Since 2011, the Cincinnati Bengals have made an organizational refocus by placing much of their roster-building plans in the NFL Draft. While they have netted a number of Pro Bowl players in the past seven offseasons, there have also been some major misses.
Now, that comes with the territory for any pro team, as the draft is a bit of a crap shoot. However, the Bengals have traditionally seemed to take far more stock in April than they do in March’s free agency period. The question is if those returns are worth their oft-inactivity.
For those who highly-value Pro Football Focus’ metrics, this Bengals’ strategy hasn’t necessarily paid off in spades—at least not recently. PFF recently noted that the Bengals rank 23rd in the NFL in “WAR”, or “Wins Above Replacement”, since their 2013 draft class until the present.
For those who are wondering what that statistic is, here’s a synopsis from PFF:
Wins Above Replacement (WAR – roughly the number of wins a team gets from replacing an off-the-street player with the player of interest).
In both the positives and the negatives for the Bengals in the WAR category, there are both players who may surprise and those who are quite predictable. Still, many of the players who have made these lists over the past five drafts have largely been high-profile picks.
Rookies from last year’s class, Joe Mixon and Jordan Willis were ones who had the highest WAR scores on the team. Cornerback William Jackson was also a 2017 star in his second year, as he allowed just 36.1 opposing passer rating.
Running back Giovani Bernard gets a “Lifetime Achievement Award”, of sorts, as his 4.2 yards per carry career average has him as one of the team’s better WAR scorers. And, fellow 2013 draft class member, Tyler Eifert, had an outstanding 2015 WAR score, thanks to his 13 touchdown receptions that year.
On the Bengals’ negative WAR scale, there are some predictable names. Russell Bodine, Cedric Ogbuehi and Nick Vigil made the list. However, in one lone season, Andrew Billings also fell on this unfortunate side, as did 2017 rookies Josh Malone and Jordan Evans.
So, what to make of this? Well, there are a few takeaways with this information.
First, for a team who has used significant draft capital to build their recent formations of the roster, seeing three starters from last year on the highly-negative side of the scale (Ogbuehi, Bodine and Vigil) is troubling. Also troubling is the fact that five of the six players listed were drafted in Rounds 1-4.
Secondly, the 2013 class might have been one of the best ones in this span. Aside from Eifert and Bernard, Shawn Williams is a starter at safety and Rex Burkhead is a contributor with the Patriots. The 2016 and 2017 draft classes also show promise, especially in the form of Mixon and Jackson by this PFF standard.
But, however indicative of player performance PFF’s WAR scale is, it does only take certain statistics from players to fit this mold. However, other statistics seem to be ignored.
For instance, Willis, while looking like a promising player, had just one sack and 28 total tackles last year. Yet, PFF points to 18 stops and 11 pressures (both important stats as well) as to why he’s one of the more statistically valuable players on the team.
Mixon also showed great promise last year, but there are some concerns. Yes, many believe that with a revamped offensive line he will improve, but even with the noted 18 missed tackles in the passing game, he still only had 3.5 yards per carry.
So, while PFF’s WAR scale is a good indicator of productive players, there are are other factors to consider. Still, these WAR results paint an interesting picture of the Bengals’ recent draft choices—particularly in the higher rounds.