Yes, I know it has only been a year since the 2011 NFL Draft. And one in which the lockout made workouts and the pre-season rushed but looking back at the draft, it could be a top five draft of all time. I normally wait three to four years to evaluate a draft but after the contributions of rookies last year, this article just seemed necessary. Let's take a look:
Cam Newton - Quarterback - Carolina Panthers
- Newton is the only rookie quarterback to break 4,000 passing yards. He finished the season with 4,051 yards and 21 touchdowns. Newton became so popular over his first year that he was nominated for the Madden cover in 2012. Newton was also named to the 2011 NFL Pro Bowl.
Von Miller - Linebacker - Denver Broncos
- Miller was just one of the many impressive rookie pass rushers in the 2011 NFL draft. He finished the season with 11.5 sacks and 2 forced fumbles. Miller was named to the 2011 NFL Pro Bowl.
Marcell Dareus - Defensive Tackle - Buffalo Bills
- Dareus had a good rookie season compiling 5.5 sacks on a line that was riddle with injuries. Marcell and Kyle Williams were one of the reasons why Mario Williams was ready to sign with Buffalo (I am sure the 100+ million dollar contract helped as well).
A.J. Green - Wide Receiver - Cincinnati Bengals
- Green finished the season with 1,057 yards, 65 receptions and 7 touchdowns. He was only one of the impressive rookie Bengals in 2011. Green was named to the 2011 NFL Pro Bowl.
Patrick Peterson - Corner back - Arizona Cardinals
- Even though he did well at his position, Peterson's return skills were more impressive than the rest of his game in 2011. Peterson was named to the 2011 NFL Pro Bowl.
Julio Jones - Wide Receiver - Atlanta Falcons
- Jones finished the season with 959 yards, 54 receptions and 8 touchdowns. He was impressive in Atlanta as a rookie.
Aldon Smith - Outside Linebacker - San Francisco 49ers
- Smith finished the season with 14 sacks and 2 forced fumbles. He was an impressive force on the San Francisco team that made it to the NFC Championship before falling short to the Giants.
Jake Locker - Quarterback - Tennessee Titans
- Locker was injured early after the Titans turned to him as starter of the team. He was only able to play in three games but was able to throw for 542 yards, with 4 touchdowns and 0 interceptions.
DeMarco Murray - Running Back - Dallas Cowboys
- Murray had one heck of a rookie season. He was impressive before getting hurt late in the year. He ended the season with 897 rushing yards and two touchdowns. He tacked on 183 receiving yards and had a run of 91 yards as well.
J.J. Watt - Defensive End - Houston Texans
- The impressive rookie season and the salary cap situation of the Houston Texans are two of the reasons they were willing to not re-sign Mario Williams. Watt ended the season with 5.5 sacks.
Other potential great players from the 2011 NFL Draft:
Tyron Smith - Offensive Tackle - Dallas Cowboys
Ryan Kerrigan - Outside Linebacker - Washington Redskins
Adrian Clayborn - Defensive End - Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Phil Taylor - Defensive Tackle - Cleveland Browns
Aaron Williams - Corner back - Buffalo Bills
Andy Dalton - Quarterback - Cincinnati Bengals
Jabaal Sheard - Defensive End - Cleveland Browns
Randall Cobb - Wide Receiver - Green Bay Packers
Greg Little - Wide Receiver - Cleveland Browns
I am sure I missed plenty of players who had a big impact as rookies and will continue to grow. If I missed one, leave a comment and I will add them to the list. Nevertheless, this group of players sure impressed in 2011. The top 6 picks were the best first six picks I have ever seen.