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No clear favorite

Colts' draft plan uncertain for first time in several years

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Posted: Wednesday April 18, 2001 9:14 PM

  Edgerrin James The Colts surprised many teams when they chose Edgerrin James over Ricky Williams in the 1999 draft. Eliot Schechter/Allsport

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Indianapolis Colts president Bill Polian stepped out of the dark for a few brief moments Wednesday afternoon.

He walked into his pre-draft news conference, glanced around and opened his eyes wide.

"I haven't seen the light, so forgive me if I blink," he joked. "I've been buried in the film room for the past 10 days."

Polian wasn't kidding.

These are the days, leading up to the NFL Draft, that Polian is at his busiest reviewing prospect after prospect.

But while taking a brief respite from the catacombs of the film room, Polian did everything he could to shed as little light as possible on the Colts' plans for the 22nd pick in Saturday's NFL draft.

"This draft, as many commentators have already stated, is quite puzzling," Polian said. "You don't have too many franchise players, difference-makers out there. What you have is really hard to predict."

That may be.

But the more likely explanation Wednesday was that Polian was putting on his best poker face for another year.

He talked about possible trades, first ruling out much chance of the Colts making a deal and later explaining what goes into making such a decision.

He briefly addressed the Colts' most glaring needs -- the defensive line, the secondary -- and then described what the Colts needed to do to improve their offense.

Polian, a longtime veteran of this guessing game, did everything possible to avoid dropping even a hint of his draft-day game plan too early.

"[Head coach] Jim Mora said to me about an hour ago 'What would happen if quarterback X were here?'" Polian said in explaining just how many scenarios must be contemplated this time of the year. "I told him, 'Let's think about that. Peyton [Manning] can always use a backup.'"

Polian declined to say if quarterback X might be Drew Brees of Purdue.

But Polian has played by these rules before and come out looking good.

Two years ago, Polian hardly uttered the name of running back Edgerrin James then surprised observers by taking him ahead of Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams after trading Marshall Faulk to St. Louis. James responded with back-to-back NFL rushing titles.

In that same draft, the Colts waited for wide receiver Terrence Wilkins to slip through the cracks, then snatched him up quickly as an undrafted free agent. By midseason, he was starting.

"It was a calculated risk by us," Polian said. "We thought he'd slip through. But you don't take any credit for being smart when you're being dumb. We should have drafted him."

Polian's tactics haven't changed much since his days with the Buffalo Bills.

He still wants the best player on the board, regardless of need.

He still believes in building his team through the draft first.

He still hopes somebody may slide to the Colts at No. 22.

And he still wants to keep everybody outside the organization in the dark as long as possible.

"We've made up our mind that we will draft the best football player that comes to us, including an offensive lineman, if it comes to that," he said. "We haven't ruled anybody out or ruled anybody in."

Related information
Stories's 2001 NFL Mock Draft
Life of Reilly: Liccing My Wounds
Experts' First-Round Draft Picks
SI's Banks: Chargers may not be sold on Vick
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