Former Indianapolis Colts general manager Bill Polian was talking about talent evaluation, draft strategies and lessons learned last night on Sirius NFL Radio.
At one point, the subject of “missed” players in the draft came up, and callers shared stories and asked questions about how the Pittsburgh Steelers “missed” or passed on Dan Marino, on and on.
Then Polian, an NFL veteran who orchestrated successful drafts for the Colts as well as the Buffalo Bills and Carolina Panthers over his 23–year career as a general manager, dropped a mini-bomb. He was talking about how sometimes the decisions a team makes in the draft can appear smart on the surface but that the calculated risk that is the NFL draft can sometimes blow up.
He then said that the Colts had heavy interest in the “TCU quarterback” in 2011 but went with “the tackle” instead since, at that time, then-starter Peyton Manning was healthy and coming off a strong 2010 season. However, once Manning’s neck condition became clear after the draft, it eventually forced him to miss the entire 2011 season, during which the Colts finished 2-14. Polian drew a straight line between that draft and his dismissal.
Let’s examine this, shall we?
The “TCU quarterback” was Andy Dalton and “the tackle” was Boston College lineman Anthony Castonzo. The Colts held the 22nd pick overall in the first round, a spot thought to be too early for Dalton. The Colts also held the 17th pick in the second round, the 49th pick overall, and many had Dalton projected to go off the board before that spot. The Colts could have dealt the first-round pick to move down and pluck Dalton and some picks, or moved up, like the Cincinnati Bengals eventually did, to grab him high in the second.
In fairness, Polian pointed out that since Manning was healthy at the time, the team figured the future Hall of Famer had four years left, which would have relegated Dalton to four years of waiting, basically like Aaron Rogers did behind Brett Favre with the Green Bay Packers.
Instead, the Colts took Castonzo, a wise move since he’s now the starting left tackle. Did the selection of Castonzo, and not Dalton, really cost Polian his job? Doubtful, since the awful 2011 showing had little to nothing to do with the tackle, and odds are that Dalton wouldn’t have made a significant of difference.
And now, the predictable what if: Had the Colts taken Dalton, Indianapolis would have been out of the Andrew Luck sweepstakes Where would he have landed? Let’s just say the trade talks that surrounded the No. 2 pick would have been nothing compared to No. 1.