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Tom Telesco and the Colts' Draft History

Some view the recent poor drafts by the Colts as a sign that Tom Telesco was a poor choice for GM of the San Diego Chargers. Here's why that might not be the case.

Andy Lyons

In the last 24 hours or so, there has been some debate among fans of the San Diego Chargers regarding Tom Telesco's draft history with the Indianapolis Colts. Some point to the Colts' pathetic 2011 season as a sign that Telesco built a roster that was "Peyton Manning and nothing else".

Some even pulled up this article as proof that the Colts had five consecutive poor drafts, from 2007-2011. In terms of title, this lined up with Telesco's promotions. He was named Indianapolis' Director of Player Personnel in 2005 and was promoted against to Vice President of Football Operations last season.

In a way, those people and their arguments are valid. Those drafts from 2007-2011 were absolutely atrocious and Tom Telesco seemed like he'd be a person held responsible for them. Yet, for some reason, Telesco's name has been held in high regard in the NFL for years. Even last season, before the the Colts fired Bill Polian and had one of their best drafts in franchise history, he was being considered for the St. Louis Rams opening.

So, what's the deal? How could Telesco be drafting poorly and gaining respect? Well, I asked Brad Wells. For those of you who don't know, Brad Wells runs Stampede Blue and the man has some excellent sources inside the Indianapolis Colts organization. If you want to know the real story about anything regarding the Colts, you Skype with Brad Wells and his luscious hair.

Without further ado, the odd story about the Indianapolis Colts and their draft history:

In terms of the Colts organization, and you can directly quote me on this, many people who used to work there (and who still do) felt that capable executives like Telesco were passed over by Bill Polian in favor of Bill's son, Chris. Chris was the general manager from roughly 2007-2011.

Chris Polian was woefully incompetent and lazy. At least, that's what our sources tell us. People like David Caldwell (now GM of the Jags), Tom Gamble (interviewing for all sorts of GMs jobs now), and Telesco were vital cogs in Indy's impressive draft record from 1998-2006.

After Caldwell, Gamble, and eventually Dom Anile (longtime front office consultant) left, the Colts drafts from 2007-2011 went downhill. Big time. The two decision-makers during those drafts were Bill and Chris. When Irsay fired both, he thanked Bill during the press conference that day. He did not thank Chris, and it is believed there is serious animosity between the Polians and Irsay. The Polians also do not care for Ryan Grigson.

Even though Chris and Bill were fired, Telesco (who is Chris' friend from their college days) was retained along with Dennis Polian. However, Grigson fired Dennis over the phone shortly after taking the G.M. job. The rumor is that Dennis was feeding information to another team, perhaps the Titans (the team Dennis currently works for).

Grigson retained Telesco, and the two worked extremely well together. Unlike the odious and paranoid crackpots known as the Polians, Telesco is even-keeled, calm, and low ego. Pagano often praised Telesco's calmness during the draft.

So, there you have it. Tom Telesco was a vital part of the Colts' front office when they were seemingly drafting a Pro Bowler every year (list below) and was pushed into the background when Bill Polian promoted his own incompetent son. This explains why Tom Telesco was retained, and promoted, when Bill and Chris Polian were fired last season. Also, if you look at the drafts pre-Chris Polian and post-Chris Polian, it lines up well with that story.

Matt Grecco, who wrote a story on Stampede Blue about the Chargers hiring Tom Telesco yesterday, insinuated the same thing when he wrote:

During the hey-day of the Bill Polian era, Telesco was the clear #2 guy in terms of scouting and evaluating talent, involved in all the decision-making with Polian.

Now, about those good drafts. You can see the Colts' entire draft history here, but I'm going to point out some of the bigger names in case you don't want to do the legwork yourself.

  • Peyton Manning (1998)
  • Edgerrin James (1999)
  • Mike Peterson (1999)
  • Hunter Smith (1999)
  • Rob Morris (2000)
  • Marcus Washington (2000)
  • Reggie Wayne (2001)
  • Ryan Diem (2001)
  • Dwight Freeney (2002)
  • David Thornton (2002)
  • Dallas Clark (2003)
  • Robert Mathis (2003)
  • Bob Sanders (2004)
  • Matt Giordano (2005)
  • Joseph Addai (2006)
  • Tim Jennings (2006)

Now, with the Kansas City Chiefs having 5 Pro Bowlers this year, I can't rate this group purely based on Pro Bowl visits. That would be absurd. However, every person on the list above has either been a Pro Bowler and/or has had a long, successful career as a starter in the national football league.

Did the drafts get worse after 2003? Absolutely. Even the good players they got between 2004-2007 couldn't stay on the field. If you're an optimist, you attribute that to Chris Polian's growing involvement and Bill Polian's age. If you're a pessimist, you attribute it to a growing influence by Tom Telesco or you attribute it to losing Tom Gamble and David Caldwell to other organizations.

Me? I'm an optimist. I also see Telesco being retained, while the Polians were getting fired, as a sign that the people inside the Colts organization thought the world of what Tom had done in his time there. He didn't earn that respect just by being around, in the room, while Bill Polian was putting together great drafts in the late 90s and early aughts. Nobody earns respect that way.