The NFL Draft is one of the biggest and most exciting events in the world of professional football. During the draft, teams get a chance to bolster their rosters with talented young prospects. Depending on how savvy a team’s analysts are, even a late-round pick can end up paying huge dividends.
Of course, not all draft classes are created equal, with the overall talent level varying from year to year. One of the best draft classes in recent memory was that of the 2011 NFL Draft, which occurred in the midst of the lockout.
The overall numbers
It’s no secret that the 2011 draft class was an especially good one. Analysts and commentators, like USA Today, have been pointing out for years that the 2011 NFL Draft stands head and shoulders above almost all other drafts of the last 20 years. One of the most basic benchmarks for that evaluation involves the number of draftees who have gone on to earn Pro Bowl and All-Pro selections.
According to NFL.com, by 2015, the 2011 draft class had already amassed 23 Pro Bowl selections, with 14 of those going to first-round picks. By 2017, the number of Pro Bowl selections had shot up to 72. At that point, the 2011 draft class also boasted 23 First-Team All-Pro appearances, one MVP award, and three Defensive Player of the Year awards.
The best of the 2011 NFL Draft class
For teams who didn’t take a quarterback, the 2011 NFL Draft was basically a unanimous success. And plenty of quarterbacks panned out in a big way too — Cam Newton, for instance, whom the Carolina Panthers took with the first overall pick.
The Atlanta Falcons also got an elite offensive player in receiver Julio Jones, who at just age 31 already has seven Pro Bowl selections to his name.
As good as some of its offensive talent has been, the 2011 draft was an especially good one with regards to defensive players, according to ESPN. The best of those players is likely the Denver Broncos second overall pick, linebacker Von Miller. Miller already has eight Pro Bowl and three All-Pro selections in his borderline Hall of Fame career.
Other defensive studs include defensive end J.J. Watt (Houston Texans, 11th overall pick), cornerbacks Richard Sherman (Seattle Seahawks, 154th overall pick) and Patrick Peterson (Arizona Cardinals, fifth overall pick), and offensive tackle Tyron Smith (Dallas Cowboys, ninth overall pick).
The quarterback busts
For all of its talent, the 2011 NFL Draft wasn’t without a few busts as well. As noted above, most of the big disappointments were the draft’s quarterbacks. Perhaps the most glaring of those busts was the Tennessee Titans’ eighth overall pick, Jake Locker. Locker lasted just four years — totaling only 30 games — before retiring prematurely after the 2014 season.
The Jacksonville Jaguars didn’t do much better with their 10th overall pick, quarterback Blaine Gabbert. Gabbert came into the draft with a lot of hype, which he couldn’t manage to live up to. In his three seasons with the Jaguars, Gabbert struggled mightily with his accuracy, throwing more interceptions than touchdown passes.
Jump two more spots down in the draft and you get to the Minnesota Vikings’ 12th overall pick, quarterback Christian Ponder. Ponder had a tough go of things as a rookie, captaining his team to a dismal 3-13 record and throwing as many interceptions as touchdown passes.
He bounced back in his second year, throwing for nearly 3,000 yards. But he struggled again in 2013, and was out of the league entirely by the end of 2014. Clearly, not every player from the 2011 class worked out, bu the sheer number of players that went on to have Pro Bowl careers is amazing.
All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference