In today's NFL, success is built through the draft. The New York Giants and Green Bay Packers both built their way to Super Bowl titles from the stage at Radio City Music Hall.
Given the parameters of today's game, if you don't draft well, you will lack the foundation necessary to be a perennial playoff team. Free agency can help, but the value of a talented prospect obtained through the draft is far, far greater for an organization.
For the most part, when you obtain a player through the draft you acquire him when the most tread is left on his tires, so to speak. The NFL will grind players down every year, and with careers so short, it is requisite to replace declining players on an annual basis. And some of those players play a bigger role than others.
In front-office talk, we have a name for franchise players, guys teams can build around. We call those guys "blues," as in "blue chips," and their high value is never in question. When evaluating teams in the draft, the more blues, the better. But you'll also need to find solid contributors, or "reds," whom you can plug into a lineup but might never become all-pro-caliber players.
During my tenure as a GM, I found it valuable to examine every team's draft returns for the three previous years to help project their strength going forward. It's that exercise I'm reproducing here.
Below you'll find a listing of which NFL teams have been the best at identifying and drafting talent in the draft since 2009. Along the way, I've singled out some of the blues (cornerstone players) and the top value picks -- which accounts for player talent relative to draft position -- for 31 of the NFL's teams.
You may notice that leaves me one franchise short. I hope you'll forgive me, but I've left off the Indianapolis Colts since I didn't feel I could provide an objective perspective on how my former team's draftees stand in comparison to the rest of the league.
With that exception, let's get started with a look at the six best-drafting teams in the NFL since 2009.
Best value pick: CB Lardarius Webb (2009: Round 3, Pick 88)
Cornerstone picks: CB Jimmy Smith (2011: Rd. 1, 27); OT Michael Oher (2009: Rd. 1, 23)
The Ravens' draft success certainly predates 2009. Both QB Joe Flacco and RB Ray Rice are blues from previous classes, but they've also added two more in Webb and Smith, two corners that Baltimore badly needed. Both CBs are solid in man-to-man coverage, as you have to be in the Ravens' system.
If they had a blue WR they likely would have been in the Super Bowl. Torrey Smith may be it.