In 1999, Peyton Manning showed the Indianapolis Colts why they didn't need to waste an early-round draft choice on a quarterback for a long, long time.
The former University of Tennessee standout threw for 4,135 yards and 26 touchdowns during his second season in the NFL, and he led the Colts to a 13-3 record. Manning since has steered the Colts to the Super Bowl XLI championship and a current streak of nine consecutive playoff appearances, but he turned 35 last month.
Nobody is doubting Manning's ability to lead Indianapolis to additional success, but when does the organization start seeking his successor?
"It is a tough call," ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said. "The first thing you have to do is make sure everyone in the organization is on board with what you're doing and has a complete understanding of what the plan is. Don't catch anyone by surprise, and make sure you have Peyton Manning's stamp of approval, as strange as that may sound.
"Make sure he knows what you're trying to do and that you're not saying in the next year or two that he's going to be the guy, but maybe three or four years down the road or whenever your career is wrapped up."
The 2011 NFL draft starts tonight with the first round. The second and third rounds are scheduled for Friday night with the remaining four rounds scheduled for Saturday.
Manning is the same age now as Brett Favre was in 2005, when the Green Bay Packers used their first-round pick on California quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Favre continued to guide the Packers through the '07 season before starting his string of retire-or-not decisions, and the organization committed to Rodgers.
Rodgers led the Packers to the playoffs in his second season as the starter and to the Super Bowl XLV title in his third.
The Indianapolis Star reported earlier this week that the Colts conducted private workouts with TCU's Andy Dalton and Nevada's Colin Kaepernick. Dalton and Kaepernick are among the seven quarterbacks who McShay projects will go in the first 41 selections, and Indianapolis doesn't pick in the second round until the 53rd overall spot.
McShay believes there is a sizable gap between the top seven quarterbacks and the eighth. He does not have another quarterback projected in the first three rounds after Kaepernick at 41st.
"I don't see it being a problem drafting a guy, say in the third round like Iowa's Ricky Stanzi, if that's who they believe they can develop," McShay said. "The problem is all your developmental quarterbacks this year are going to come off the board in the first two rounds.
"Here is the tug of war you have. You've got to have a better backup plan than Curtis Painter, but you have a short window in the next few years to win with Peyton Manning, so you want to use that second-round pick on someone who is going to get better now while Peyton Manning is there."
Manning threw for a career-high 4,700 yards last season, which was his NFL-record 11th season with 4,000 or more passing yards. He is the only four-time MVP in league history and is the only quarterback to guide his team to nine consecutive playoff appearances.
The Dallas Cowboys are the only other franchise to make nine straight playoff trips, their run occurring with Roger Staubach (1975-79) and then Danny White ('80-83) behind center.
"I'll be surprised if they use a pick in the first two rounds, but anywhere after that I could understand it," McShay said. "I think the time is right to start exploring that now."