the position. I do, however, have concerns about his history at tight end. Remember Jason Smith, the tackle from Baylor whom the Rams selected No. 2 overall in 2009? He also was a converted tight end. Smith came in raw and never developed, getting beat out by Saffold for the left tackle spot. Solder has the same rawness despite great play in college, though his upside might cause Polian to give him the nod.
  • Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin. I bet Colts fans would drool at the prospect of having this guy in Ryan Diem’s usual spot. At 6-foot-7 and 314 pounds, Carimi could carry on a fine tradition of Wisconsin blockers in the NFL (search Joe Thomas). However, is it not a concern that he only tends to be mocked in the 20s? He certainly projects as a right tackle, which is a less valuable position than its counterpart on the left side, but still …
  • Corey Liuget, DT, Illinois. It’s no surprise the Fighting Illini finished first in the Big Ten — a rushing conference — in rush defense with this fella clogging up the middle. Liuget, who ranked in the top 10 in the Big Ten in both sacks and tackles for loss, might be the defensive tackle Polian has tried so hard to find for so many years. Remember, however, that truly gifted defensive tackles tend to see their stock rise, and Liuget might not be there when the Colts go on the clock.
  • Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado. The Colts like their starting corners (Kelvin Hayden and Jerraud Powers) when healthy, but that’s the thing: both tend to miss a ton of time. Smith is quite a talent, but he has a knack for trouble, something Indy is widely believed to avoid (a bit of an erroneous presumption, in my opinion). With Kevin Thomas’ status for the season up in the air after missing all his rookie season, Smith could be enticing.
  • Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama. Hey, best player available, right? Ingram might not have much breakaway ability, but he’s got a great football IQ and was incredibly productive in the SEC, winning the Heisman Trophy. Factor in that Joseph Addai might be tough to re-sign and Donald Brown hasn’t produced as well as the team had hoped. Indy’s offensive line hasn’t offered runners much in recent years, but Ingram has great vision and could potentially take some heat off quarterback Peyton Manning. Don’t be surprised.

As for the later rounds, watch out for Polian to grab a receiver. Reggie Wayne is no spring chicken, and several other guys at the position have had injury concerns. Couple that with the BPA strategy: there’s a ton of receiving talent to be had later in this draft. Polian might opt for Troy’s Jerrel Jernigan or the local product, Indiana’s Tandon Doss, as insurance if Austin Collie’s concussion problem lingers or if Gonzalez once again is unable to play.

There also has been talk of the Colts’ being interested in selecting a quarterback after the team worked out Nevada’s Colin Kaepernick and TCU’s Andy Dalton. While I can see where Indy might be interested in finding a guy to groom behind Manning or simply to be a backup, I doubt a preferable option will be available unless the Colts trade up to select one. Needless to say, I doubt the team does that.

But again, I can only offer those musings. With the Colts and the draft, expect the unexpected.

 

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Comments

  1. paulmbanks says

    I’d go OL or DL in the first round, since this really will go down as the “trenches draft” so much talent on both lines, and a big talent drop off at all the other positions

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