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Denver's defense was still great at producing pass pressure, while two NFC East teams really improved over 2015. Also: pressure splits by number of rushers, and how sacks can be overrated. Just ask Brandon Graham (or Erik Walden).

31 Mar 2017

2011 NFL Draft: Six Years Later

by Tom Gower

It is an annual tradition at Football Outsiders to look back at a draft that was, in preparation for thinking about the draft that is upcoming. On most websites, this look back would be at last year's draft. Fortunately, that is not the case here at FO, so you will not be reading here today about the wisdom of trading up for Jared Goff or Carson Wentz. Instead, we look back at the draft of six years ago, where if you had a pick in the first half of the first round other than No. 1, the only way to really screw it up was to take a quarterback.

The 2011 draft occupies a unique role in modern drafts. The owners had opted out of the 2006 Collective Bargaining Agreement, and locked out the players. For the first time since the AFL-NFL war of the 1960s, the draft took place before any offseason movement involving veteran players. Free agency normally sets and clarifies what positions and players team pick in April or May, but that had not yet taken place so teams were in uncharted territory. Teams may pre-select and force picks in normal drafts, but they generally do so with at least some degree of intentionality and purpose, or in light of what had happened in free agency. In 2011, teams had a longer list of needs, but did not know if or when they would be able to fill the needs that would have been filled in a normal free-agency period. Fortunately, teams at the top of the draft had a really, really, really good list of non-quarterbacks to choose from.

For a look back at the best rookie seasons, see Mike Tanier's 2011 All-Rookie Team. For a reminder of who went where, here is a list of all the picks in the draft at Pro Football Reference, while the Wikipedia page may be more useful for tracking draft pick-related trades.

Quarterbacks

Conventional wisdom: A bunch of potential starters, all of them flawed in some way. The biggest lightning rod of the draft was the likely No. 1 pick, Cam Newton. It is hard to understate just how controversial Newton was as a prospect. He was obviously dominant in leading a fairly average Auburn team to an undefeated season. But a lot of the Tigers' attack relied on him as a rusher. During the season, he had faced allegations Auburn paid off his family to get him to go there. He had previously attended Florida, where he got kicked out for stealing a laptop. It was claimed he had -- and this falls in the "I am not making this up, I would not make this up, I could not make this up" category -- a "fake smile." He was unused to NFL verbiage, with Gus Malzahn's offense even featuring some one-word play calls. He was only a one-year starter at the FBS level, historically a massive red flag for a first-round pick. Everyone, skeptical or not, wanted to see just where he would go and just how his NFL career would pan out.

The stories around the other quarterbacks were not as extensive or as interesting, but were mostly just as conflicted. Colin Kaepernick may have been the most or second-most talented quarterback behind Newton, but was at least as big a projection coming from Chris Ault's pistol offense at Nevada. Washington's Jake Locker supposedly might have been the first overall pick by St. Louis had he come out after his junior season, though not everybody was convinced he could consistently hit the broad side of a barn. Blaine Gabbert came out early from Missouri and certainly looked the part -- enough so that he was considered the top passer in the draft by many -- but had some jitteriness in the pocket and did not seem ready to play immediately. Christian Ponder also come out of the traditional mold and had some mobility, but he didn't have the strongest arm and missed a lot of time at Florida State due to injuries. Andy Dalton was the favorite of our Lewin Career Forecast, the precursor to QBASE, followed by Kaepernick. But the skeptics did not think Dalton had the physical ability to be more than an average starter.

Highest pick: Newton, first overall to Carolina.

Best player: By passing DYAR, Dalton has been the most productive quarterback in the class, and it has not been close. He has 3,418 DYAR total DYAR through his first six seasons, almost precisely double Cam's 1,712. Yes, those are regular season-only numbers. Adding Dalton's four playoff games (remember, he missed 2015) gives him another minus-241 DYAR, closing 14 percent of the gap. Add in Newton's playoff games. The gap is now 3,177 v. 1,883. Add in rushing, regular and postseason. The gap is now 3,364 v. 2,674. Not 100 percent, but still 25 percent. And context, yes, that pesky context.

I almost made this section of the draft write-up all about Newton, because I think in a poll of neutral fans, basically all of them would pick him given their choice of quarterbacks in the draft. Also, he has had a fascinating career. He went from phenom rookie to disappointing sophomore to a breakout third-year season all while posting virtually identical passing DVOAs (0.8% to 2.0% to 1.7%).

As we chronicled in the Panthers chapter of Football Outsiders Almanac 2016, he won the 2015 NFL MVP award with the least impressive performance by conventional statistics in the history of DVOA (and the recent extension back to 1987 does nothing to change that). And it was not a Mark Moseley-esque fluke, either -- he won the FO award voting overwhelmingly, too, and at least a couple FO writers supported his case notwithstanding those non-outstanding conventional and advanced numbers (including yours truly). But oh, that pesky context. With Matt Kalil now protecting his blind side, and coming off a career-worst rushing season, with shoulder surgery this offseason, can the physical running style that made him so unique and uniquely effective continue to work as he approaches age 30?

Biggest bust: Locker went eighth to the Titans. The Jaguars traded up to No. 10 to select Gabbert. The Vikings, supposedly interested in Locker and probably the team the Jaguars traded up to snipe (the Texans had pick No. 11, about which more later), settled for Ponder. Gabbert reset the bar for "worst long-term performance by a young quarterback in an awful situation," taking an honor formerly held by Joey Harrington. But he still started on a team Ponder could not make in 2016, while Locker is off doing whatever he's doing back home in Washington after retiring rather than pursuing another contract when his rookie deal expired.

Best value: The six interesting quarterbacks all went in the first 36 picks, and only four went in the final 218 selections: Arkansas strong-armed statue/red flag Ryan Mallett to New England at 74; popgun-armed T.J. Yates (UNC) to Houston at 152; Virginia Tech's mobile and scattershot Tyrod Taylor to Baltimore at 180; and Alabama's Proven Winner (TM) Greg McElroy to the Jets at 208. Yates won a playoff game as a rookie, but nobody else did anything of note or provided much of value to their drafting team. Obviously, if you include value to team other than drafting team and/or current role, it's Taylor.

Running Backs

Conventional wisdom: Not a great class overall, with no great individual standouts, no sure-fire starters, no star prospects, and overall probably a number of more committee-type backs. McElroy had won his national title by handing off to Mark Ingram, who had an NFL pedigree and the first Heisman Trophy in the history of the Crimson Tide's storied program. Some people outside the NFL really liked Virginia Tech's Ryan Williams, who had a good combination of inside and outside running ability but had his 2010 season troubled by a hamstring injury. Later on, you could probably get DeMarco Murray, who starred on the great 2008 Oklahoma squad but missed that BCS Championship and plenty of other games with injuries. The most intriguing option might have been Oregon State mighty mite Jacquizz Rodgers, whose size made him unlikely to be an every-down NFL back.

Highest pick: Ingram, 28th overall to the Saints.

Best player: Murray fell to the Cowboys with the 71st pick. The injuries that limited him at Oklahoma have plagued him at times in the NFL, and you simply can not put him in the shotgun and ask him to run laterally instead of directly downhill, but he has been the most productive back in the class by a wide margin. He has 50 percent more rushing yards than Ingram and more than twice as many as third-place back Stevan Ridley (LSU, 73rd, New England). Cam ranks third in the class overall in rushing yards.

Biggest bust: I am still trying to figure out why the Saints thought they had to trade up into the first round to draft a between-the-tackles grinder like Ingram; they gave New England a second-round pick that year, 56th overall (used on another running back, Cal's receiving specialist Shane Vereen) and a first-round pick the next year (27th, traded by the Patriots to get the pick used on Chandler Jones, eventually used by the Bengals to select Kevin Zeitler). Like the Titans taking Locker when they only had Rusty Smith on the roster, this might have been a lockout-induced move after their M*A*S*H running back corps from 2010. Williams was the next back off the board, to the Cardinals at 38. His injuries proved just as serious as feared, and he carried the ball just 58 times in the NFL.

Best value: Three Day 3 picks have had at least 1,000 yards rushing and 100 career receptions: Nebraska's Roy Helu, 105th to Washington; Louisville's Bilal Powell, 126th to the Jets; and Rodgers, 145th to Atlanta. Honorable mention to fullback Anthony Sherman (UConn, 136th to Arizona and now a mainstay in Kansas City) and Dion Lewis (Pittsburgh, 149th to Philadelphia) for his persistence through injuries. But Murray in the third round as the sixth back off the board was pretty good.

Wide Receivers

Conventional wisdom: Wide receiver talk was dominated by the two most prominent players. Both A.J. Green and Julio Jones had high profiles, and deservedly so. They were both mega-recruits who attended marquee college football programs in Georgia and Alabama, respectively. Both produced at high levels from early in their college careers. Everybody loved Green; some were a bit more skeptical of Jones. Most famously, that latter group included Bill Belichick, who made the case that Pitt's Jonathan Baldwin might be as good as Julio.

Notwithstanding the skepticism of Belichick or others, the general consensus was that there was no receiver other than the top two worthy of a pick in the top half of the first round, or maybe even in the first round at all. Which receiver you did like next best was very much an eye-of-the-beholder exercise. Some liked Maryland speedster Torrey Smith. Others preferred Miami's Leonard Hankerson, even if he likely would not be The U's next great wideout. Some liked Titus Young, the higher-rated of Boise State's two players in the next general tier (Austin Pettis was the other).

Here at Football Outsiders, we introduced a revised version of Playmaker Score in the 2011 offseason. It had Green as the draft's top receiving prospect, followed by Hankerson, while it dinged Jones for his lack of outstanding production in college.

Highest pick: Green, fourth overall to Cincinnati.

Best player: Green or Jones? Jones or Green? PFR's AV metric prefers Jones, 74 to 65. Jones also has more regular season career receiving DYAR, 1,722 to 1,516. But Jones started as a second banana to Roddy White and it was not until his fourth season that he led the Falcons in targets, while Green had to be the man in Cincinnati from Day 1 and has led the team in targets each of the first six years of his career. And we can also have another "Andy Dalton vs. a different starting quarterback debate" if you want. As a tie-breaking factor, I would use that Green has played in 86 of 96 possible regular-season games, to 79 for Jones. Whichever side of the debate you come down on, though, both Atlanta and Cincinnati are pretty happy with the player they each chose.

Biggest bust: The Chiefs took Baldwin with the 26th pick. He finished next-to-last in receiving DVOA as a rookie, ahead of only Eddie Royal's role in "Tim Tebow vs. successfully throwing to slot receivers." After he concluded his second season with 41 catches in 100 total targets, Kansas City sent him to San Francisco for the 49ers' disappointing former first-round pick A.J. Jenkins. Baldwin played in seven games for San Francisco in 2013, catching three passes in nine targets.

Best value: The Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers added to an already ridiculously deep receiving corps by selecting the draft's best slot receiver in Kentucky's Randall Cobb at the bottom of the second round, 64th overall. The most productive third-day receivers have been Jeremy Kerley (TCU, 153rd, Jets) and Cecil Shorts (Mount Union, 114th, Jaguars).

Tight Ends

Conventional wisdom: If you wanted a tight end, you probably should have drafted one last year. That sells the class a little bit short, but not on the top end.

Everybody's favorite was Kyle Rudolph. Though he missed much of his final season at Notre Dame with a hamstring injury, he did not carry the same overall injury risk as Rob Gronkowski, while also offering enough blocking to play as an in-line tight end in all situations and some field-stretching ability.

Beyond Rudolph, though, you were starting the see what looks like the effect of the increasing using of the spread offense around college football. Luke Stocker of Tennessee was the only other tight end people liked as a composite Y, while the class was amply stocked with potential H-backs or move tight ends with questionable blocking ability (Tulsa's Charles Clay, Nevada's Virgil Green, Wisconsin's Lance Kendricks, Portland State basketball convert Julius Thomas, and D.J. Williams from Arkansas, to name but five).

Highest pick: Rudolph, 43rd overall to the Vikings.

Best player: Take your pick. Clay (Dolphins, 174th overall) leads Rudolph in receptions by four, in yards by 268, and in AV by 23 to 22, but has eight fewer touchdowns and one less Pro Bowl appearance. The best season by a player in the class is probably Thomas (Broncos, 129th) finishing second in DYAR to Jimmy Graham in his breakout 2013 campaign, with an honorable mention to Jordan Cameron (USC, 102nd, Browns) for his 80 catches and ninth-place DYAR ranking that same season. And of course Bill Belichick drafted the best blocking tight end in the class and maybe now the league, but he cut Lee Smith (Marshall, 159th) after camp. Smith's career has since taken him to Buffalo and Oakland.

Biggest bust: The highest-drafted player not to see action in 2016 was Rob Housler (Florida Atlanta, 69th, Cardinals), but he signed a futures contract with the Patriots in January and might be around for 2017 (he caught four passes in 2015 while spending time in Chicago and Cleveland). The only drafted tight end whose NFL career ended before 2015 was Buccaneers seventh-round pick Daniel Hardy (Idaho, 238th), who did not make it out of training camp.

Best value: Clay.

Offensive Linemen

Conventional wisdom: There were no likely superstar tackles in the class, but there were enough interesting names to give teams options. The most intriguing may have been USC's underaged and tremendously gifted Tyron Smith, who needed further seasoning and was not the best run blocker. If you wanted more of a plug-and-play tackle, left or right, you probably preferred Anthony Castonzo from Boston College. Nate Solder from Colorado struggled at the Senior Bowl, and you needed to trust your offensive line coach if he suggested Solder's flaws were hard or easy to fix.

On the interior, the top prospect was Florida's Mike Pouncey, whose brother Maurkice had already been a top-20 pick. The most interesting may have been Baylor's Danny Watkins. He replaced 2009 second overall pick Jason Smith at left tackle in college, but his frame made him an inside player in the NFL. The Canadian first played organized football in 2007, when he was at junior college to learn firefighting, and he was already 26. Florida State's Rodney Hudson and Penn State's Stefen Wisniewski were the other top centers to go with Pouncey.

Highest pick: Smith, ninth overall to the Cowboys.

Best player: Smith, which is not to say that the Patriots were dissatisfied with their selection of Solder at 17, or the Colts when they picked Castonzo at 22.

Biggest bust: The Eagles spent the 23rd pick on Watkins, only to discover he was much more interested in fighting fires than he was in becoming a great football player. You may reasonably consider this a credit to him as a person (or not), but it was to his debit as a football player, and that is what this column is about.

Best value: One of the interesting things about reading old draft guides is that time of publication matters a lot. The pre-draft process includes plenty of smokescreens and silliness, but sometimes it produces relevant information. TCU's Marcus Cannon was considered a first- or second-round pick by many, but the combine medical exam discovered he had non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Cancer unsurprisingly affected his draft stock, and he fell to the fifth round, 138th overall, where New England snatched him up and found an eventual bookend companion to Solder. The Eagles' found their best offensive lineman in the draft in the sixth round, 191st, when they chose Cincinnati's Jason Kelce. Even later (227th), Houston took Derek Newton from Arkansas State, who followed the long and slow development path to successful starter until he tore both patellar tendons last October.

Defensive Linemen

Conventional wisdom: First off, a brief methodological note. When I took over this column beginning with the 2005 draft, the overwhelming majority of the NFL played a 4-3 defense, and edge-rushers were almost all 4-3 defensive ends. By 2010, the shift to more 3-4 alignments and stand-up edge-rushers was well under way.

This leads, inevitably, to some blurring of positional identities. Draft guides and the general discussion recognized that 4-3 defensive ends and 3-4 outside linebackers were both primarily pass-rushers and many players could play in either role, based solely on team-specific factors and which team drafted them. There were occasional exceptions such as Von Miller, who was a pass-rush specialist but likely limited to linebacker in base situations even in a 4-3 (as in fact happened).

Which players I discuss with which group is a bit of a hodgepodge -- 4-3 defensive tackles and defensive linemen all go under Defensive Linemen, as do 3-4 defensive linemen, but 3-4 outside linebackers go under Linebackers. In the past I have done that by initial NFL position, so some players you think of as 3-4 outside 'backers I have listed as ends, and maybe vice versa. In future editions of this column it may make sense to split it the way I think of players now -- as defensive linemen (4-3 DT/3-4 DL), edge-rushers (4-3 DE, 3-4 OLB), and off-the-ball linebackers (3-4 ILB, 4-3 OLB/MLB, with rare exceptions like Miller). But I definitely was not thinking that way in 2011, so this year's edition is more of the hodgepodge.

Getting to the actual players in the class, there was no Ndamukong Suh or Gerald McCoy in this year's draft class. Then again, that did not distinguish this year's draft class from pretty much any draft class other than 2010's. Like that 2010 class, though, both of the top interior linemen came from the same conference -- in fact, they were from the same state.

Nick Fairley was a devastating interior rusher and the player other than Cam Newton who took an average Auburn team to an undefeated national title. Alabama's Marcell Dareus had helped lead a team to a national title of his own and had the strength and ability to affect the game from any point on the defensive line. Dareus and Fairley were far from alone, though, even on the interior.

Illinois' Corey Liuget and Temple's Muhammad Wilkerson looked like first-round picks, Baylor's Phil Taylor was if you wanted a nose tackle and did not mind a past felony assault charge, and Oregon State's Stephen Paea was at least a rock in the middle of the defensive line.

Over at defensive end, there were even more players to choose from. The top two both carried potentially major injury risks. Clemson standout Da'Quan Bowers was outstanding against the run and very productive as a pass rusher. But a December knee injury was not healed at the combine, and he did not work out there. Robert Quinn did not even play at North Carolina in 2010 after accepting benefits from an agent and had previously had a tumor removed from his brain. If you could look past those facts, he flashed the athleticism to be a dominant pass rusher. Wisconsin's J.J. Watt was probably a 5-technique end in a 3-4 rather than a 4-3 defensive end, and he drew multiple comparisons to former Nebraska first-round pick Adam Carriker. Since Cal was one of the few college defenses at the time to play in a 3-4, Cameron Jordan's experience as a 5-tech made him a straightforward projection to the NFL, but he could also be a base end for a 4-3 team. Ditto Cameron Heyward, though Ohio State did not play a 3-4. And those were just the first-round picks.

Here at Football Outsiders, the pre-draft version of SackSEER had Miller as the best pass-rushing prospect in the draft by a significant margin, followed by Justin Houston, Ryan Kerrigan, Bowers, and Aldon Smith. Because Houston (like Miller and Kerrigan, discussed with the linebackers below) ended up going in the third round, he was not part of the "official" SackSEER projection included in Football Outsiders Almanac 2011. Its preferred sleeper was Nevada's Dontay Moch; he went to the Bengals with their third-round pick after Cincinnati had previously selected Playmaker Score's favorite receiver Green and LCF's favorite quarterback Dalton.

Highest pick: Dareus, third overall to Buffalo.

Best player: People liked Watt. He was widely regarded as a first-round pick and likely to be a very good player in the NFL. Nobody thought he would be this good.

Biggest bust: Everybody who went in the first round was good, by which I mean they have at least 20 sacks and are still producing in the NFL -- except Phil Taylor, who went 21st to the Browns.

The closest thing to a "disappointment" outside of Cleveland was Adrian Clayborn, who went 20th to the Buccaneers, and that is because he kicks inside on passing downs. That used to be regarded as a bad thing, instead of a great thing because it means your player is similar to Michael Bennett.

Two players in the second round did not live up to expectations. One of them was Bowers, who fell to the Buccaneers at 51. His rookie year was slowed by that knee injury. He tore his Achilles in his second season. He had offseason knee surgery heading into his fourth season. He has 7.0 career sacks and seems likely to end his career with precisely that many after not making it into a training camp last season.

The other was the other Tar Heel defensive lineman Marvin Austin, whom the Giants selected at 52nd overall. Previously known as the guy who helped turn Kentwan Balmer into a first-round pick (I fell for that one myself), he was a mega-recruit and part of a bevy of talented players who ended up at North Carolina through possibly nefarious means (nefarious in this case meaning "in violation of NCAA rules," rather than anything potentially bad, and I managed to avoid the temptation of going into A.J. Green's suspension at Georgia). Like Quinn and second-round receiver Greg Little (Cleveland, 59th), he had been suspended for 2010 and would subsequently be permanently disassociated. Unlike Quinn, he never did much in the NFL.

Best value: You did well if you picked early. You had less to choose from if you picked later. Still, even a couple of linemen drafted outside of the top 40 picks turned into very good players. The Ravens stole Pernell McPhee out of Mississippi State with a fifth-round compensatory selection, 165th overall. Notwithstanding their Locker whiff, the Titans found a very good player in USC's squatty defensive tackle Jurrell Casey at No. 77 and the other player in the class with 20 sacks, rotational interior penetrator Karl Klug -- he of the tiny little arms -- out of Iowa at No. 142.

Linebackers

Conventional wisdom: Von Miller was an all-world prospect and potentially dominant pass-rusher, and a linebacker regardless of scheme.

Among 3-4 outside linebackers, Aldon Smith was a really good prospect and possibly the player the Texans would have chosen had they had their pick of things. A redshirt sophomore, he was growing into his body and showed his toughness by playing through a fractured fibula at Missouri. Ryan Kerrigan from Purdue got all the white pass-rusher cliches J.J. Watt did not, and like Watt actually deserved them as an All-American in 2009. Georgia's transition to a 3-4 defense let Justin Houston show what he could do as a stand-up rusher, but if you looked past his splash plays he was not as consistent as you would want. UCLA's Akeem Ayers, Pitt's Jabaal Sheard, and Arizona's Brooks Reed were among the other conversion candidates.

Nobody really liked any of the potential middle linebackers and nobody could agree on which of them, if any, were any good. Looking at the various draft guides, Illinois' Martez Wilson, North Carolina's Quan Sturdivant, and Michigan State's Greg Jones were the players listed first at the position, and Wilson had a neck injury that could have hurt him. Looking more at the run-and-chase players, another Tar Heel who was actually allowed to step on the field in 2010, Bruce Carter, was the favorite, but everyone agreed he did not often play to his athletic ability.

Highest pick: Miller, second overall to the Broncos.

Best player: Miller.

Biggest bust: Smith, who went seventh to the 49ers, for the way his personal life blew up off the field? Ayers, who went 39th to the Titans and was benched by his fourth season? Chargers general manager A.J. Smith, who took a consensus sixth-round pick in Michigan's Jonas Mouton at the bottom of the second round only to find that, no, everybody else had been right and he had been wrong? Wilson went to the Saints in the third round at 72nd overall and did not make it through his third season.

Best value: It turns out that really big, really athletic players who flash a couple times a game can turn into really good players. Who knew? Houston somehow fell to the Chiefs in the third round, 70th overall, and has been a really, really good player. Since we have not yet praised John Schneider for building a ridiculous defense through the draft, we must do so now as the Seahawks found another mainstay in K.J. Wright in the fourth round, 99th overall. (Yes, Seattle fans, more praise for Schneider is coming soon.)

Defensive Backs

Conventional wisdom: Everybody's favorite cornerback was the same: LSU's Patrick Peterson's combination of elite shutdown corner ability and phenomenal return skills. Some people liked Nebraska's Prince Amukamara nearly as much, notwithstanding his susceptibility to double-moves and doubts about his long speed, doubts that a 4.38 40 at the combine could not erase. Potentially joining them as first-round picks were Colorado's Jimmy Smith, who seemed fit for a press man scheme, and Virginia's Ras-I Dowling, who had great size and speed and a long list of injuries. Overall, though, it was not thought to be a great cornerback draft.

If you looked at the safeties, though, the corners started to look a lot better. UCLA's Rahim Moore was the consensus top free safety, while Temple's Jaiquawn Jarrett was the top strong safety. Neither had the look of a first-round pick. The most intriguing safety, by far, was Florida's Will Hill. He had enough physical ability to be a first-round pick and enough red flags on and off the field to go completely undrafted.

Highest pick: Peterson, fifth overall to Arizona.

Best player: Like basically every other non-quarterback high pick in the draft, Peterson has been about as good as advertised. However, just as good has been the converted wide receiver from Stanford who was CB4 in Russ Lande's draft guide but not in anybody else's top 25 corners. Richard Sherman fell to Seattle in the fifth round, 154th overall, where John Schneider snatched him up. The third man who deserves mention is someone who was not even drafted: Kansas corner Chris Harris, signed by the Broncos.

Biggest bust: Sometimes, you take injury risks in the second round and you get an awesome player. Sometimes, you get a complete bust. A year after taking Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots spent the 33rd overall pick on Dowling. His extensive injury history followed him to Foxborough, and he played just 12 games between 2011 and 2014.

Best value: Sherman. Seattle also found Byron Maxwell out of Clemson in the sixth round, 173rd overall, while New Mexico State's Davon House went to Green Bay in the fourth round, 131st overall.

Buffalo took Da'Norris Searcy, another North Carolina prospect, with the 100th overall pick, and he might be the best pure safety in the class. That seems almost preposterous, given that Searcy was a part-time player for four years in Buffalo and one in Tennessee, and seems likely to be a part-time player at best in 2017. But he did get a very strong contract as a free agent, and the rest of the safety class is miserable. Buffalo's Aaron Williams and Marcus Gilchrist, late of the Chargers and now of the Jets, are converted corners. Moore was benched by the Texans in 2015 and did not play in 2016. Jarrett did not make it to his third season in Philadelphia (54th overall), not that the Eagles were not warned against taking him or Watkins. Longtime punching bag Chris Conte (Cal, 95th, Bears) is probably Searcy's closest rival for the top spot unless you have an irrational fascination for special teams players like Chris Prosinski (Wyoming, 121st, Jaguars) or Colin Jones (TCU, 190th, 49ers). As we wrote about the 2009 draft, sometimes there just are no good options. The best might have been Hill, who had some good moments after he did indeed go unselected, but that did not last.

Special Teams

Conventional wisdom: If your name was He*ry, you were probably a draftnik favorite. Multiple draft guides ranked Nebraska's Alex Henery as the top kicker and Florida's Chas Henry as the top punter. Henery was the higher ranked of the two, in part because he was a punter as well. At least some people, though, preferred Oklahoma State's Dan Bailey to him.

Highest pick: Henery, fourth round, 120th overall to Philadelphia.

Best player: Like Henery, Matt Bosher both punted and kicked for the Miami Hurricanes. The Falcons took him in the sixth round, 192nd overall, but he has not yet attempted a place kick in the NFL. He and Henery were the only kickers or punters drafted.

Biggest bust: Henery was last in the league on kickoffs by our metrics in 2013 and did not make it around to kick for Chip Kelly's first season in 2014. He joined the Lions that season and missed four of his five field goal attempts (all from 40 yards or further out).

Best value: The Cowboys signed Bailey as an undrafted free agent, and his track record includes going 24-of-35 from 50 yards and beyond. You still should not draft kickers.

That Julio Jones Trade…

… is interesting enough that we decided to kick this section into a whole separate article, which is already written and will run in the very near future.

Team Performance

Our annual Report Card Report and reader poll both liked the Lions' draft a lot. Getting Nick Fairley with the 13th pick was undoubtedly a big part of that, but most people also liked their second-round selections of wide receiver Titus Young (44th) and running back Mikel Leshoure (57th). A good thing, too, because those were their only picks in the top 150. Tampa Bay and those two defensive ends with the first two picks was next (alas, my riff on the non-efficacy of doubling up from the Jacksonville chapter of FOA 2010 had not yet penetrated the national consciousness), followed by Cleveland and the rewards of the Jones trade. The consensus worst draft went to (yes, him again) John Schneider and the Seattle Seahawks, followed by Jacksonville and their trade up for a quarterback and Carolina and their selection of a quarterback with the first overall pick.

In the critics' defense, Seattle spent their first-round pick on Alabama offensive lineman James Carpenter. Among those apparently puzzled by the selection was Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban, still waiting in the Green Room with Mark Ingram. Seattle had given up its third-round pick in the Charlie Whitehurst trade, and sent its second-round pick to Detroit in the Leshoure trade. Carpenter was not a tackle, and neither third-round guard John Moffitt (Wisconsin, 75th) nor fourth-round pick Kris Durham (Georgia, 107th) panned out. But Wright, Sherman, and Maxwell was a pretty good haul, Malcolm Smith (USC, 242nd) won a trophy of his own, and they added Sherman's college teammate Doug Baldwin as an undrafted player.

Interestingly, pretty much every team found at least one good contributor, but hardly anybody found more than three. The quasi-exceptions to that were New England with their two tackles and two rotation backs in Ridley and Vereen; and Baltimore with Jimmy Smith, Torrey Smith, McPhee, Tyrod Taylor, and Jah Reid. The Broncos also did pretty well with Miller, Rahim Moore, and Orlando Franklin the second round; Thomas in the fourth; and Virgil Green in the seventh, even if you do not give them credit here for Harris.

Previous articles in this series:

Posted by: Tom Gower on 31 Mar 2017

38 comments, Last at 07 Apr 2017, 9:14pm by LionInAZ

Comments

1
by MilkmanDanimal :: Fri, 03/31/2017 - 1:43pm

Adrian Clayborn is a perfect example of a guy who is just about a half-step too slow to be an excellent football player. Spent lots of time in the backfield almost getting to the QB. Not really a bust at the #20 overall pick, but just not that good. Then again, the second half of the first round was pretty much almost all that.

2
by Will Allen :: Fri, 03/31/2017 - 2:14pm

2011 is the textbook example of the lack of wisdom entailed in moving guys up the board becasuse they play qb. I refuse to believe that the Vikings had Ponder among their top 25 players, or maybe even to 35, but because they didn't have a qb, they picked him, and I still think ownership, which was still dividing final personnel power among 3 people, forced the choice.

They also had a desperate need for a lt that year, and it was a good year for lts. 2012 was a very good year for qbs, and it was obvious that it would be so in 2011. If they take an lt in 2011,use the pick spent on Kalil in 2012, to pick a qb, they would have been much better off. These guys get way too desperate when it comes to qbs.

3
by whateverdude :: Fri, 03/31/2017 - 2:28pm

I'm a UW fan and was stunned when Locker went 8th. He was nowhere near an accurate enough thrower to be an NFL QB, and I have no idea why a team would think that would suddenly improve in the pros. By that age/experience, what you see is pretty much what you get for a fundamental skill like accuracy.

28
by Joe Pancake :: Mon, 04/03/2017 - 11:16am

So much this. Having followed Locker's college career fairly closely, I've never been more confident that an NFL player would fail to live up to expectations than I was with him.

Locker was really good at running away from college defenders, but when he needed to throw the ball into anything other than a gigantic window, he just couldn't do it. I don't know how many times I watched him airmail a ball ten yards past a streaking, open receiver.

4
by MilkmanDanimal :: Fri, 03/31/2017 - 2:29pm

2012 was only a very good year for QBs if you were Indianapolis or picking in the middle rounds; the next three QB off the board after Luck were RGIII, Brandon Weeden, and Brock Osweiler.

Fun fact I just noticed; the player taken directly after Brock Osweiler in 2012? Lavonte David.

6
by Will Allen :: Fri, 03/31/2017 - 2:43pm

Well, if RGIII doesn't get drafted by a team owned by a moron, he very well might have had a decent career. The fact that if Russell Wilson had been an inch taller he likely goes no lower than mid 2nd round indicates how irrational the qb evaluation process is. That he was seen as a significantly worse prospect than Osweiler and Weeden is mind boggling, and I said so at the time. Sometimes you wonder if these GMs watch film or read bios. Here's a clue, fellas: DO NOT DRAFT LOW MOBILITY GUYS WITH HUGE WINDUPS IN THE FIRST TWO ROUNDS, AND DON'T DRAFT GUYS WHO WILL BECOME ELIGIBLE TO BE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES WITHIN 7 YEARS OF BEING DRAFTED!

11
by mehllageman56 :: Fri, 03/31/2017 - 5:51pm

Add Do not Draft Quarterbacks who cannot complete 60 percent of their passes in college in the first two rounds. Waiting for Hackenberg to prove this wrong, and the Jets and I will be waiting forever.

19
by James-London :: Sat, 04/01/2017 - 2:41am

Ryan Tannehill says "hi". #8 in 2012, 3rd QB picked. Not Luck or Wilson but significantly better than RG3 Weeden or the Brock

Phil Simms is a Cretin.

16
by t.d. :: Fri, 03/31/2017 - 10:07pm

Not the case for the Vikings in 2011, but, plenty of times, the general manager needs to show results on the field immediately to keep his job (I suspect that whoever holds off this year and winds up with Darnold next will be happier than anyone who reaches right now). My team (like so many teams every year it seems) is a decent quarterback away from being a contender, and the current guy has staked his reputation on Bortles being the guy; if he isn't, there's a good chance Caldwell won't be picking the next guy. Chase Stuart did a study a few years ago, and the price tag for whiffing on a quarterback is typically a full housecleaning (GM and coaching staff). Given that, in the best of circumstances, it's the biggest decision an organization will make for a decade, more guys should show patience, put the pieces for success in place around the guy, and then above all else, not reach (with both Gabbert and Bortles it seemed like the organization was trying to 'win' April, not focus on bpa- when you're in as bad a situation as the Jags and Raiders were a few years ago, or the 49ers and Browns are now, what you really need is to collect as many good players as possible, regardless of position, and give the management team some time to figure its way out of the mess you're in- it looks like the Browns are headed that way, but the Niners might be in for a rough stretch, even though I liked the Shanahan hire). 2011 was one of the "it'll kill you to reach for a quarterback" years (and it feels like 2017 will be, again)

5
by theslothook :: Fri, 03/31/2017 - 2:35pm

2011 to me is one of the top 5 drafts of all time.

7
by MilkmanDanimal :: Fri, 03/31/2017 - 2:56pm

Well, if you're talking non-QBs taken in the top half of the first round, sure, but, outside of that? Really not that great. The bottom half of the first round is pretty much a bunch of decent players at best, and, sure, some crazy hits on later-round QBs, but that's about it.

9
by theslothook :: Fri, 03/31/2017 - 3:44pm

Not sure I agree. Even throwing in players like Justin Houston and sherman in the later rounds, there was Jurrel Casey, Chris Harris, Demarco Murray, Pernell McPhee, Byron Maxwell, Kj Wright, Jayson Kelce, Rodney Hudson.

There were solid starters in Cannon and Klug as well.

Its also what these players became. Just in looking over the list, the following feel like hall of fame bound players:

Julio Jones, Von Miller, JJ Watt, Tyron Smith, Patrick Peterson, Richard Sherman.

There are some with a good chance: AJ Green, Justin Houston.

And a bunch of really good players too. I can't remember a draft having this much top shelf talent. I mean, Ryan Kerrigan is treated as an afterthought and hes really really good.

10
by Mr Shush :: Fri, 03/31/2017 - 5:25pm

I wouldn't exactly be surprised if Newton got in as well. The realistic over/under on Hall of Famers in the class is probably like 6.5 or 7, which is already all time top ten territory, and 9 (which would tie for second) is a possibility. At the very least, it's the best class since 1985.

12
by mehllageman56 :: Fri, 03/31/2017 - 5:52pm

You left out Muhammad Wilkerson. He had a rough year last year, but he'll probably bounce back. Usually it takes a year for a leg injury like he had to go away.

13
by mehllageman56 :: Fri, 03/31/2017 - 5:53pm

I meant out of your list of really good players. I'm not talking about the Hall of Fame here.

8
by Raiderjoe :: Fri, 03/31/2017 - 3:09pm

have nevberf ranked overall; draft classes before but 2011 draft wodul be in running for 1976 Raiders of drafts

29
by Joe Pancake :: Mon, 04/03/2017 - 11:43am

I've never ranked overall draft classes either, but eyeballing it, it looks like 1983 will tough to beat: seven Hall of Famers (Elway, Marino, Matthews, Kelly, Green, Dent, Dickerson), three "could be" Hall of Famers (Henry Ellard, Roger Craig, Karl Mecklenburg), and a raft of Pro Bowlers and really good starters (Chris Hinton, Charles Mann, Curt Warner, Joey Browner, Tim Krumrie, so on and so on).

Crazy amount of talent.

30
by Travis :: Mon, 04/03/2017 - 2:55pm

Plus (if they count) the handful of good rookies who went directly to the USFL, like Herschel Walker, Frank Minnifield, and Bart Oates.

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by Travis :: Mon, 04/03/2017 - 2:55pm

[doublepost]

17
by t.d. :: Fri, 03/31/2017 - 10:11pm

...but it could've been even better. Guys like Aldon Smith or 2012's Josh Gordon are so damned frustrating (especially given that the next CBA will likely get rid of this issue)

14
by nath :: Fri, 03/31/2017 - 8:08pm

>>The Eagles spent the 23rd pick on Watson

*Watkins

>>Getting Nick Fairley with the 14th pick

*13th

>>Smith, who went sixth to the 49ers

*seventh

>>Houston somehow fell to the Chiefs in the third round

*after testing positive for marijuana at the Combine

If you guys are hiring a proofreader / researcher, I'm available.

18
by Tom Gower :: Fri, 03/31/2017 - 10:27pm

Typos fixed. My bad on the Houston thing. Thanks.

21
by BJR :: Sat, 04/01/2017 - 11:19am

What exactly is the 'context' that is being implied to ding Dalton? In 2015 he did indeed have an excellent supporting cast, and put up terrific numbers accordingly. But tellingly, last season the Bengals' offense was ravaged by injury, and he still put up good numbers. I thought we were past the stage of questioning him by now; he's just a good NFL QB.

In terms of the comparison with Newton, I would agree that Newton has to overcome generally poorer surrounding talent (that doesn't include defense btw), but you have to look a long way past the numbers to decide it simply isn't a contest who is best. Consider me among the very few neutral fans who might choose Dalton over Newton.

23
by theslothook :: Sat, 04/01/2017 - 2:11pm

Count me as another. An underrated part of Dalton's game is his consistency*(Regular season). This is something even in Cam's mvp year he was not. I'm really not sure why people are perpetually down on Dalton(especially around here).

A list of qbs I'd clearly rather have than Dalton:

Brady, Rodgers, Brees, Ryan, Wilson, Luck, Big Ben, Carr.

One's you could make an argument for:

Cousins, Stafford, Prescott, Winston, Newton, Rivers, Manning

That puts him at worse 16th(median) or at best 9th(top 10). I think he's closer to top 10.

25
by Otis Taylor89 :: Mon, 04/03/2017 - 8:20am

Dalton has always had an above average line with a good running game and one of the top receivers to throw to whereas Newton's line play has been up and down, his receivers outside of TE have been mediocre and the RB's are often injured.

27
by jtr :: Mon, 04/03/2017 - 10:34am

I think Dalton is a victim of the way the media tends to talk about QB's. For whatever reason, the media can't seem to process the idea of a good (but not transcendent) QB. A QB is either elite or not elite, and Dalton has always been a notch or two below the top tier. Add a reputation as a choker and you get a guy who never gets any respect in the media. Romo had a lot of that too; his prime was a notch above Dalton but he was never quite excellent enough to be an unquestioned "elite" guy on a team with no postseason success.

32
by BJR :: Mon, 04/03/2017 - 3:22pm

The jury was certainly out on Dalton up until a couple of years ago. But his last couple of season's play really should have convinced any doubters that he isn't a good player - definitely somebody you can win with. Last year all his leading receivers missed significant time, but he still finished 11th in DYAR throwing to Brandon LaFell, Cody Core & CJ Uzomah.

Newton OTOH was below replacement level as a passer last year. If it was a question of who has had the better NFL career to date I still edge toward Cam; his highlights certainly trump Dalton's. But if it is a question of which QB I'd prefer going forward, given the way they are trending and the physical beating Cam has had to endure in his career to date, I'd have little hesitation choosing Dalton.

34
by theslothook :: Mon, 04/03/2017 - 4:43pm

Is Cam really better than Dalton? I can see it and like you said, Cam's highlights are much better than Daltons. Would Cam reproduce the same consistency if he had Andy Dalton's supporting cast? I still don't think he would because he's not a refined down to down passer.

15
by JasonK :: Fri, 03/31/2017 - 8:53pm

The DL section has Da'Quon Bowers and Marvin Austin both going 52nd.

Bowers was pick 51.

20
by James-London :: Sat, 04/01/2017 - 2:53am

Miami got Pouncey who's really good when his hips let him play an Charles Clay, but did Miami things other than that. They traded ther #3 #5 and a #7 to move up for Daniel Thomas, a sub 4ypc back who's no longer in football. In a startling coincidence, Tony Sparano got fired mid season

Phil Simms is a Cretin.

35
by Winterguard78 :: Wed, 04/05/2017 - 12:12am

I'm an MU fan who lives in KCMO and sees a lot of Kansas State games (although I feel pretty ambivalent about them and am definitely not a fan) and personally thought Daniel Thomas looked like he would be a good between the tackles NFL 4 minute offense type player. His failure was pretty surprising and reminds me of another KSU bust ILB Arthur Brown who Baltimore spent a 2nd round selection on. He was a hell of a good "thumper" LB who I thought would excell beyond his coverage limitations. Like Thomas, he never really peed a drop. Also a player not mentioned in the above writing that doesn't get any national publicity but is a pretty good 5 technique is KC Allen Bailey who played at Miami. Bailey is one of the most physically imposing players I've seen- I've never stood next to Shawn Oakman or Tanoh Kpassignon but Allen Bailey looks like a damn alien up close.

22
by LastTitan :: Sat, 04/01/2017 - 1:35pm

#YesWeCam #KeepPounding

(Can you guess where I live?)

24
by Pen :: Sun, 04/02/2017 - 7:22pm

I'm surprised no mention of Doug Baldwin in the Wide Receiver section. If he hadn't missed most of 2012 with an injury, he'd be right up there with the top 2 in DYAR and his DVOA is annually top 5.

26
by Lebo :: Mon, 04/03/2017 - 9:32am

I'm guessing that he wasn't mentioned because he was undrafted.

33
by Vincent Verhei :: Mon, 04/03/2017 - 3:37pm

He was mentioned in the "team performance" section.

36
by Winterguard78 :: Wed, 04/05/2017 - 12:22am

Doug Baldwin is a fine player who is capable of flashes of brilliance (the 2nd half of 2015 was incredible) but he really isn't in the same class of Green or Jones who are prototypical outside threats. Baldwin is surely a top 5 receiver in terms of dependability but he is not the sort of player you have to design a game plan around like those two. Even though Doug is more steady/consistent, I'd argue Jimmy Graham when healthy and used properly is the Hawks skill position player to fear.

37
by gomer_rs :: Fri, 04/07/2017 - 8:31pm

But, if you're talking about value players from this year Doug Baldwin as a WR is about as value as you can get. He's not Richard Sherman in the 5th value, that'd be like getting Green or Jones in the later rounds, but REALLY! One of the NFL's most consistent WRs and possibly the best route runner in the NFL as a FA? That's value!
_______

I remember when they were the Sea-chickens.

38
by LionInAZ :: Fri, 04/07/2017 - 9:14pm

The Lions' 2011 draft was truly snakebit. Fairley was OK, if not on the transcendent level of Suh. Titus Young had a productive first year. It's a shame he had issues that he could not overcome. And we'll never know what Leshoure might have done if his Achilles's tendon had not been blown up -- by his own teammate (Cliff Avril), no less.