This article is the second part of a four part series analyzing macro roster trends. In the first article, it was shown that good teams have approximately 17 players in common on rosters from season one to season four.
The next analysis is analyzing all 32 teams from 2018-2021 ( a four season span) to see how many players spend four seasons with the same team. The overall conclusion is that less than one-third of a roster (one third of 53 is 17 or 18 players) will be with a team four seasons later.
Here is the data. Pro Football Reference was the source of player rosters. An example link which was analyzed is https://www.pro-football-reference.com/teams/buf/2018_roster.htm. 64 rosters were reviewed, 2018 and 2021 for each team. The data will be presented three ways with an interpretation provided after each set of data is presented.
Which teams have kept the most players on roster from 2018 relative to the 2021 team?. Ranked most to least. Buffalo is tied for 2nd most at 17.
The yellow highlighted players in the graphic below are common on Buffalo roster for 2018 season and 2021 season.
The 17 players in common from 2018 and 2021 teams are Josh Allen, Ike Boettger, Dion Dawkins, Tremaine Edmunds, Reid Ferguson, Jerry Hughes, Micah Hyde, Taron Johnson, Taiwan Jones, Star Lotulelei, Isaiah McKenzie, Matt Milano, Siran Neal, Harrison Phillips, Jordan Poyer, Levi Wallace, and Tre’Davious White.
This analysis was done for all 32 NFL teams. Some observations. The top 12 teams in the analysis I would suggest are among the best run teams in the NFL from a front office and coaching standpoint. Even if teams have a down year (miss playoffs), the rosters of these teams would be a small number of moves to improve the team for the next season. The only exception is Jacksonville (not a typo) has 14 players which have been on the roster for four seasons. The rest of that list looks like a list of strong playoff teams and robust rosters.
The next analysis is about which teams are able to keep their rookies. We often hear Brandon Beane speak about “keeping our own”, the goal of measuring draft picks kept for four seasons is a way to measure this. This list is sorted based on how many of the “four year players” were drafted by the team that they are rostered on now. For example Jerry Hughes was one of the 17 players in Buffalo’s 17 player list, but because he was drafted by Indianapolis, he isn’t counted in this analysis. Josh Allen was drafted by Buffalo and has been on the team 4 seasons, so he does count as part of this. This was analyzed for all 32 NFL teams.
In this analysis Buffalo is in the bottom 50% of the league. This can be interpreted a few ways. One is that Doug Whaley (GM six years ago) didn’t draft well from the perspective of drafting players Brandon Beane wanted to keep (obvious, but stating it anyway). We “hope” (expect??) this number to increase, I want to point out a few things about roster evolution:
- The best teams are keeping 13 of their draft picks four years or longer. If we do this analysis in another season or two, as Tyler Bass, Ed Oliver, and maybe a couple of other players from Beane’s draft classes get extended, we will see this number grow.
- The number shrinks as fast as it grows. The 2021 roster was analyzed, and players who counted towards the seven included Harrison Phillips and Tremaine Edmunds.
- The seven Bills players drafted who contribute to this total were:
- Josh Allen
- Dion Dawkins
- Tremaine Edmunds
- Taron Johnson
- Matt Milano
- Harrison Phillips
- Tre’Davious White
- Roster turnover is inevitable. It does not make sense to extend every player beyond their fourth or fifth year with a team, even the BEST teams in league have less than 25% of their team as draft picks who have “survived” four seasons in league.
Drafting well provides cost control, as rookies have fixed salaries their first four seasons in most situations. Here is a list of teams sorted by the number of players on their roster (during 2021 season) who were still with the team.
The teams at top are strong, competitive rosters year in, year out. The Indianapolis Colts typically have a lot of cap space the last 2-3 seasons running, and this graphic indicates that having draft picks on roster, providing cost control, is a leading indicator why. The Colts have the third most players they drafted on their roster. The Packers have the most players on their roster that they drafted, giving them cost control options when they allocate 25% of their salary cap to a QB. When a team goes top heavy with salaries (like Aaron Rodgers and Jaire Alexander), having draft picks provide cost control is a good way to have players fill out a roster with lower contract values. Even the Rams, who have a reputation for trading away draft capital, have more draft picks on their roster than Buffalo has on its roster.
This article documents supporting evidence that Buffalo hasn’t had deep drafts in recent years and can improve its drafting relative to other teams in the league. Most fans focus on picks in rounds 1-2, but there are teams having deep drafts year-in and year-out, providing cost control and roster depth while still competing for a Super Bowl victory.
Deep drafting means finding four to five mid-term contributors per draft class (six seasons*, four contributors=24 players). This is Beane’s 5th draft with Buffalo, and the only draft picks on the team from prior to Beane being hired were drafted under Sean McDermott.
Editor’s babble: We are grateful for Jim’s excellent contributions to our blog. You can find Jim on Twitter @cincyplanner.