Unrestricted free agency gets a lot of buzz this time of year, but the bulk of good football teams are comprised of home-grown talent. This is strongly believed in the Cincinnati Bengals’ front office, but in recent years, they’ve failed at applying it.
Pro Football Focus data scientist Timo Riske looked at every club’s last four draft classes and the total Wins Above Replacement (WAR) above expectation from all four classes. The Bengals are 28th, or fifth-worst, in the entire NFL from a total WAR perspective.
#Bengals drafts rank bottom-five over past four years in this metric from @PFF_Moo— Russ Heltman (@russheltman11) February 28, 2021
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Calculating rankings via this methodology will skew results favoring teams that drafted good quarterbacks, hence why the Kansas City Chiefs, Baltimore Ravens, and Houston Texans are all in the top five.
To solve this issue, Riske also generated separated results that factor in overall drafting consistency, draft round value, and positional value on top of draft round value.
The Bengals are 30th, 31st, and 30th in those rankings, respectively.
Nothing hurts as much as whiffing on multiple first-round picks. The Bengals have gotten such little production from John Ross III, Billy Price, and even Jonah Williams. Ross and Price are likely to never to live up to their draft statuses, but at least Williams has a chance after a promising 2020 season.
Those utter misses heavily skews the Bengals in the red, and they haven’t found enough valuable players outside of the first-round since then to counter those misses. Joe Mixon, Carl Lawson, Jessie Bates III, Sam Hubbard, and Tee Higgins are the best draft picks the team has made outside of the first round since then. That’s a solid core, but they’ve drafted many more Day 2 and Day 3 players that haven’t made much of an impact.
The Bengals have also drafted a quarterback in Joe Burrow, but his one season doesn’t prove that he’s an already uber-valuable player like a Patrick Mahomes or a Lamar Jackson.
In a couple years, Cincinnati’s 2019-2020 draft classes may boost their standing in a future study. Another first-round hit from the upcoming 2021 draft wouldn’t hurt, either.