With the NBA Draft taking place around a week ago, many sports fans eyes will now turn to the MLB. Many sports fans will also be looking forward to the start of the NFL season. There are various, fascinating storylines going in to this upcoming NFL season: how will Robert Griffin III rebound from ACL surgery? (Hint: it won’t be as good as Adrian Peterson’s rebound). How will Tom Brady fare without a single competent receiver? (Hint: Check his receivers in 2010 when they went 14-2). Can Chip Kelly rebuild the Eagles? (Hint: Doesn’t matter. Philly fans will still boo him and the team). Are the Jets really as bad as we all think they are? (Hint: Yeah. They’re really, really awful).
One story that hasn’t really been noticed though is just how good the 2011 NFL draft class already is, AND how good could they become? It occurred to me while watching the NFL Network’s Top 100 Players of 2013 (the fourth installment of a series which I recommend watching to all NFL fans). Many of the highest ranked players were all coming out of the 2011 class. The 2010 class was the class with the most players on the list (13 compared to 2011’s 10), but the level of talent in the 2011 class blew the 2010 class’s out of the water. This class, in a decade or so could go down as one of the best ever. So, let’s explore some of the best players in the 2011 NFL Draft class…
J.J. Watt (Defensive End-Houston Texans)
Draft Round: One; Pick: Eleven
Top 100 Rank: Fifth
In just two seasons, J.J. Watt has become the NFL Defensive Player of the Year and the highest ranked defensive player on the NFL Top 100 player’s list. In 2012, Watt had 20.5 sacks (two behind the single season record set by Michael Strahan), 81 tackles and four forced fumbles. But the stat to pay attention to with Watt, are his pass deflections. In 2012, Watt deflected SIXTEEN PASSES!! That’s greater than or equal to the number of deflections by all but eight defensive backs in the league. That’s unbelievable! The next closest lineman in that category was the Chargers Corey Liuget who had nine. Watt has become the most dominant and disruptive defensive player in the league and looks to be a Pro Bowl fixture for many years (barring the elimination of the Pro Bowl. That’s for another article at another time though).
(Top 100 Highlights-http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bm8Je24Zvv8)
Aldon Smith (Linebacker-San Francisco 49ers)
Draft Round: One; Pick: Seven
Top 100 Rank: Seventh
Aldon Smith finished with 66 tackles, three forced fumbles, an interception and 19.5 sacks (second in the league) in 2012. He was surprisingly the highest ranked 49er on the NFL Top 100 player’s list, surprising considering he plays on a team with Colin Kaepernick, Frank Gore and Vernon Davis – Not to mention the fact that he plays on the same defense as guys like NaVorro Bowman, Justin Smith and Patrick Willis. So it speaks to his ability that with all that talent around him, his peers ranked him the best player on arguably the best team in the NFL. Look for Aldon Smith to continue to establish himself as one of the best pass rushers in the NFL.
(Top 100 Highlights-http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B7k38luex7s)
Von Miller (Linebacker-Denver Broncos)
Draft Round: One; Pick: Two
Top 100 Rank: Ninth
The third of the 2011 draft class pass rushing trifecta. Miller finished the 2012 season with 68 tackles, an interception, six forced fumbles and 18.5 sacks (third most in the league). He’s already become the anchor of the Broncos defense and the most feared linebacker in the AFC. I think he was overlooked a lot of last season because Peyton Manning was now on the team, but he’s a guy people need to notice, because he is crazy good. As a Charger fan, it’s absolutely terrifying to watch Von Miller line up against my team (especially considering the incredible atrociousness of our offensive line). Personally, I think Miller will go down as the best player out of this class.
(Top 100 Highlights-http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5gPWbI_qsQ4)
A.J. Green (Wide Receiver-Cincinnati Bengals)
Draft Round: One; Pick: Four
Top 100 Rank: Sixteenth
In my opinion, A.J. Green may be the most underrated player in the NFL right now. Some of the plays and acrobatic catches he makes are just outrageous. He commands a double team at all times, and occasionally a triple team. At this point he’s honestly just Calvin Johnson, only an inch shorter and thirty pounds lighter. He finished 2012 with 1,350 receiving yards and eleven touchdowns. He also had nine consecutive games with a receiving touchdown during the course of the season, tied for the third longest such streak with Hall of Famer Lance Alworth, and behind Hall of Famers Jerry Rice (12 games) and “Crazylegs” Hirsch (10 games).
(Top 100 Highlights-http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=goietd_RJLU)
Julio Jones (Wide Receiver-Atlanta Falcons)
Draft Round: One; Pick: Six
Top 100 Rank: Twenty-sixth
When the Falcons traded up for Julio Jones in the 2011 Draft, I thought it was unnecessary. They already had Roddy White as their number one option and Tony Gonzalez as their second, so I thought trading five picks in the next two drafts for a third option just wasn’t worth it. Boy was I wrong! He’s helped turn the Falcons receiving corps into the absolute best in the league. With ten touchdowns and nearly 1,200 receiving yards this past season, some would argue that Jones is actually already the best receiver on Atlanta (he ranked thirteen spots higher than White, and twenty-one spots higher than Gonzalez on the player’s list). Look for Jones to be even more explosive this upcoming season.
(Top 100 Highlights-http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OtweHObrdeg)
Patrick Peterson (Cornerback-Arizona Cardinals)
Draft Round: One; Pick: Five
Top 100 Rank: Thirty-Third
In 2011, Peterson made his presence felt through phenomenal returning. Now he’s making it felt through his outstanding pass defense. Peterson truly broke out in 2012, recording seven interceptions and deflecting sixteen passes. Look for those numbers to drop in 2013, but not due to Peterson struggling, but because quarterbacks are not going to throw his way as much anymore. He’s the leader in the future of the Cardinals, anchoring a defense that is quietly very, very good.
(Top 100 Highlights-http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DOKzHIqykII)
Cam Newton (Quarterback-Carolina Panthers)
Draft Round: One; Pick: One
Top 100 Rank: Forty-sixth
The 2011 NFL Rookie of the Year struggled through the first nine weeks of the 2012 season averaging a Total Quarterback Rating of 42.1 through those nine games (eight points below average for those who don’t know.
See a full explanation of Total QBR here: http://espn.go.com/nfl/story/_/id/6833215/explaining-statistics-total-quarterback-rating
However, through the last seven games of the season, Newton averaged a Total QBR of 71.2, near MVP caliber play. Newton suffered slightly from the Sophomore Slump Syndrome, but expect him to bounce back in 2013 and continue to play exceptionally for a long time. Once the Panthers put more talent around him on the offensive end, expect Newton to lead Carolina to many playoff runs. Believe me. I watched this guy dominate the Chargers first hand. He’s a beast.
(Top 100 Highlights-http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BuUvOj1RdI8)
Other Notables from the 2011 NFL Draft Class:
- Justin Houston (Linebacker-Kansas City Chiefs; Draft Round: 3; Pick: 70; Top 100 Rank-49th)
2012 Stats: 66 Tackles, 10 Sacks, 6 Pass Deflections, Interception, Forced Fumble
(Top 100 Highlights-http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dl62l2cQdho)
- Richard Sherman (Cornerback-Seattle Seahawks; Draft Round: 5; Pick: 154; Top 100 Rank-50th)
2012 Stats: 64 Tackles, 24 Pass Deflections, 8 Interceptions, 3 Forced Fumbles, Touchdown
(Top 100 Highlights-http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BfCqqjPHtPw)
This is a hilarious video of Richard Sherman interviewing people on Bourbon Street the week of the Super Bowl. Gold!
- Colin Kaepernick (Quarterback-San Francisco 49ers; Draft Round: 2; Pick: 36; Top 100 Rank-81st)
2012 Stats: 1,814 Pass Yard, 415 Rush Yards, 10 Passing TDs, 5 Rushing TDs, 76.8 Total QBR
(Top 100 Highlights-http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=camyx5QcNwA)
- Tyron Smith (Offensvie Tackle-Dallas Cowboys; Draft Round: 1; Pick: 9)
- Robert Quinn (Defensive End-St. Louis Rams; Draft Round 1; Pick: 14)
- Mike Pouncey (Center-Miami Dolphins; Draft Round: 1; Pick: 15)
- Ryan Kerrigan (Linebacker-Washington Redskins; Draft Round: 1; Pick: 16)
- Corey Liuget (Defensive End-San Diego Chargers; Draft Round: 1; Pick: 18)
- James Carpenter (Offensive Tackle-Seattle Seahawks; Draft Round: 1; Pick: 25)
- Andy Dalton (Quarterback-Cincinnati Bengals; Draft Round: 2; Pick: 35)
- Akeem Ayers (Linebacker-Tennessee Titans; Draft Round: 2; Pick: 39)
- Kyle Rudolph (Tight End-Minnesota Vikings; Draft Round: 2; Pick 43)
- Torrey Smith (Wide Receiver-Baltimore Ravens; Draft Round: 2; Pick: 58)
- Randall Cobb (Wide Receiver-Green Bay Packers; Draft Round: 2; Pick: 64)
- Stevan Ridley (Running Back-New England Patriots; Draft Round: 3; Pick: 73)
- Cecil Shorts (Wide Receiver-Jacksonville Jaguars; Draft Round: 4; Pick 114)
- Jacquizz Rodgers (Running Back-Atlanta Falcons; Draft Round: 5; Pick: 145)
- Denarius Moore (Wide Receiver-Oakland Raiders; Draft Round: 5; Pick: 148)