Which NFL teams perform best in the draft?

Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll, left, struck gold when he drafted cornerback Richard Sherman in the fifth round in 2011.
Elaine Thompson/AP/File
Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll, left, struck gold when he drafted cornerback Richard Sherman in the fifth round in 2011.

Vikings general manager Rick Spielman isn’t going to win an Executive of the Year award any time soon. In three of the past four seasons, his teams have won five, three, and six games.

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, who makes most of the team’s draft selections, is criticized for losing in the first round of the playoffs the past three years.

Yet when it comes to drafting and developing players, Spielman and Lewis have been among the best in the NFL.


It’s easy to say that the best front offices win Super Bowls, but that’s much too simplistic. When it comes to the NFL Draft, to be held next Thursday through Saturday , the goal is simple: Find players, develop them as starters or key role players, and retain them when their contracts expire.

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Easier said than done, of course. So many variables come into play for drafted players — injuries, system fit, off-field issues, quality of teammates — that consistently finding the right ones is difficult, even with first-round picks. Former Redskins and Texans GM Charley Casserly recently conducted a 10-year study of the draft, and found that only 30 percent of the players could be realistically deemed a “success.”

Which teams have done the best job? The obvious answer is the Super Bowl champion Seahawks, whose roster depicts a team that has struck gold in the draft. But a Globe study of all 32 NFL rosters shows that some teams that contend annually for the playoffs have actually drafted poorly in recent years, while some teams that have been stuck in mediocrity actually have drafted well (except at the quarterback position).

“There’s no exact science as it relates to this,” said Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio. “You just try to find guys that fit your team. Inevitably, some work out, some don’t.”

How to evaluate a draft? Some teams have fairly basic criteria.


“In Baltimore with Ozzie Newsome, we always tried to come out of every draft with three starters,” said former scout Daniel Jeremiah. “On average, you have seven picks. That’s not even batting .500 in terms of starters, but that’s pretty good.

“If you can go year after year and do that, you can keep sustained excellence of a football team.”

We wanted to go a bit further than that.

After consulting with a handful of current and former NFL personnel executives, here are the criteria we used to determine the best drafting teams from 2008-12:

  Total number of draft picks and undrafted free agents still with their original teams.


  Total number of starters still with their original teams (including specialists and significant rotational players).

  Total number of first-round picks still with their original teams.

  Total number of fifth- to seventh-round picks still with their original teams that have developed into starters.

  Total number of Pro Bowlers (or All-Pros) still with their original teams.

  Total number of undrafted free agents still with their original teams that developed into starters.

The total number of draft picks and number of starters reveal which teams invest the most in the draft but aren’t a perfect tool to judge a draft class all by themselves.

“Just because he’s a starter doesn’t mean he’s any good,” said a pro personnel director.

That’s why we expanded the parameters.

Examining the number of first-round picks still remaining is important, because these are supposed to be the elite players and franchise cornerstones. At minimum, a team should hit on its first-round picks.

Examining late-round picks and undrafted free agents who become starters is a good way to reveal which GMs have an eye for talent.

And while examining the number of Pro Bowlers is imperfect — the Pro Bowl is hardly a scientific measurement of the best players — it at least reveals the number of good-to-excellent players a team has drafted.

We acknowledge that some players will be cut between now and the start of the regular season, and that the study doesn’t take into account a player like Chris Johnson, who gave the Titans three Pro Bowl seasons between 2008-13 but now plays for the Jets.

The conclusions that can be drawn from our study:

  Bill Belichick takes a decent amount of criticism from Patriots fans for whiffing on several high picks (Patrick Chung, Ron Brace, Laurence Maroney, and Tavon Wilson among them) but overall he has done better than most of his contemporaries. The Patriots rank second for starters (16), T-1 in first-rounders (7), T-5 in starters from Rounds 5-7 (3), and T-3 in number of Pro Bowlers (7).

The Patriots still have two starters from every draft dating back to 2008, and struck gold with Tom Brady (sixth round), Vince Wilfork (first), Logan Mankins (first), Stephen Gostkowski (fourth), Jerod Mayo (first), Sebastian Vollmer (second), Julian Edelman (seventh), Devin McCourty (first), and Rob Gronkowski (second), among others.

  Seahawks GM John Schneider should have some type of front-office award named after him. In 2010, he drafted Pro Bowlers with both of his first-round picks (Russell Okung, Earl Thomas) and another Pro Bowler in the fifth round (Kam Chancellor). In 2011, he got Richard Sherman in the fifth round, starting cornerback Byron Maxwell in the sixth round, Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith in the seventh round, and starting receiver Doug Baldwin as an undrafted free agent. In 2012, he nabbed quarterback Russell Wilson in the third round and also hit big with surprise first-round pick Bruce Irvin and second-round linebacker Bobby Wagner.

  Jim Harbaugh of the 49ers is certainly an excellent coach, but he has been given an impressive arsenal of talent by GM Trent Baalke and former GM Scot McCloughan: two Pro Bowlers and a key starter in 2007 (Patrick Willis, Joe Staley, Ray McDonald), two Pro Bowlers and another key starter in 2010 (Mike Iupati, NaVorro Bowman, Anthony Davis), and six starters from 2011 (including Pro Bowler Aldon Smith, quarterback Colin Kaepernick, and undrafted nose tackle Ian Williams). The 49ers have the most draft picks remaining, most starters, most first-rounders, and second-most Pro Bowlers of any team.

  The Raiders, Jaguars, and Bears have been fairly abysmal with the draft. The Bears have a league-low 11 drafted players left on their roster, while the Raiders and Jaguars have only 15. The teams rank in the bottom six in starters, have only five combined first-round picks still on the roster, and one combined starter from Rounds 5-7. The only homegrown Pro Bowler still on the Raiders roster is kicker Sebastian Janikowski.

  It’s amazing how quickly most players wash out of the league. Only 75 players from the 2010 draft are still with their original teams. That represents 29.4 percent of 255 drafted players, but the percentage is even lower because it doesn’t account for undrafted free agents. Oakland doesn’t have anything left from the 2009 or 2010 drafts. Carolina has only quarterback Cam Newton (first round) and wide receiver Kealoha Pilares (fifth round) left from 2011, and defensive end Greg Hardy (sixth) from 2010. Indianapolis has only tackle Anthony Castonzo (first) left from 2011, and no one from 2010.

The Bengals and Vikings surprisingly appear at the top of most categories. The Bengals are tied for third in the league with 25 draft picks on the roster, are tied for third with 15 starters, T-3 with six first-rounders, T-3 with seven Pro Bowlers, and T-4 with two undrafted starters, including Pro Bowl linebacker Vontaze Burfict. The Vikings are T-3 with 25 draft picks, T-9 with five first-round picks, and second with four starters from the fifth-seventh rounds.

The Chiefs drafted a Pro Bowler each year from 2009-12 and in seven of eight years overall. The Texans, Packers, Steelers, Browns, and Falcons have been good about selecting the right first-round picks and developing starters out of late-round picks.

The biggest takeaway point from all of this? The NFL is still all about the quarterback. Teams that have otherwise drafted well (Houston, Cincinnati, Minnesota, Kansas City) still struggle because they haven’t found a top-flight quarterback.

And teams that have drafted poorly (Indianapolis, Chicago, Carolina) still contend for the playoffs because of their quarterbacks.

“If you don’t have a quarterback,” the pro personnel director said, “you’re just spinning your wheels at or around .500.”

Ben Volin can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin