Steelers, Bengals Differ In Roster-Building Priorities

Houston - William Jackson III

When it comes to the NFL Draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers are fairly regarded as one of the most successful drafting teams in recent decades, yet one of the most widely-regarded drafting teams in recent years has been the Cincinnati Bengals, who for a long time were regarded as a poor drafting team, reflected in their limited scouting department.

It would not surprise me to learn over recent years that the Bengals might have borrowed a thing or two from the Steelers and the way that they do things—head coach Marvin Lewis did once coach in Pittsburgh—but there is one area in particular in which they seem to disagree fundamentally.

Both AFC North rivals are now teams that primarily build their rosters through the draft—if I recall correctly, the Bengals have one of the most completely homegrown rosters in the league. Knowing that, first-round picks serve as the top priority.

For the Steelers, they tend to favor building from the interior, largely with the offensive line or the front seven on defense in the first round. In recent years, they have drafted three inside linebackers, two outside linebackers, two defensive ends, a running back, and two offensive linemen before they finally turned to the perimeter this year.

On the contrary, the Bengals front office tends to value building their roster with premium draft picks on the perimeter, rather than from the inside and working their way out. This will likely be obvious to anybody who realizes that they have drafted three cornerbacks in the first round over the course of the past five seasons, and five in the past 11 drafts.

In that span, they have also drafted two tight ends who regularly play as a wide receiver with a large role in the passing game, as well as an actual wide receiver. Of their other four first-round draft picks in that span of time, three offensive linemen and an outside linebacker were taken, a two-to-one ratio in favor of players who are primarily on the perimeter, e.g. not on the offensive line or in the defensive front seven.

Perhaps if anything, this just goes to show that there is more than one way to build a roster, as the Steelers are a Super Bowl favorite, and the Bengals have recently been perennially regarded as among the teams with the deepest rosters in the entire league, yet they seem almost fundamentally to vary in terms of what they place the highest priority upon.

With the drafting of cornerback Artie Burns in the first round this past draft, the Steelers selected their first perimeter player—without regarding their outside linebackers as such, since they generally account for a four-man pass-rushing front—for the first time since the 2006 draft when they selected wide receiver Santonio Holmes.

The Steelers still hold true to a perhaps older and nearly antiquated notion that, more than anything, games are won in the trenches. The Bengals have of course invested in their roster top to bottom, but they have preferred instead to orient their most valuable resources when possible to filling out the outside and working their way in, believing the most value lie there.

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