The NFL Draft is an event where most teams pick up a slew of players with the hope that a few will stick and make lasting impacts. But, for teams like the Cincinnati Bengals, who rely almost entirely on the draft to help re-shape their roster from year to year, the draft is an event from which the team expects to pick up a slew of players who will last long-term. In fact, the Bengals are one of only three teams who have retained the majority of their draft picks during the last six years, and the Bengals’ have the NFL’s highest retention record, an astounding 59.6 percent.
Draft pick retention by NFL teams, 2011-16 pic.twitter.com/HeO5ueAFPB— Jeff Hunter (@MrJeffHunter) May 24, 2017
The Bengals’ 2012 draft class is the worst example of their generally impressive ability to retain players. Of their 10 selections that year, only Dre Kirkpatrick, Brandon Thompson, and George Iloka are still with the team. In a few cases, guys like Dan Herron, Shaun Prater, and Orson Charles failed to make much of an impact, which is why they are no longer with the team. But, guys like Kevin Zeitler, Mohamed Sanu, and Marvin Jones are gone because they performed so well, other teams were willing to pay them more money to lure them away.
Devon Still is the wild card in that particular draft class, because he flashed potential when he was on the field, but family matters became much more important than remaining with the Bengals. He is no longer with the team, mostly because life is unfair.
With that said, the Bengals’ worst draft class having a 30 percent retention rate is really a high rate compared to most other NFL teams. Half of the teams in the NFL have at least one draft class in the last six years that has zero presence on the current roster. In the case of the New Orleans Saints, their 2014 draft class was so bad, every single player is no longer with the team, just three years later.
There are also some notably impressive draft classes for the Bengals in recent years. 37.5 percent of their 2011 Draft class is still with the team, which is by far the most of any NFL team for that year. Only A.J. Green, Andy Dalton, and Clint Boling remain from that draft class, but they have all become key pieces of the team.
Only three teams have retained more draft picks from their 2014 class than the Bengals, who have only lost seventh round draft picks James Wright and Lavelle Westbrooks, the former of whom was released earlier this offseason. From the 2015 class, the Bengals have only lost Mario Alford. Only three other teams can claim a higher retention rate from that season, all of whom boast a 100 percent retention rate.
Overall, only the Detroit Lions (53.2 percent) and Houston Texans (51.1 percent) can claim to join the Bengals as teams who have retained the majority of their draft picks over the last six years. Still, neither team can boast as impressive a retention rate as the Bengals at nearly 60 percent.
Precisely no one should be surprised at the Bengals’ proficiency for retaining players they picked up in the draft. Traditionally, the Bengals are extremely conservative when it comes to free agency. So, by their own restriction, they force themselves to structure their roster around the draft. Letting key in-house free agents walk simply doesn’t make sense, because you either have to buck tradition to find a free agent from another team or train someone new from the next draft class. The Bengals like finding players who can stick around and stabilize positions long-term, and the best way to do that is to be really good at the draft.
Though the Bengals have lost some key players during the last two offseasons, the team has also managed to retain many of its best players, too. Players drafted to the Bengals can feel comfortable getting used to life in Cincinnati, because their chances are better of sticking around long-term than they’d be anywhere else in the NFL.