For instance, when was the last time Colts president Bill Polian blew a first round pick? Every one of his first rounders with the Colts has at the very least become a solid starter. You'd have to go back to 1996 when Polian took Tim Biakabutuka with the Panthers to find a Polian first rounder who could be called a bust. And Biakabutuka probably would have become a good player if he had been healthy.
Polian is the king of the draft. Of the 79 draft picks Polian has used since he has been in Indianapolis, 38 of them have become starters, and 11.3 percent of those players have become Pro Bowlers.
Polian's secret? Well, if you look at his history you'll see some trends. He likes big producers from big schools (hello, Peyton Manning). He isn't scared off of prospects who are considered too short or too light (see Freeney, Dwight, and Sanders, Bob). And he has a deep understanding of the types of players who fit in the Colts offensive and defensive systems (how many teams would have cut Robert Mathis?).
Marrying the player to the system is an underrated aspect of drafting. Some teams never get that. They think they can take any great college player and plug him into their system, and expect it to work.
The Patriots, with Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli working in tandem, fit the player to the system as well as anyone. Think about some of their draft choices who are square pegs in square holes: Vince Wilfork, Richard Seymour, Logan Mankins, Ben Watson. They have chosen seven Pro Bowlers in eight years.
The Cardinals fit into this category. Yet Rod Graves has been one of the most remarkable drafters in recent years. Graves has been in charge of the Cardinals draft for five years, and 18 of his 33 picks became NFL starters. During that period, he worked with Dave McGinnis, Dennis Green and Ken Whisenhunt.
Also among the best drafters in recent years have been the Ravens and Chargers. Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome is in the Hall of Fame as a tight end, but he could make it as a drafter too.
Newsome has surrounded himself with great evaluators — Shack Harris and Phil Savage, who went on to run their own teams, and Eric DeCosta, who will be running his own team soon. But through a dozen drafts, Newsome has been the constant.
No current general manager has picked a higher percentage of Pro Bowl players than A.J. Smith of the Chargers. Twelve percent of his picks have gone to Honolulu. The Pro Bowlers: Philip Rivers, Nate Kaeding, Shawn Merriman, Antonio Cromartie and Marcus McNeill.
Other teams aren't set up for player development.
The Redskins are more inclined to sign a free agent than to force a young player into the lineup. The result is they have drafted only nine starters over six years.
The Bucs under Jon Gruden are a veteran-oriented team. Only 27 percent of the team's draft picks over the last five years have become starters. It took Barrett Ruud three seasons to become the team's starting middle linebacker — but the second round pick from 2005 played well enough last year to make you wonder if he shouldn't have been starting as a rookie.
Drafting the right players is only part of the picture. Developing them is the other part.
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