Inside Slant: Bengals, Saints bracket this accounting of NFL homegrown talent

The Bengals have put up the NFL's sixth-best winning percentage since 2011 with homegrown players at nearly every starting position. AP Photo/Michael Conroy

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What NFL team does the best job in the draft? You could ask 10 NFL analysts and get 10 different answers.

Which teams are most committed to the draft? If you judge by their public statements, at least, it's a tie for first among all 32.

Whose rosters are best reflective of a commitment (and at least relative success) in the draft? Now that's a question we have a chance to answer.

The chart accompanying this post records the number of originally drafted players that remain on each team's roster. I've posted similar analyses a couple times in the past 21 months, but one of the most relevant time periods is in the days leading up to a draft. Soon, these numbers will be artificially inflated by the new haul. For now, the chart represents players who have made it through at least one year with their franchise.

(Many thanks to Ken Woolums, Dan McCarthy and John Parolin of ESPN Stats & Information for running this analysis, which is current as of last week. To their work, I made one small change: Philip Rivers counts toward the San Diego Chargers' number, as does Eli Manning for the New York Giants, even though they technically were acquired via trade rather than the draft. They were each team's intended target in 2004.)

This updated list, to which the Cincinnati Bengals have ascended to the top, is not a perfect judge of draft performance. As you'll see, in many cases it mirrors continuity in the front office. A general manager is more likely to retain a player he drafted than one his predecessor selected. Not surprisingly, the top six teams on this list have all had their top draft decision-maker in place for at least five years (and an average of 11.6 years).

Some would argue that percentages are more instructive than raw numbers, and it's true that the New Orleans Saints rank at the bottom of this list in large part because they've made the NFL's fewest number of draft selections (31) in the previous five drafts. But to me, draft commitment is at least partially based on maintaining and/or expanding your annual total under the (generally) accepted theory that volume is an asset in what is often a crapshoot.

(For comparison, the Green Bay Packers have made 53 picks over the same period.)

A few other takeaways on the numbers:

  • The Bengals deserve some credit here for the drafts that have produced four consecutive playoff teams and not simply because coach Marvin Lewis' tenure has ensured a common philosophy for more than a decade. This franchise has put up the NFL's sixth-best winning percentage (.633) since 2011 with homegrown players at nearly every (presumed) starting position. Their quarterback, top two running backs, tight ends and top three receivers are all original draft picks. So are the entire offensive and defensive lines and three of their four top defensive backs.

  • The other end of the continuity spectrum might be the Cleveland Browns, who changed head coaches four times and thrice switched out general managers in a five-year period during this decade. Despite making 46 picks since 2009, they rank second from the bottom on this list with 16 drafted players on their current roster. Some good players are elsewhere -- tight end Jordan Cameron, safety T.J. Ward and cornerback Buster Skrine among them -- in part because one regime didn't value them as much as another.

  • How have the Saints made so few selections? Part of the reason is discipline stemming from the league's bounty investigation; the Saints lost second-round picks in 2012 and 2013 as a result. But as this recent analysis from Football Outsiders shows, they have also made a long-term habit of packaging picks to move up in the draft under general manager Mickey Loomis. The Saints' free-agent approach under Loomis, meanwhile, has netted just three compensatory picks since his tenure began in 2002. It's worth noting that after a 7-9 season, the Saints have made several trades that leave them with nine picks in the 2015 draft.