Will Colts Surprise With Wide Receiver?

Eric Hartz takes a look at the Colts' potential draft strategy. Will the team take a defensive end or running back with their first selection in the NFL Draft, or will they surprise with a wide receiver?

The subject of the Colts' draft strategy has been discussed over and over in the ColtPower forums in the last several months, and if fans can agree on anything, it's that Bill Polian can be unpredictable at draft time.

So with less than a week left before the draft, the question still needs to be answered: what will Polian do with the Colts' first pick at No. 59?

A recent poll here at ColtPower showed fans think the teams' biggest need is at defensive end, followed by running back.

The Colts already have stars at these positions — Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis at end, and Joseph Addai in the backfield — but quality depth is a concern.

Freeney missed nearly half of last season with a foot injury, and Mathis missed several games as well. That affected the Colts pass rush, particularly towards the end of the year. And, despite sharing time with a productive Kenton Keith, Addai seemed to wear down as the season went on as well.

With that in mind, choices like Purdue OLB/DE Cliff Avril and Tulane RB Matt Forte have been two of the more popular choices for the Colts' first selection.

But Polian has never been one to go with the popular choices, which was something NFL Network Draft Expert Mike Mayock addressed during a meeting with the media Thursday.

Drafting stars like Dwight Freeney and Bob Sanders has helped solidify Bill Polian's reputation
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

"Bill Polian is completely different," Mayock said. "He says forget the rest of the world, don't care what you think, we're going to identify guys who we think are Indianapolis Colts-type people and players and we're going to go get them even if it's a half a round to a round and a half earlier than the League has that kid valued. We're going to make sure we get our guy.

"That only works if you're good at what you do, which the Colts and Bill Polian are. So when they draft Bob Sanders at the top end of the second round, everybody's going that's too early, he couldn't care less. He's got his guy ... Dwight Freeney would fit that bill. Rest of the League's going he's too small, you kidding me. The Colts have built their whole defense around that philosophy.

"Again, Bill Polian said forget the rest of you, I'm doing it my way."

With that in mind, it wouldn't be at all surprising if the Colts went a totally different direction — and drafted a wide receiver with their first pick.

Of course, you're saying, "Why would they draft a receiver? They took a receiver (Antony Gonzalez) in the first round last year, and they also have Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark and a hopefully healthy Marvin Harrison for Peyton Manning to throw to?"

Sure, the Colts have a ton of weapons in the passing game. But, consider these facts:

• Despite being remembered for muffing an easy catch that led to an interception in the Colts' playoff loss to the Chargers, Kenton Keith actually had a very productive season for a backup running back in his first year in the NFL. And in all of their comments about the running backs, both Polian and coach Tony Dungy have expressed a lot of confidence in Keith. If he improves his grasp of the offense and his ball-handling ability, perhaps they have reason to believe he's the backup the team has been looking for — that confidence could dry up quickly, however, after Keith was arrested outside a 38th Street nightclub early Sunday morning.

• Since the team prefers smaller but quick defensive ends and has a glut of picks near the end of the draft, it stands to reason that the team probably has a couple of late-round "sleepers" at the position that it could pick up if they're still on the board in the sixth or seventh round. And given Polian's track record, it stands to reason that one of those sleepers will turn into a pretty decent pass rusher.

James Hardy, Mario Manningham, Early Doucet, Andre Caldwell, Eddie Royal, Malcolm Kelly, Adarius Bowman, Harry Douglas.

Any number of these receivers could still be on the board when the Colts make their first selection in the second round.

While it's not a particularly strong year for wide receivers — Michigan State's Devin Thomas and Cal's DeSean Jackson are the only receivers that are widely considered locks to go in the first round — there could be a lot of value in selecting the right receiver in the second, especially because their seems to be no clear consensus on one of these players over the others.

If the right receiver is there — and the Colts have taken a long look at most of them, so they likely know who they want — it wouldn't be outside the realm of possibility to see Polian pull the trigger on another weapon for Manning Saturday.

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