Indy sports fans can be a nostalgic group. Preferring to live and dream in the past instead of realizing that the future looks bleak without major changes. When Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay announced in early January that he was relieving then GM Bill Polian of his duties (for some reason, we use these terms as a supposedly nice way to say “hey dude, don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out”), the collective gasp of horseshoe fans could be heard all around Colts country.
Shortly thereafter, Irsay announced the hiring of Ryan Grigson as the Colts new GM. Grigson has a reputation as a good evaluator of talent and had spent the previous 13 years working as a player scout or in player development. In other words, the guy spent years looking at college talent and deciding whether or not those players could translate their game in to the pro style. He was hired by the Philadelphia Eagles in 2004 as a regional scout and in 6 years had risen through the ranks to become the director of player personnel for Philly.
Grigson went to school at Purdue and while some outside the Indy area might have looked at the hire as the Colts hiring a “local boy”, Colts fans simply saw an unknown face and lamented the fact that the Colts were so totally blowing up their roster and whole organization in general.
But Grigson took it all in stride and went about doing what he knew how to do best. Evaluate young talent and decide on how best to integrate that talent in to the team. The drafting of Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck with the number one overall pick in the NFL draft last Thursday was one of the worst kept secrets over the past 4 months. In fact, if you want to criticize Grigson on any front, one could say Grigson’s press conference saying that everyone would find out who the Colts were picking on draft day was slightly comical. Grigson knew that the Colts were taking the most ready college QB to play in the NFL since John Elway.
Speaking of Elway, I do not agree that either of the Manning’s can be lumped in to that category. There were more than a couple of teams that had questions about Peyton and Eli’s readiness coming out of college. Elway (another Stanford quarterback in case you forgot) was universally recognized as being immediately ready to play in the NFL. Oddly enough, if Elway had not refused the then Baltimore Colts selection of him as the number one pick back in 1983 he might have entered the Hall of Fame with a horseshoe on his helmet instead of a Bronco.
Grigson understood that for Luck to succeed the Colts needed to surround him with talent. Their first move? Give Luck a wily veteran in Reggie Wayne who still has a couple of productive years left in him and can tutor Luck on the in’s and out’s of coverage’s, hot reads and route adjustments. In fact, the very first clue Colts fans should have had that it was Luck that the Colts were picking and not Baylor’s Robert Griffin III was that Indy re-signed Wayne. If Indianapolis were taking Griffin then they would have kept Pierre Garcon whose athleticism would have complemented Griffin’s.
So the top pick was a gimme for Grigson and Colts head coach Chuck Pagano. There are many Colts fans that don’t even believe that Grigson and Pagano had a say in the selection of Luck preferring to think that the top pick was selected by Irsay himself. Whether that is true or not we will likely never know, but if Luck was Irsay’s pick, then the rest of the draft was a clinic on having a plan and executing it by Grigson.
Grigson’s draft was so impressive, that even Polian had to tip his cap to Grigson and Pagano’s draft plan. Many “experts” noted that the Colts draft plan looked very similar to the drafts of the former GM Polian. Surround your top player with weapons for him to use and let them all develop together and develop the kind of chemistry that former Colts QB Peyton Manning enjoyed for many years at the helm of the Colts offense.
The pickup of NT Josh Chapman from Alabama in the 5th round might be the variance on who Polian would choose. Chapman is 6’0” 316 pound nose tackle who should fit right in to the new Colts 3-4 defensive scheme. Chapman was one of the few players in the draft who had experience in the 3-4 in college and despite a knee injury suffered last season that caused some teams to question his durability, his experience should provide immediate dividends and comes as a value pick.
The selections of Luck’s Stanford teammate TE Colby Fleener and Clemson TE Dwayne Allen give the Colts the top two tight ends available in the draft. Both have good hands and will allow the Colts to run a two tight end formation (just like Manning ran his first few seasons) to allow for max protection when needed and offensive weapons for Luck to gun to.
Third round pick T.Y. Hilton is a speedster who can provide a deep threat but more importantly might provide Indianapolis the return man that they have been searching for since the days of Terrence Wilkens.
Sixth round pick WR LaVon Brazill from Ohio is a receiver who has no problem going over the middle. A player that fits the traditional Colts offense of using slants and seam routs down the middle.
Of the ten picks the Colts had in the draft, seven were used for offensive players. Even Mr. Irrelevant, QB Chandler Harnish from Northern Illinois who was the offensive MVP of the MAC Conference, shows good planning on Grigson’s and Pagano’s part. Harnish has a strong arm and excellent mobility. His moniker of Mr. Irrelevant may not be earned as his value as a scout team QB cannot be overlooked. Many coaches believe games are won and lost during the week of practice leading up to the game and Harnish’s abilities may provide the challenges in practices to help develop this fledgling defense.
Some talking (and writing) heads chastised the Colts for not focusing more on the defensive side of the ball where Indianapolis ranked towards the bottom of the league. But the Colts also ranked at near rock bottom in almost all offensive categories last season with the loss of Manning for the season being the obvious reason.
Defense might win you championships, but offense puts fannies in the seats. At least in the short term while this team takes the baby steps necessary to return to the dominance they enjoyed for over ten years. Most fans will put up with a team that loses but is at least entertaining to watch. Indianapolis is a team in transition defensively going from a 4-3 to a 3-4 and Pagano has stated that Indy will play a hybrid this season switching back and forth. As the team transitions and decides which personnel will be able to make the defensive transition and what needs are going to have to be addressed in the next draft, Grigson has given the offense a shot to be at least competitive.
The Colts won’t be fighting for a playoff spot. The schedule is favorable enough that if Luck and the offense progress quickly, the Colts could finish 6-10 or 7-9. Grigson has given Colts fans a reason to be optimistic and in his first draft as a NFL GM, he’s shown that he gets it.