For proof, consider that in the 2008 and 2009 drafts, Indianapolis was able to add Brown, Jerraud Powers (a quality cornerback when healthy), Austin Collie (a great slot wide receiver when healthy), Pat McAfee (who ranked 11th in net punting average this season), Jacob Tamme (possibly the best backup tight end in the NFL), Pierre Garcon (a starting wide receiver) and Fili Moala (started 30 games the past two seasons). Their last two drafts don’t look to be quite up to the level of those ’08 and ’09 drafts, but injuries have made it difficult to judge them fairly yet. All in all the Polians put a lot of talent on this club.
More evidence for a quick turnaround can be found in the Luck Rankings tallied by Teamrankings.com . According to TR’s Tom Federico, the Luck Rankings “measures actual wins minus expected wins.”
The Colts ranked next to last in the league in this category at minus-3.0, which means that statistically speaking, they should have won three more games than they did because of factors that tend to be random, and are thus not as bad as their 2-14 record indicates. That dovetails well with the scouting-eye view that says Jim Caldwell was not able to push this team’s motivational buttons very well, another facet that could be improved if the new front-office leaders decide to make a head-coaching change.
In other words, Bill Polian’s drafts were not as bad as some have suggested. While I’m not exactly a Polian cheerleader I believe the media has been tough on Bill’s work product due to his heavy-handed secrecy and poor relationship management. Largely, the talent he acquired, even in recent drafts, is arguably among the best in the league. There were lean years, runs of bad luck with injury and missed opportunities but largely the roster was well-constructed given the cap and available talent.
Where Joyner perhaps strays is the argument about Caldwell. Caldwell’s in-game management and conservative playcalling are offenses worthy of strong criticism. It’s hard to argue his ability to motivate players however. I can’t imagine any other coach, Tony Dungy aside, who could motivate a roster who lost Peyton Manning and was offered up Kerry Collins, Curtis Painter and Dan Orlovsky in trade. Yet these guys fought to the last snap of the last game. Turnovers, injuries and a lack of quality backups hurt Caldwell’s chances there as well. Make no mistake, Caldwell made some mistakes that could earn him a spot on the unemployment line but doing a poor job motivating the roster isn’t one of them.