The Cincinnati Bengals lead the NFL, and by a wide margin, in one category that will be especially significant this weekend:
Thirty-seven of the 67 players on the roster were originally drafted by the Bengals, which is five more than the next closest team (Green Bay) and 13 more than the league average.
And beginning tonight when the NFL draft gets started at 8., the Bengals will be scheduled to add nine more, four of which will come in the first 99 picks.
“It’s a big part of it, to have continuity, to have the streamlined thought by everybody of what’s important, of what our type of player looks like and so forth,” Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. “To me, it’s important that when we get into later rounds we’re looking to draft guys that have qualities that stand out for us. Guys who have an edge, who can do something that makes us better. That they can make the team and become an eventual starter.”
The team’s philosophy of re-signing its own free agents each offseason coupled with the run of four consecutive playoff appearances and five in the last six seasons has led to those eventual starters being mined earlier and earlier in the draft.
In two of the last three years, the first player the Bengals drafted (Dre Kirkpatrick in 2012, Darqueze Dennard in 2014) didn’t start a game his rookie season.
And there’s a high likelihood that will be the case again this year with the team returning 20 of 22 starters on offense and defense along with all three specialists.
“There’s no doubt that we want to be able to pick the best player and hopefully fill a position of need,” Lewis said. “Maybe not for this year, maybe not next year, maybe the following year. But it gives us depth at the position, and we’re fortunate to be able to do that.
“It’s not that you have to walk in today and be a starter,” he added. “But can they be a Marvin Jones type guy that can be a starter in a couple of years, or in a year-and-a-half or whatever it takes?”
Jones, a wide receiver,was a fifth-round pick in 2012. Starting safety George Iloka was a fifth-round pick in 2011. Defensive tackles Geno Atkins and Domata Peko, center Russell Bodine and left guard Clint Boling were fourth-round picks.
While the Bengals are mostly set with their starters, they have some holes to fill when it comes to depth, especially at linebacker and tight end, where Vontaze Burfict and Tyler Eifert are trying to come back from season-ending injuries.
But with four picks in the first three rounds and six in the first four due to the compensatory picks the team received for losing free agents Michael Johnson and Anthony Collins last year, the Bengals have a chance to add players who can help immediately even if it’s not in a starting role.
“(The draft) is not quite the Super Bowl, but it’s part of the process that hopefully at some point gets you there,” Lewis said. “I do think it’s very important for the organization that we’re fortunate enough to add good, young players that are going to be here for three, four seasons, and some of them hopefully longer, into their second contracts.
“That’s the way the process should work,” he continued. “We have six picks in the first four rounds, so it gives us an opportunity to add guys who ought to be significant players by some point next season. Maybe not necessarily this season, but hopefully through the 2016 season at some point. We have to make sure we select people like that.”