Ten years ago next month, the Indianapolis Colts selected quarterback
Before Manning arrived, the Colts had gone 20 consecutive years without a 10-win season and had made the postseason just three times in that span. Since taking Manning, Indianapolis has been a playoff team eight times in 10 years, with six division titles, a Super Bowl championship, and an average of 10.5 wins per regular season -- ranking second in the NFL behind New England's 10.8 since the start of 1998.
Ideally that's how it's supposed to work when you draft first overall in the NFL. You take a franchise-level player and get at least 10 years of great results out of him, leading the organization to great things in the process. But it rarely happens, of course, as the teams who selected
But it's not just the No. 1 Miami Dolphins who face some pretty daunting odds when it comes to hitting it big in next month's draft. Picking anywhere in the top 10 has become pretty hazardous duty in the NFL in recent years, with the draft misses at least keeping pace with, if not out-numbering, the hits.
This offseason we've seen more recent top 10 picks who have parted ways with the teams that drafted them, with Minnesota shipping away receiver
Add those names to the disappointing results of recent top 10 draft classes that have included 2003's
Picking in the top 10 is indeed no picnic these days, and I think Colts general manager
"The draft was designed to either allow the weakest teams, based on record, to choose the best players, or if they chose not to take a particular player, to gather a bunch of picks to further accelerate their growth and competitiveness,'' Polian said. "That's what (longtime Bears owner/coach
"It's completely changed because of the cost of those picks, and in my view, that's wrong. It should change. That's bad for the game. It isn't about money, it's about the integrity of the game on the field.''
Crunching some numbers from the past five drafts (2003-07), one trend quickly becomes clear: The same downtrodden teams are doing a whole lot of the picking in the top 10 year after year. Teams that consistently know what they're doing when it comes to the draft might make an occasional appearance in the top 10, but you can really round up the usual suspects every April when it comes to the first 10 picks off the board.
Consider the following:
• Twenty-six of the NFL's 32 teams had at least one top 10 pick in the past five drafts, but just 15 of the league's clubs (47 percent) made 41 of those 50 top 10 selections (82 percent).
• To break it down even further, just seven teams accounted for 25 of those 50 picks in the top 10, a whopping 50 percent of the league's elite selections the past five Aprils. Detroit "leads'' the way with five top 10 picks in that span, or one each year. Houston and Arizona had four each, with Oakland, Cleveland, Washington and Minnesota having three each.
• Every team in last year's top 10 were repeat participants in regards to the past five drafts, and seven of them had picked in the top 10 at least three times in the past five years. It bears noting that of the 15 teams that made 41 of the 50 top 10 picks from 2003-2007, five are back in this year's top 10, with a sixth team (San Francisco) having traded its No. 7 selection to New England.
In other words, rather than a top 10 pick helping a team get a leg up in the NFL's salary cap era, it often works in reverse. The bad teams get more top 10 picks, which means they're statistically likely to have more top 10 misses, which are more costly than ever, resulting in the same bottom-feeding teams showing up again in the top 10 of the draft.
No doubt there are a lot of factors that play into all of this, not the least of which is the draft incompetence of a team like Detroit, which saw fit to select a first-round receiver three years in a row, and four out of five years. But Polian's point about the costly nature of top 10 failures these days, and the vicious circle that can result from them, seems to underline just how much the draft's top 10 has become very dangerous territory.
"If you're just in the top 10 once every four or five years, it can be a real benefit to you because you can get yourself a really great player,'' said Baltimore Ravens general manager
Picking in the top 10 also shortens the window that teams are willing to wait before their selection either shows himself to be an impact player -- or not. In some cases, three years is about the extent to which teams exhaust their patience, such as what happened with Williamson in Minnesota, Sullivan in New Orleans, and Rogers in Detroit. The Lions also gave
"When you pick a top 10 player, everyone expects that player to step on the field and play right away,'' Newsome said. "And with most players there's still some development needed. But he may not get that development because he's out there playing. If you rush him, you can hurt the player, and you've seen that a lot with the quarterbacks, like
"If you're picking that high, you want at least to give the team three or four years to become a player. But at the same time, you have the kid and you're not sure about him, but you really can't afford to draft anyone to replace him. You've already invested a ton of money and cap room, and you can't afford to put any more money into that position.''
Amid the landscape of top 10 mistakes, there are some success stories to balance out the picture. Last year, two of the 10 teams picking in the draft's upper echelon rebounded to make the playoffs. The Redskins and Bucs both went 9-7 and were quickly dismissed from the NFC playoff field, but they made it. Ditto for the Saints and Jets in 2006, who were both 10-6 after having top 10 picks that April. In each of the past five years, either two or three top 10-drafting teams each year wound up in the playoffs that season, with the high-water mark being Carolina's 2003 trip to the Super Bowl after choosing 8th overall (offensive tackle
All told, 12 of the 50 teams drafting in the top 10 the last five years went on to qualify for the playoffs that season, a respectable enough 24 percent. There were however only six total playoff wins among that 12-team group, with the Panthers accounting for half of that total in 2003. Eight of the 12 teams that made the postseason in that situation did not win a game in the Super Bowl tournament.
Last year, the No. 3 Browns selected left tackle
"You've got to hope that (Browns general manager)
Polian has come out in favor of a more defined slotting system for the salaries of draft picks that would reduce the dollars being paid the highest selections, but the NFL Players Association says a consensus of their members are against such a wage scale. Which leaves teams with only one really good option: Win enough games to stay out of the draft's sometimes treacherous top 10.
"It needs to change because the draft was designed to positively affect the game on the field and create competitive balance, and now we find it's doing just the opposite,'' Polian said. "In my view it's a competitive problem and not a labor management problem. Our game is based on competitive balance, the fact that every year every franchise believes they can win, unlike other sports.
"Every team in our league enters training camp saying, 'Hey, we've got a chance.' You can go from worst to first in one year, sometimes based on how well you do in the draft. Look at the Giants. They get terrific contributions from virtually every player they drafted this year. When that's skewed and changed, then that isn't good for the game.''
Then again, NFL teams can always just draft a Manning at quarterback. That approach seems to work just fine.