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Draft isn't everything

The Seattle Seahawks proved last season the Draft Rating Index does not always translate to a team's results on the field.

By Scott M. Johnson

Herald Writer

Think the Cincinnati Bengals' breakout season in 2005 had everything to do with the fact that they stumbled into a No. 1 overall draft pick that landed them Carson Palmer?

Or that the Indianapolis Colts' draft success started and ended with Peyton Manning, Edgerrin James and Marvin Harrison?

Perhaps you were under the impression that the Houston Texans have no idea what the draft is all about, and that the Denver Broncos have mastered the art of picking college players.

According to The Herald's league-wide study known as the Draft Rating Index (DRI), not everything is what it seems.

The DRI was created last year to chart teams' draft success over a five-year period - and to see how that translated to triumphs on the football field. The 2005 version found that teams like Arizona and the New York Jets had more success developing their own draft picks than teams such as New England and Pittsburgh.

The 2006 DRI underwent a few minor alterations, putting more weight on draft picks that went on to become starters while rewarding teams that have had success on Day 2 of the annual draft.

Like the 2006 DRI, the results were surprising. The Bengals, Colts and Carolina Panthers were the top three teams in terms of draft results from 2001 to 2005, while playoff teams like Tampa Bay, Denver and Washington were near the bottom.

Cincinnati earned the top overall grade based on the Bengals' ability to draft future starters (12), develop players at the so-called skill positions (Palmer, Chad Johnson, Rudi Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh were all Cincinnati draft picks) and have most of their draft picks (six of 40) stay in the league through the end of the 2005 season.

On the other end, the Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders have not been so fortunate on draft days. Both teams have just six current starters who came from the 2001-05 drafts, or two fewer than the number of each team's draft picks who are no longer in the league.

The Seahawks ranked 23rd in the DRI, getting kudos for picks like Shaun Alexander, Lofa Tatupu and Rocky Bernard, while being penalized for the likes of Terreal Bierria, Solomon Bates and Harold Blackmon, who are no longer in the league.

The DRI proves that, as was the case with Seattle, poor drafts do not necessarily doom a franchise. The Index also shows that draft success does not always translate into wins on the field.

For example, New Orleans ranked fourth in the 2006 DRI, while Houston, Tennessee, San Francisco and Detroit were also among the top 10. Part of the reason for this is that struggling teams are often forced to stick with their own draft picks - regardless of talent - to help maintain the salary cap and build for the future.

Likewise, teams like Seattle and the Super Bowl champion Steelers have plucked veterans off the free-agent market to help push them over the top. Pittsburgh joined winning franchises like Philadelphia and New England in the middle of the league in the 2006 DRI.

So what makes Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Carolina different?

In the case of the Bengals and Panthers, going from the bottom of the league - remember, they were a combined 7-25 in 2001 - to division champions in 2005 had a lot to do with five solid drafts.

Both snagged Pro Bowl-caliber receivers after Round 1 of the 2001 draft (Chad Johnson 36th overall to Cincinnati, and Steve Smith 74th overall to Carolina) and patiently let them develop. Both had a lot of success drafting defensive players early (David Pollack, Odell Thurman and Justin Smith by Cincinnati; Chris Gamble, Julius Peppers and Dan Morgan by Carolina). And both developed quality depth that would stay with the team (each had 26 players - almost half of last year's roster - from their own drafts).

The Colts shot to the top of the DRI not because of the so-called Triplets -Manning, James and Harrison were all drafted before 2001 - but due in part to success on Day 2 of the annual draft. Seven of Indianapolis's 22 starters were selected in Rounds 4 through 7 over the past five years. Guys like cornerback Jason David, tackle Jake Scott and Pro Bowl linebacker Cato June have given Colts fans reason to pay attention to the annual Sunday snooze-fest of draft weekend.

On the other end, once-mighty teams like Miami, Kansas City and Oakland can look no further than their recent draft struggles to figure out why they've fallen so far so fast. And Denver, which has been to the postseason three years in a row due in large part to free agency and a few key trades, might be the next to fall - based on its DRI ranking of 29th in the league.

Then again, poor drafting doesn't always translate to a lot of losses on the field. What the DRI has reminded us, for the second year in a row, is that the draft isn't everything.

So go ahead and scoff when your precious Dallas Cowboys nab that too-slow offensive lineman from a Big Ten doormat. Openly weep when your Green Bay Packers roll the dice on another small-school wide receiver.

Just don't throw in the towel if your team doesn't have much success.

Because teams like the Seahawks and Steelers have proven that it's possible to get to Super Bowl Sunday without having an overwhelming draft day. http://www.heraldnet.com/stories/06/04/23/...po_c1dri001.cfm

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Good find, GB. Really, the Bengals' drafts during the Nineties weren't quite as bad as they were made out to be, but they had two huge QB busts and a couple of terrible years in a row (the 1999 and 2000 drafts come to mind) and that cemented their rep as inept drafters.

This article, by going back to 2001, helps dispel that. Legions kneel before the altar of Marvin...but someone should go light a candle for St. Dick. Lebeau poured a big piece of the foundation for today's team with his 2001 and 2002 drafts. It's worth wondering what might have been if Lebeau had avoided the disasterous three-way QB debacle in 2002 and simply installed Jon Kitna as starter before camp.

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It's nice to see the Bengals getting positive write ups and it's nice to know we have a good scouting department and coaches to make all of this happen. As far as previous drafts before Marvin, it's amazing how 1st round busts, especially at QB makes your team look stupid !!!


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