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What we learned about roster construction of the NFC

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.

Which teams rely almost solely on the first few rounds of the draft? Are 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.

Here are the NFC franchises:

NFC East


Dallas Cowboys: Jerry Jones' squad is viewed as a deep-pocketed one reliant on big free agency splashes. On the contrary, this roster was built through the draft's first three rounds, bolstered by a few players who fell through the draft cracks such as Tony Romo, Miles Austin and Barry Church.

New York Giants: Jerry Reese is the NFL's roller coaster general manager. His early drafts paved the way for two Super Bowl champions. It wasn't long ago that he was in the discussion for the NFL's best general manager, but his last four injury-marred draft classes have come home to roost. The Giants disappointed in 2013 because wear and tear rendered the difference-making talents (Jason Pierre-Paul, Hakeem Nicks, David Wilson) mere husks of their top form.

Philadelphia Eagles: Chip Kelly delved into free agency to find better fits for Billy Davis' 3-4 defense, but this roster was built through two key trades (Jason Peters, DeMeco Ryans) and the draft. The pivotal year was 2012, which featured a draft class of DT Fletcher Cox, LB Mychal Kendricks, QB Nick Foles and CB Brandon Boykin.

Washington Redskins: Although the 2012 plan left the Redskins with viable building blocks on offense, the Robert Griffin III trade cost the roster depth on both sides of the ball. That blockbuster will still pay off in the long run if RGIII recaptures rookie-year form, but the defense is essentially starting at square one with one of the shallowest nuclei in the league.

NFC North


Chicago Bears: The 2013 Bears featured just two of their own first-round picks, one of whom (Shea McClellin) has been a bust to date. General manager Phil Emery has picked up key pieces in free agency and the draft the past two years, but still has to rebuild a defense that was allowed to grow old and decrepit in the latter days of Jerry Angelo.

Detroit Lions: All NFL teams suffer stretches of bad luck, but the Lions have taken it on the chin with early round misadventures Jahvid Best, Titus Young, Ryan Broyles, Mikel Leshoure and Amari Spievey. Those calamities have contributed to the lack of depth behind Matthew Stafford, Ndamukong Suh and Calvin Johnson -- a trio of anchors acquired thanks to the Millen-era laughingstock days.

Green Bay Packers: Perhaps no organization's style is as distinctive as Ted Thompson's Packers, which didn't carry a single free-agent acquisition from the past half-decade. Thompson has made up for scant first-round production the past three years by dumpster-diving for starters and key role players in the mid- to-late rounds of the draft.

Minnesota Vikings: General manager Rick Spielman hasn't drafted poorly in the early rounds, but there aren't many organizations that have gotten less help from the later rounds, free agency, trades, the waiver wire and other teams' practice squads. Much like the Lovie Smith/Jerry Angelo-era Bears, the Vikings ultimately have been done in by their swings-and-misses at quarterback.

NFC South


Atlanta Falcons: Two-time NFL Executive of the Year Thomas Dimitroff recently signed a contract extension. It certainly wasn't a reward for his draft prowess over the past five years. Outside of the Julio Jones blockbuster, the Falcons have mined precious few gems since Dimitroff's 2008 debut draft class.

Carolina Panthers: Cap-strapped general manager Dave Gettleman played the late wave of free agency like a maestro in his first year on the job, but the Panthers have the draft's first round to thank for their division title.

New Orleans Saints: Conventional wisdom posits that a successful NFL team can't be assembled via free agency. The 2013 Saints roster argues otherwise. Drew Brees rivals Reggie White as the best free-agent signee in NFL history. He was joined by the league's best passing-down back, two starting cornerbacks, two starting linebackers and a Pro Bowl guard.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Former general manager Mark Dominik habitually explored all avenues, acquiring building blocks via trade (Darrelle Revis), free agency (Vincent Jackson, Dashon Goldson) and the early rounds of the draft (Gerald McCoy, LaVonte David). Much is riding on the shoulders of 2013 third-round pick Mike Glennon.

NFC West


Arizona Cardinals: The backbone of the roster was acquired in the draft's first three rounds. Like most regime changes, though, this franchise required a free-agent binge to fill out the roster last offseason. The Cardinals were successful on that front, importing Karlos Dansby, John Abraham and a cast of solid starters.

San Francisco 49ers: Jim Harbaugh's squad came to be an NFC powerhouse on the strength of an almost unparalleled seven-year stretch of first-round studs from Vernon Davis and Patrick Willis in 2006 through Aldon Smith in 2011. Key pieces were added via trade (Anquan Boldin) and the second and third rounds, but Rounds 4 through 7 have been fruitless.

Seattle Seahawks: The impetus for this project, the Super Bowl champions are the NFL's model franchise for the concept of competition winning out over draft pedigree. Although several trades (Marshawn Lynch, Percy Harvin, Chris Clemons) and free agents (Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril) were instrumental, no other organization comes close to matching the dozen draft picks from Rounds 4 through 7 playing key roles in 2013.

St. Louis Rams: The Rams have intriguing young talent -- thanks in part to the RGIII haul -- but the offense is still lagging behind. What's surprising about the Rams is they have invested more early to mid round draft picks at wide receiver and tight end than most teams and are still lacking difference-makers in the passing attack.

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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