The series on O-linemen and the draft will be back, but a post by JesusNinja13 over at SB inspired me to go after the same question he tackled with a more objective measure. How do the Colts recent draft classes compare to those earlier in the Polian/Peyton era?
For player evaluation I'll be using the Approximate Value metric from ProFootballReference. As the name would suggest, it's far from an exact, perfect measure of a player's abilities or contributions, but it provides an objective way to compare players across positions.
Obviously the more recent classes haven't had time to really show what they've got, but are they on pace with previous classes?
While the last couple years haven't been the best in terms of instant impact, Indy has gotten less from a draft class it's first year before and a number of the high impact classes were greatly aided by having better picks to work with.
Of the 12 draft classes (1998-2009) only one draft class failed to out-produce it's rookie performance (2003, the class with the most productive rookie season, so the highest bar to clear. The average improvement was 9 AV (1.47x the rookie production) with 2001 (+17), 2004 and 2006 (both +16) taking the biggest sophomore leaps. 3 years out was a mixed bag with the 1999, 2004 and 2007 classes taking major steps back in production while the 2000, 2005 and 2008 classes greatly improved again and the remaining 5 held about steady. 3rd year production averaged .99x the sophomore production. From the 3rd to 4th year and between the 4th and 5th some draft classes fell off hard, while others stepped up their game for virtually zero change in production, on average. Is a draft classes worth settled after 2 years? Not by a longshot, but the ups and downs in production between the classes average each other out pretty much perfectly.
My measure of a draft class as a whole will be the AV produced, while on Indy's roster, in the first 5 years in the league. The "with the Colts" condition should be pretty obvious, you don't draft players for what they'll do on other teams. Cutting off at 5 years both allows more classes to be compared and limits the effects of free agency. When a player needs 5 years of service to become an unrestricted free agent, so a team can expect to retain a player for that long, if they want him.
*For the 4 most recent classes I projected 5yr AV based off the progression of the other classes.
Are the Colts draft classes getting worse? It doesn't appear so. The trends lines are have the slightest of negative slopes. -1/20th of a point of rookie AV per year, -1/100th a point of 5yrAV per year, etc. While there are lots of ups and downs, there doesn't seem to be a trend to be found here. As far as AV can tell the Colts haven't been particularly better, nor worse at drafting across the last 13 years.