There is a debate to be had. Redraft the 2011 class and who would you take No. 1 overall? You could ask five different people this question and get five different answers. Interestingly enough, the real No. 1 overall pick, Cam Newton, likely wouldn’t make the short list. From Richard Sherman in the fifth round to his BFF, Colin Kaepernick, in the second round, there were some amazing steals in the 2011 NFL draft.
Moving on from our focus on the 2010 version of the annual meat show that’s held in New York City, it’s time to take a gander at the 2011 draft. In many ways, this particular two-day period shaped the NFL we see today. A Super Bowl quarterback, one of the best defensive backs in modern history and a throwback defensive lineman, all taken behind the likes of Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder. But I digress, that’s for the next article.
2011 NFL Draft Class Review: Five-Best Picks
1. Richard Sherman, Cornerback, Seattle Seahawks (Fifth Round, 154th Pick)
If this wasn’t the steal of all steals. Ras-I Dowling, Demarcus Van Dyke, Johnny Patrick, Curtis Brown, Brandon Hogan, Chimdi Chekwa, Rashad Carmichael and Rod Issac. What do they all have in common? Well outside of us not really knowing them from a hole in the wall, each of these cornerbacks went ahead of Richard Sherman in the 2011 NFL draft.
Sherman, the 154th overall pick this year, wasn’t even wanted by his former Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh, who didn’t necessarily have the best things to say about him when scouts visited Palo Alto. He was a former wide receiver that seemed raw and lacked the prototypical size to be a solid cornerback at the NFL level. Or so, that’s what the scouts said.
All Sherman has done in three seasons with the Seahawks is lead the team to a Super Bowl championship and cement his status as the best cornerback in the entire league. Sherman led the NFL with eight interceptions in 2013. This despite the fact that he was targeted 58 times during the regular season. For those who aren’t great at math, this means that Sherman intercepted the ball nearly 15 percent of the time he was targeted. That’s just asinine.
2. J.J. Watt, Defensive End, Houston Texans (First Round, 11th Pick)
If it wasn’t for the man named Sherman, Watt would easily be No. 1 on this list. In fact, a strong argument could be made that he’d be taken No. 1 in a redraft. The physical beast, one that makes us wonder whether aliens really do exist on Earth, is among the most dominating defensive players that we have seen in generations. Let’s put something into perspective here.
Not only does Watt have 31 sacks over the past two seasons, he has put up 23 passes defended, eight forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries, 62 quarterback hits and 72 quarterback hurries during that span. According to Pro Football Focus’ official grading metric (subscription required), Watt finished the 2013 season with a positive 111.6 grade. Some perspective here. Next up on that list was Robert Quinn of the St. Louis Rams with a positive 77.2 grade.
Unlike the other players in this article, Watt wasn’t a “steal” in the true sense of the word. He went No. 11 overall to the Texans and was considered a top-10 pick by most draftniks out there, myself included. The difference he has made, however, is our primary reason for including him in this list. While you can’t compare apples to oranges, Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder sandwiched the Watt selection that April.
3. Colin Kaepernick, Quarterback, San Francisco 49ers (First Round, 36th Pick)
One of the most divisive figures in the National Football League today, the success that Colin Kaepernick has enjoyed in less than a season-and-a-half of real game starting experience is simply insane. He already has more road playoffs wins (3) than Steve Young and Joe Montana had as members of the 49ers combined. He boasts the single-game rushing record for a quarterback, a feat that he accomplished in his first-ever playoff start. Kaepernick has a career 17-6 record in the regular season and is a nifty 4-2 in postseason play.
He nearly led the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history two years ago before coming up short on a controversial fourth down inside the Baltimore Ravens’ 10-year line. Statistically speaking, Kaepernick has accounted for 40 career touchdowns compared to just 11 interceptions.
Despite all this, some still want to believe that Kaepernick isn’t the answer in San Francisco. I guess that comes with the territory when you are a starting quarterback for a franchise that has had two of the greatest to ever play that position.
San Francisco traded up from the 45th spot in the draft to No. 36 overall in order to nab Kaepernick. It did so after another quarterback target, Andy Dalton, was taken with the 35th selection by the Cincinnati Bengals. In this, San Francisco yielded just a fourth-round pick to the Broncos, a capability it acquired by trading down for NaVorro Bowman in the fourth round of the previous draft.
Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder and Jake Locker all heard their names called before Kaepernick. Through three NFL seasons, they have a combined 27 career wins compared to 21 for Kaepernick himself.
4. Justin Houston, Outside Linebacker, Kansas City Chiefs (Third Round, 70th Pick)
When Kansas City moved down a few spots with the Cleveland Browns in the first round of the 2011 NFL draft, fans of the red and white were excited about the potential that the Chiefs brought in by drafting former Pitt star Jon Baldwin. We all know how that turned out. However, the Chiefs were able to acquire a third rounder from Cleveland in that deal…a pick they used on this two-time Pro Bowl performer.
After struggling a bit early on (zero sacks in his first 11 games), Houston has become one of the best edge pass rushers in the entire league. He’s racked up 26.5 sacks in the 32 games since. In addition to that, Houston has 65 quarterback hurries and 10 passes defended over the past two seasons.
Interestingly enough, perceived pass-rush threats such as Nate Irving and Dontay Moch were taken immediately prior to Houston in the third round that April. They have a combined two career sacks.
5. Jason Kelce, Center, Philadelphia Eagles (Sixth Round, 191st Pick)
A center? Yeah, I asked myself the same question when I came up with this lost. Don’t fret, the addition of one Jason Kelce on this list isn’t to troll you. He was simply one of the best draft picks that year. Kelce started 16 games last season and contributed to one of the most improved offensive lines in the league. An improvement that enabled Nick Foles and Co. to put up some ridiculous numbers in route to a NFC East championship.
Despite missing all but two games of his sophomore campaign back in 2012, when Kelce has been on the field, he’s one of the best centers in the NFL. Kelce’s on-field performance was actually rewarded to the tune of a six-year, $37.5 million extension he signed with Philadelphia last month. For all this, Kelce deserves to be in this 2011 NFL Draft Class review: Five-Best Pics.
Julius Thomas, Tight End, Denver Broncos
Jordan Cameron, Tight End, Cleveland Browns
Muhammed Wilkerson, Defensive Tackle, New York Jets
K.J. Wright, Linebacker, Seattle Seahawks
Aldon Smith, Linebacker, San Francisco 49ers
There you have it, our 2011 NFL Draft Class Review: Five-Best Picks.
Be sure to check out the other articles in this series.
Photo: Troy Taormina, USA Today