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Colts, Saints dug deep to lay foundation for Super Bowl

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 4, 2010

FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. -- The New Orleans Saints don't claim, even now, to have had any unique insight when they selected a little-known wide receiver from Hofstra, Marques Colston, in the seventh round of the 2006 NFL draft. It was that draft's 252nd overall choice, fourth from the last.

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"We'd been talking about him for a few rounds," Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis said. "We're not geniuses either, or we would have taken him earlier so we wouldn't lose him. We would have said at the time he could maybe be a guy you could develop, maybe on the practice squad, into a productive player. No one in our building would have told you he might be an 80-catch, 1,000-yard receiver right away."

Colston immediately started piling up the catches, receiving yards and touchdowns as a rookie. And he has continued doing it for four seasons, becoming one of the league's most productive wide receivers. It perhaps isn't a draft-day steal quite on par with the New England Patriots getting Tom Brady, their three-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback, in the sixth round in 2000 with the 199th overall pick. But it's pretty good.

And it's the sort of move by which a Super Bowl team is built. Finding useful players in out-of-the-way places has been particularly important during the NFL's salary cap era. The Indianapolis Colts, the Saints' opponent in Sunday's Super Bowl, have been unusually good at it under team president Bill Polian, building almost exclusively through the draft and getting players in the later rounds -- and even after the draft, via the signing of undrafted rookie free agents -- who become solid contributors.

"It doesn't happen by accident," Colts Coach Jim Caldwell said. "Bill Polian has been able to replicate that on numerous occasions. If it happens with a team one time, it might be a stroke of luck. When it happens over and over, it's not luck."

The Saints got Colston in the same draft in which they selected tailback Reggie Bush second overall. That came soon after the hiring of Sean Payton as their coach and the signing of quarterback Drew Brees as a free agent. It was a rapid remaking of a team coming off its nomadic 2005 season after being displaced from New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina.

If the Saints didn't sense on draft day that they had unearthed a potential seventh-round gem, they found out soon after -- but not immediately after.

"In our rookie minicamp, he had some back problems," Loomis said this week. "He was out of shape. Sean got on him. Our wide receiver coach got on him. But he came back and really adapted quickly after that. He benefited from the opportunity that existed, with a new coach and a new staff and everyone starting over at the same point."

By training camp that summer, the Saints had seen enough to trade wide receiver Donté Stallworth to the Philadelphia Eagles, clearing a path for Colston to play a lot as a rookie.

"He's a seventh-round pick," Brees said. "I'll be honest: I'm not sure I knew his name or realized he was there until about the first week of training camp."

Colston had 70 catches for 1,038 yards and eight touchdowns as a rookie and was even better in 2007 as a second-year pro, with 98 catches for 1,202 yards and 11 touchdowns. He has topped 1,000 receiving yards in three of his four NFL seasons, missing the mark only in an injury-marred 2008 season.

"I've learned the draft is definitely not an exact science," Colston said this week. "I'm just thankful for the opportunity I got and that I've taken advantage of it. . . . I heard going into the draft I could go anywhere from late second round to not drafted at all. Any time you have that broad of a range, you never know. . . . I just wanted to play anywhere they gave me an opportunity. New Orleans gave me that opportunity, and I just tried to go with it."


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