There is no single method to having success through the NFL draft, no perfect philosophy. Go through the thousands of picks and hundreds of rounds and try to pull themes, and you can prove almost any case you want.
Total picks matter, you can claim. If you are a fan of the Green Bay Packers, you can argue that last year's success says a lot about the importance of accruing many picks -- a league-leading 68 over the last seven drafts. This strategy creates vast depth, the kind that makes a Super Bowl run possible even while the injured reserve is stuffed. And you'd be right.
Elite talent matters, you can argue. You could be a fan of the San Francisco 49ers or Detroit Lions, and point to the importance of adding elite talent. Both teams have experienced huge turnaround seasons after each adding two key first-round picks in the 2010 draft. Depth is nice, but you can't start 53 players.
The problem is that there are a multitude of counter-examples.
The Packers and New England Patriots prove that piling up picks matters, with two of the league's best winning percentages over the last six years. But the New Orleans Saints have the NFL's second-fewest picks in that span, and have played the best football in the history of the franchise, including a Super Bowl title. The New York Jets have made the fewest picks and have been to two straight AFC title games.
Adding elite, first-round talent matters, but what does that say for a team like the Washington Redskins, the ultimate example, who almost unbelievably had the second and third overall picks in the 2000 draft and proceeded to top .500 only once in the next six seasons?
You can't assess the draft by picks alone. Be it volume, board placement or scouting mentality, there isn't one foolproof strategy. The annual list of newly replaced GMs will all take the stand and say the same.
But there is a connection between the draft and clear success when you weave in another theme, and it shows why the Oakland Raiders haven't ruined their future by trading away so many picks for Carson Palmer, and the Cincinnati Bengals haven't assured their own success by adding them.