NEW YORK – Former Indianapolis Colts president Bill Polian had a different view, but the scene was familiar.
"You could say that," Polian said with a hearty laugh as he left Radio City Music Hall. Polian is working for ESPN these days as a draft analyst and personnel expert. Few men in the history of the NFL have built more good teams and picked more great players than Polian. And what the Colts did on Friday night was take a page straight out of Polian's book on team building.
After selecting quarterback Andrew Luck with the No. 1 overall pick on Thursday, the Colts didn't take a balanced approach such as grab personnel on defense or focus on the offensive line. The Colts kept getting skill position players. That started with Luck's teammate at Stanford, tight end Coby Fleener, with the second pick of the second round on Friday. It continued with another tight end, Clemson's Dwayne Allen, with the top pick of the third round and then speedy wide receiver T.Y. Hilton of FIU.
Polian stopped short of taking credit for the plan, even if it was familiar.
"I think it was just about being able to line up," Polian said. "They only had one tight end, Brody Eldridge, on the roster and he's not a receiver. He's just a blocker. You could see that what they were doing was getting people so that they can just line up and play. That's the first thing you have to do."
All of that's true, but there is a second element to what Polian perfected during his 14 years with the Colts. It's a simple philosophy: Once you have a great quarterback, keep supporting him with weapons.
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It's not enough to say that a guy like Peyton Manning – and now hopefully Luck – can make the players around him great. You have to get players who can make his job easier. You have to install a system that is consistent, both in philosophy and coaches.
During Polian's run with Manning, the Colts had Marvin Harrison already and then continued to draft more skill-position players. There was running back Edgerrin James, wide receiver Reggie Wayne, tight end Dallas Clark and running back Joseph Addai. Although not every high pick was successful (wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez and running back Donald Brown were notable flops), the Colts refused to skimp on weapons for their great passer.
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Other great teams do the same. Starting in 2007, New England coach Bill Belichick has put immense resources into supporting quarterback Tom Brady. The Giants have continued to help Eli Manning even after losing receivers like Amani Toomer and Plaxico Burress (the Giants used their first two picks to take a running back and a wide receiver on Thursday and Friday). Detroit drafted Matthew Stafford in 2009 and then got tight end Brandon Pettigrew, and running back Jahvid Best the next year. In Carolina last year, the Panthers took Cam Newton at No. 1 overall and immediately got two veteran tight ends (Jeremy Shockey and Greg Olsen) to help, leading to one of the greatest rookie seasons ever for a quarterback.
Again, the concept is simple: Feed the beast. Don't take a great quarterback and expect him to do it all himself.
The flipside of this concept has been seen frequently over the years. In 2005, San Francisco took quarterback Alex Smith with the No. 1 overall pick. Aside from tight end Vernon Davis in 2006, the 49ers didn't take a wideout higher than the third round until 2009. They tried to patchwork the receiver position. The result was they had to patch together Smith's psyche when he got frustrated with the lack of help.
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In Houston, the Texans got wide receiver Andre Johnson to help David Carr, but not much after that. In St. Louis, the Rams didn't move fast enough last year to surround quarterback Sam Bradford with help and both general manager Billy Devaney and coach Steve Spagnuolo paid the price with their jobs.
Humbled by the fact that he was passed over on Thursday night, Fleener didn't sound the least bit presumptuous on Friday after being reunited with Luck.
"It's nice to be talked about like some of the other great tight ends in this league, but I've never played a down in this league," Fleener said. "I'm just thankful they have created those opportunities for me."
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Likewise, Polian could have taken an opportunity to gloat, to say that the Colts were doing what he would have done if he had stayed. He did say that Fleener reminds him a lot of a young Clark and Allen is similar to former Colts tight end Marcus Pollard.
"The circumstances are different, but I think what they did was great," Polian said. "I thought they really did a great job of filling some important needs and I'm going to talk about that in my wrap-up [on Sunday]. I'm really happy for them and I think they're on the right track."
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