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What we learned about roster construction of the AFC

Inspired by last week's piece on the Seattle Seahawks' prowess in turning late-round draft picks into starters, I decided to dig deeper to gauge how much Pete Carroll's roster stands as an outlier.

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Once I confirmed that no NFL franchise comes close to Seattle's dozen key contributors drafted in Rounds 4 through 7, I was naturally curious to find out how the other 31 rosters were constructed.

Which teams rely almost solely on the first few rounds of the draft? Are there any playoff rosters assembled primarily through free agency? How detrimental is it to suffer a draft drought after years of nailing picks?

With those questions in mind, I deconstructed the rosters to find one key theme for each team.

Let's start with the AFC franchises:

AFC East


Buffalo Bills: Don't look now, but 10 of the 13 Bills players drafted in Rounds 1 and 2 over the past five years have gone on to become solid starters -- several with Pro Bowl potential. Aaron Maybin and Torell Troup were certified flops, but the jury remains out on EJ Manuel.

Miami Dolphins: The 2013 Dolphins were the only AFC team with no players drafted in the first three rounds prior to 2010. Recently fired general manager Jeff Ireland had too many whiffs in the second and third rounds, which forced him to overspend in free agency last offseason.

New England Patriots: This is the rare team with more contributions from players acquired via trade than free agency. Although Bill Belichick has had his fair share of misses, the building blocks of his AFC East juggernaut were picked up in the first two rounds of the draft.

New York Jets: The coaching staff and front office have almost aggressively ignored offense in the first round, which is why they have the worst offensive nucleus in the league. The last four rounds of the draft have been a barren wasteland, supplying just five players on the entire 2013 roster.

AFC North


Baltimore Ravens: Ozzie Newsome hasn't had a sub-.500 season in seven years because he nails his first-round picks, adds quality depth in the middle rounds and has a knack for filling holes via trades and free agency. He's been one of the best in the business for nearly two decades.

Cincinnati Bengals: After blowing draft picks in the 1990s and taking on too many character risks in the 2000s, the Bengals have built a strong, deep roster by loading up on early round picks over the past half-decade. The Carson Palmer trade was a godsend.

Cleveland Browns: This 4-12 squad boasted five Pro Bowl picks thanks to the solid early-round selections of former general manager Tom Heckert in 2010 and 2011. Outside of Jordan Cameron and Ahtyba Rubin, this team has gotten nothing of substance in the last four rounds of the draft.

Pittsburgh Steelers: More than most teams, the Steelers have been reliant on stars drafted in the first two rounds. The problem is the best of those players are at or nearing the downside of their careers after being drafted from 2003 to 2007.

AFC South


Houston Texans: This front office has had an impressive run of hitting on impact first-round picks and mixing in the occasional free-agent find, but the latter rounds have turned up little more than role players and fringe talents. It was the quarterback position that held the franchise hostage in 2013.

Indianapolis Colts: Trigger-happy general manager Ryan Grigson explores all avenues of roster building, specializing in trades and prospecting for international talent. After a potentially historically great 2012 draft class, Grigson had as many misses as hits in free agency and the 2013 NFL Draft.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Former general manager Gene Smith left a relatively bare cupboard. The 2013 Jags had more combined waiver pickups, street free agents and players signed off practice squads than any team in the league. That component comprises more than half of the roster. It's going to take a string of strong draft classes to turn this organization around.

Tennessee Titans: The Titans made an out-of-character foray into free agency last offseason, but this team has been assembled primarily in the first two rounds of the draft. A few mid-to-late round picks have panned out such as defensive tackle Jurrell Casey and cornerbacks Alterraun Verner and Jason McCourty.

AFC West

Denver Broncos: While their Super Bowl opponents were built primarily through the draft, the Broncos relied heavily upon John Elway's ability to identify and recruit impact players in free agency. Peyton Manning was the linchpin that opened the doors for a strong 2013 class, featuring Terrance Knighton, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Wes Welker, Shaun Phillips and Louis Vasquez.

Kansas City Chiefs: Former general manager Scott Pioli was ultimately done in by his failure to upgrade on Matt Cassel at quarterback, but he did stock the roster with talent. The backbone of this 2013 playoff team was provided by early-round draft picks from 2005 through 2011.

Oakland Raiders: Still reeling from the ill-fated Carson Palmer trade and the last few drafts of the Al Davis era, the Raiders got less production from first-round picks than any team in the NFL last season. General manager Reggie McKenzie wasn't viewed as a major player on the open market, but no team picked up more league-average starters (of necessity) in free agency.

San Diego Chargers: The Bolts have been mired in mediocrity because the majority of their nucleus is composed of average to below-average starters acquired in the early rounds of the draft. Difference-making talent is noticeably missing from the last half-decade of drafts.

On the latest edition of the "Around The League Podcast," the guys huddle with Seahawks trio Michael Robinson, Brandon Mebane and Red Bryant before unpacking Cleveland's week of chaos.

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