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Building through the draft clearly the best way to win in the NFL

Super Bowl MVP and Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rogers celebrates alongside teammate Clay Matthews after winning Super Bowl XLV at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas on February 6, 2011. The Green Bay Packers beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-25 to win. UPI/Brian Kersey

If you’re one of the few people who still think the best way to build a team in the NFL is to sign a bunch of high-priced free agents during the offseason, check out CSNBayArea.com’s Matt Maiocco’s latest column and see if you change your mind.

Maiocco examined the past five NFL drafts (2006-2010) and ranked every team based on how their selections panned out. At the top were none other than the Packers and Saints, who each won a Super Bowl the last two years.

The Colts, who have made the playoffs every year over the past five seasons and won the 2006 Super Bowl, were third, while the Jets, who played in the last two AFC title games, were fourth. The defending NFC South champion Falcons were fifth, while the Ravens (who have made the playoffs the last three years) were sixth. The Vikings, Steelers, Patriots and Bucs rounded out the top 10.

Every team in Maiocco’s top 10 has made the playoffs at least once in the last two years outside of Tampa Bay, which had a winning season in 2010 and should be a contender again in 2011 (if there’s a season, of course). In other words, the teams that have drafted well over the last five years have built a roster that can contend.

On the flip side, the Cowboys (28), Cardinals (29), Bengals (30), Redskins (31) and Bills (32) rounded out the bottom five. Granted, Dallas and Cincinnati won their respective divisions in 2009 and went to the playoffs, but both teams collapsed in 2010 and proved that their success was short-lived. And while Arizona nearly won the Super Bowl three years ago, the Cards are feeling the effects of drafting Matt Leinart with the 10th overall pick in 2006.

The Bengals and Cowboys have the smallest scouting teams in the NFL and thus, it’s not surprising to see that they’ve failed on draft day over the last five years. Before Mike Shanahan took over in Washington last year, the Skins had/have been a team that relied on big-money free agent instead of building through the draft. It’s one of the reasons that they’ll be selecting in the top-10 for the second year in a row.

Granted, this is just one man’s opinion but examine Maiocco’s rankings and put together your own list. Is he way off? If you’re answering objectively, the answer should be “no.”

And this isn’t to say that signing free agents is a bad idea. On the contrary – teams need to strike a balance between both. The Saints traded for Jeremy Shockey and Jonathan Vilma, two contributing players in their Super Bowl run two years ago. The Jets traded for Antonio Cromartie, Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards over the last two years, and signed free agent LaDainian Tomlinson to aid them the past two seasons. The Falcons signed Michael Turner and Dunta Robinson, and traded for tight end Tony Gonzalez. To see how the Packers built their Super Bowl-winning roster last year, check out this excellent piece by TSR’s John Paulsen.

But the key is that all of those teams drafted well, too. The draft has become a pillar of success for NFL franchises.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @TheScoresReport. You can also follow TSR editor Gerardo Orlando @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom, and you can follow TSR editor Anthony Stalter @AnthonyStalter.

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