In terms of quality and staying power, the 2011 NFL Draft was great. Amazingly, six of the 32 first-rounders are still with the team that drafted them, and 21 of the 32 spent the 2020 season on someone’s active roster. In a sport that chews up players and spits them out, usually in three seasons or fewer, that’s pretty darn good.
1. Carolina: Cam Newton, QB, Auburn
Carolina (2011-19), New England (2020)
The 2010 Heisman Trophy winner and national championship quarterback at Auburn has been a compelling NFL presence (and fashion icon) for a decade now, earning 2015 NFL MVP honors and three Pro Bowl nods. Newton has passed for 31,698 career yards and 190 touchdowns, adding 70 rushing TDs as a plus-sized but nimble ground threat. He set numerous rookie records in 2011 — 35 combined TDs and 4,784 combined yards, among other marks. He led Carolina to Super Bowl 50 and has a 75-63-1 record as a starter. He was released by New England at the end of the preseason, so it remains to be seen where his next stop will be or if we've seen the last of Newton.
2. Denver: Von Miller, LB, Texas A&M
Miller has fashioned a Hall of Fame career in Denver orange and navy blue. In Super Bowl 50, he got the better of the only player picked ahead of him, forcing two Newton fumbles in the Broncos’ 24-10 win and earning MVP honors. Miller is an eight-time Pro Bowler and three-time first-team All-Pro who has amassed 106 career sacks, 25 forced fumbles and nine fumble recoveries. An ankle injury kept him sidelined for the 2020 season.
3. Buffalo: Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama
Buffalo (2011-17), Jacksonville (2017-19)
Yet another dominant defensive tackle produced by the Crimson Tide assembly line, Dareus had a solid career, although he ran afoul of the NFL substance abuse policy a couple of times and had some off-the-field issues. Dareus was a two-time Pro Bowler and a first-team All-Pro in 2014 but never quite reached those heights again, as injuries and suspension marred the second half of his career.
4. Cincinnati: A.J. Green, WR, Georgia
Cincinnati (2011-20), Arizona (2021)
The electrifying Green has labored in relative obscurity in Cincinnati, although his peers know how good he is. Green is a seven-time Pro Bowler who had his best season in 2013 — 98 catches for 1,426 yards and 11 touchdowns. He’s been hampered of late by injuries, missing the entire 2019 season before having a mediocre 2020 campaign playing under the franchise tag. He signed a one-year deal with Arizona.
5. Arizona: Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU
Arizona (2011-20), Minnesota (2021)
Peterson was another instant success at the next level, earning Pro Bowl honors as a rookie and for each of the next seven seasons thereafter. Like many others on this list, he’s a few good seasons away from serious Hall of Fame consideration. To date, Peterson has amassed 28 interceptions and 91 pass deflections while consistently shutting down his side of the field. He joined the Vikings for 2021.
6. Atlanta: Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
Atlanta (2011-20), Tennessee (2021)
The second 2011 draftee from a loaded Tide team, Jones may turn out to be the best player in this draft when all is said and done. The seven-time Pro Bowler is the NFL career leader in receiving yards per game (95.5). Jones, who has 848 career catches for 12,896 yards and 60 TDs, had his best season in 2015 — 136 catches for 1,871 yards and eight TDs. He was traded to the Titans this offseason.
7. San Francisco: Aldon Smith, LB, Missouri
San Francisco (2011-14), Oakland (2015-17), Dallas (2020)
Talented but troubled, Smith has seen his career disrupted by his own bad behavior, including substance abuse and domestic violence. Smith had 14.0 sacks as a rookie, coming a half-sack shy of the rookie record, and followed that up with 19.5 sacks the next season. His off-the-field issues derailed his career and led to a four-year suspension, but he did resurface in Dallas in 2020, posting five sacks while starting all 16 games. He signed with Seattle in April but was released earlier this summer due to more off-the-field trouble.
8. Tennessee: Jake Locker, QB, Washington
After seven sterling selections (with the arguable exceptions of Dareus and Smith), we finally come to our first true bust. From the beginning, Locker lacked the fire in his belly to be a franchise quarterback, and his injury-plagued career ended almost as soon as it began. His abrupt retirement came after a 9–14 starting record and average of 165.6 passing yards per game.
9. Dallas: Tyron Smith, OT, USC
Smith has had a stellar career in Big D, starting off as a right tackle before settling in as the anchor of an outstanding O-line at left tackle and making seven straight Pro Bowls (2013-19). Analyst Ross Tucker calls him “the perfect prototype tackle.” An injury-shortened 2020 and subsequent neck surgery could signal that his career is winding down.
10. Jacksonville: Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri
Jacksonville (2011-13), San Francisco (2014-16), Arizona (2017), Tennessee (2018), Tampa Bay (2019-current)
Living proof that a backup QB can have a long and prosperous career, Gabbert is entering his second decade in the league despite very limited success as a starter — a 13-35 record, including 5-22 for the team that drafted him. His career passer rating is 72.3, and his career TD-to-INT ratio is 50 to 47. He’s also made more than $20 million in his career.
11. Houston: J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin
Houston (2011-20), Arizona (2021)
Talk about a value pick at 11 — Watt is a five-time first-team All-Pro, a likely Hall of Famer and one of the best edge rushers in NFL history. Despite missing significant portions of three seasons to injury, Watt has 101 career sacks in 128 games, a per-game average of 0.8 that is better than all-time leader Bruce Smith’s per-game average. He also has 172 career tackles for a loss. Watt begins a new chapter following his offseason signing with Arizona.
12. Minnesota: Christian Ponder, QB, Florida State
Minnesota (2011-14), Denver (2015), San Francisco (2016)
These days, Ponder is best known as the husband of sportscaster Samantha Ponder. Not a bad consolation prize for a brief, lackluster career. Ponder was 14–21–1 as a starting quarterback, although he did lead the Vikings to a 10–6 record and playoff appearance in 2012, his only full season as a starter. He failed to capitalize the following season, losing his starting job.
13. Detroit: Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn
Detroit (2011-14), St. Louis (2015), New Orleans (2016-17)
Injuries, a heart condition and off-the-field misbehavior conspired to shorten the career of this talented run stuffer from Auburn. There were some highlights — he earned second-team All-Pro honors in 2012 and had a career-high 6.0 sacks in 2013 — but he missed the 2017 season due to his heart condition and was out of football upon his release in early 2018.
14. St. Louis: Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina
St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams (2011-17), Miami (2018), Dallas (2019), Chicago (2020-current)
Quinn spent seven highly productive seasons with the Rams, setting the franchise single-season record for sacks with 19.0 in 2013 and earning a first-team All-Pro nod. He’s led a nomadic existence since his Rams tenure ended, playing single seasons in Miami, Dallas and Chicago, leading the Cowboys in sacks in his one season in Big D.
15. Miami: Mike Pouncey, C, Florida
Miami (2011-17), Los Angeles Chargers (2018-20)
The Pouncey twins (Mike’s brother Maurkice entered the draft in 2010) have been among the league’s best offensive linemen from the get-go. Mike is the less decorated of the two but still has four Pro Bowls to his credit. After leaving Miami for the West Coast, however, Mike was struck by the injury bug and has missed most of the last two seasons. He and his twin brother, Maurkice, announced their retirement in February.
16. Washington: Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue
Washington (2011-20), Philadelphia (2021)
In a draft that was rich with defensive end talent, Kerrigan takes a back seat to very few. The four-time Pro Bowler is the Washington franchise career sack leader with 95.5, including a career-high 13.5 in 2014. He has returned each of his three career interceptions for touchdowns, and he has 26 forced fumbles as a pro. He signed with the Eagles in May.
17. New England: Nate Solder, OT, Colorado
New England (2011-17), New York Giants (2018-current)
Solder hasn’t made any Pro Bowls, but he does have something that most on this list do not — a pair of Super Bowl rings. After spending his rookie season at right tackle, Solder became a fixture at left tackle for the rest of his tenure in New England. After signing a free agent deal with the Giants, Solder started all 32 games in 2018-19 before opting out in 2020 due to COVID-19.
18. San Diego: Corey Liuget, DT, Illinois
San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers (2011-18), Oakland (2019), Buffalo (2019), Houston (2020)
After a fairly nondescript rookie campaign, Liuget had a breakout sophomore season, starting all 16 games and posting 7.0 sacks. He never quite reached those heights again, although he stuck with the Chargers through the 2018 season. After a 2020 season spent splitting time between the Texans practice squad and regular roster, Liuget was released this offseason.
19. New York Giants: Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska
New York Giants (2011-15), Jacksonville (2016), Chicago (2017-19)
Despite occasional flashes of brilliance, Amukamara never quite lived up to the hype that followed a decorated Nebraska career. His best season arguably came with the Bears in 2018 — three interceptions, two forced fumbles and 66 tackles — although Chicago released him in 2020 to create cap space.
20. Tampa Bay: Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa
Tampa Bay (2011-14), Atlanta (2015-17), New England (2018), Atlanta (2019), Cleveland (2020)
Clayborn has had a well-traveled, somewhat spotty NFL career, although that career is now entering its second decade. He posted a career-high 9.5 sacks for the Falcons in 2017 — but six of them came in a single game against the Cowboys (one short of the NFL record). He is a free agent.
21. Cleveland: Phil Taylor, DT, Baylor
Cleveland (2011-14), Washington (2017)
Taylor had a few flashes in four seasons with Cleveland, earning All-Rookie honors after his four-sack debut season. But he played only 28 more games after his rookie season, finishing his career with 109 tackles and 7.0 sacks. After trying unsuccessfully to catch on with Denver and Washington, he officially retired in March 2019.
22. Indianapolis: Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College
Castonzo retired this offseason after a decade as a franchise cornerstone at left tackle. He started all 144 games in which he appeared, as well as eight playoff games. He led the NFL with 1,156 offensive snaps in 2014, and he was part of a line that kept Andrew Luck upright for 239 straight pass attempts in 2018, the third-longest streak in NFL history.
23. Philadelphia: Danny Watkins, G, Baylor
Philadelphia (2011-12), Miami (2013)
Watkins himself would likely admit that he was a bust; his heart was simply never in playing pro football. A 26-year-old talent out of Baylor, Watkins played only 24 career games, with 18 starts, before retiring to become a firefighter.
24. New Orleans: Cameron Jordan, DE, California
New Orleans (2011-current)
The edge-rushing talent in this draft was simply spectacular, with Jordan near the top of the list. In his decade in New Orleans, Jordan has earned six Pro Bowl nods and is a member of the NFL 2010s All-Decade Team. For his career, Jordan has 94.5 sacks, 11 forced fumbles, 10 fumble recoveries and two interceptions. He posted a career-high 15.5 sacks in 2019.
25. Seattle: James Carpenter, OT, Alabama
Seattle (2011-14), New York Jets (2015-18), Atlanta (2019-20)
A tackle at Alabama, Carpenter has spent almost his entire NFL career at guard, once playing 100 percent of his team’s snaps in a season (2017 with the Jets). For his career, he has played in 127 games, with 121 starts. He is a free agent.
26. Kansas City: Jonathan Baldwin, WR, Pittsburgh
Kansas City (2011-12), San Francisco (2013)
Hoping for another Larry Fitzgerald, the Chiefs got a lot less than that when they drafted the Pitt product. Baldwin’s two seasons in Kansas City yielded only 41 catches and two touchdowns, and after a three-catch season in San Francisco, he was out of the league for good.
27. Baltimore: Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado
Far from the best cornerback in this draft, Smith has nevertheless been a solid performer in his 10-year Ravens career, earning a Super Bowl ring and contributing to some excellent defenses. For his career, Smith has started 88 games and posted 14 interceptions.
28. New Orleans: Mark Ingram II, RB, Alabama
New Orleans (2011-18), Baltimore (2019-20), Houston (2021)
Bama’s first Heisman Trophy winner got off to a bit of a slow start in the Big Easy, but he gradually found his footing and has become a productive back, amassing 7,324 career rushing yards and 62 rushing touchdowns and adding 1,895 receiving yards and 10 TD receptions. The three-time Pro Bowler’s best season came in 2017 — 1,124 rushing yards and 12 TDs. After signing with Baltimore, he had another 1,000-yard season in 2019 before losing most of 2020 to COVID-19. Ingram signed a one-year deal with the Texans.
29. Chicago: Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin
Chicago (2011-12), Tampa Bay (2013), Atlanta (2014)
Considered by some observers the best offensive tackle prospect in the draft, the Wisconsin behemoth saw his rookie season ended in Week 2 by a dislocated kneecap. The ultimate result was a disappointing NFL career that lasted only four seasons and 26 starts.
30. New York Jets: Muhammad Wilkerson, DE, Temple
New York Jets (2011-17), Green Bay (2018)
Wilkerson’s solid if unspectacular career included 104 starts, 44.5 sacks, two interceptions, two second-team All-Pro nods and a Pro Bowl. Since playing his last game with the Packers in 2018, Wilkerson has had a couple of brushes with the law.
31. Pittsburgh: Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio State
The talented Ohio State Buckeye began his career at defensive end but has enjoyed perhaps his best seasons on the interior, earning two first-team All-Pro nods as a defensive tackle. After signing a four-year extension with the Steelers prior to the 2020 season, Heyward recorded the first interception of his career and added four more sacks, bringing his career total to 58.0.
32. Green Bay: Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State
Green Bay (2011-14)
A swing and a miss for the Packers, although Sherrod’s failure came largely as a result of a broken leg suffered late in his rookie season, causing him to miss the 2012 season in its entirety. After an abortive comeback attempt, he was out of the league by the 2015 preseason.
Best Pick by Round
Round 2 – Colin Kaepernick, QB, Nevada (49ers)
There were other solid pros selected in the second round, but no one made the seismic impact of Kaepernick, who led the 49ers to a Super Bowl XLVII runner-up finish and another NFC title game appearance. Kap also set the playoff record for rushing yards by a quarterback in a single game (181). In 2014, he signed a “record” contract extension worth up to $126 million, of which he received a reported $39 million. But it was Kaepernick’s decision to take a knee during the national anthem starting in 2016 that made him a household name. His protest against police brutality drew both anger and adoration, while effectively ending his NFL career. Kaepernick settled a lawsuit against the NFL for an undisclosed amount in 2019.
Round 3 – Justin Houston, DE, Georgia (Chiefs)
After a failed drug test at the NFL Scouting Combine, Houston saw his first-round stock plummet. But Houston has been the dominant edge rusher he appeared to be as a first-team All-American at Georgia. Houston made four consecutive Pro Bowls from 2012-15 and was the NFL’s sack leader in 2014, setting a new Kansas City single-season record with 22. In 10 seasons with the Chiefs (2011-18) and Colts (2019-20), Houston has 97.5 sacks, 17 forced fumbles, four INTs and two defensive TDs. He signed a one-year deal with Baltimore earlier this summer.
Round 4 – K.J. Wright, LB, Mississippi State (Seahawks)
Seattle’s “Legion of Boom” era defense was highlighted by future Hall of Famers. But don’t forget about the rock-solid Wright, who earned a Pro Bowl nod in 2016 and won the team’s 2020 Steve Largent Award, which is given to the player who best exemplifies the “spirit, dedication and integrity” of Largent. Wright has been a starter on eight playoff teams in 10 seasons, winning Super Bowl XLVIII and losing Super Bowl XLIX. Wright's tenure with the Seahawks ended after the 2020 season and the free agent signed a one-year deal with Las Vegas on Sept. 6.
Round 5 – Richard Sherman, CB, Stanford (Seahawks)
After spending his first two years at Stanford at wide receiver, Sherman was the 25th cornerback selected in the Class of 2011. From there, the lanky 6'3" Sherman became the most dominant corner of his generation and the spokesman of one of history’s best defenses. Sherman was a Super Bowl XLVIII champion and member of the NFL 2010s All-Decade Team, earning three first-team All-Pro and two second-team All-Pro nods and five Pro Bowl invitations, with 36 career INTs as a member of the Seahawks (2011-17) and 49ers (2018-20). He is a free agent.
Round 6 – Jason Kelce, C, Cincinnati (Eagles)
Famous for being the brother of Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce and dressing up as a Philadelphia “mummer” for the Eagles’ Super Bowl LII parade, Kelce is one of the best centers of the past 10 years. A three-time first-team All-Pro, Kelce has started all 16 games in eight of his 10 seasons. He was graded by Pro Football Focus as the NFL’s top center in 2013 as well as the NFL’s top O-lineman and Run Blocker of the Year in 2017.
Round 7 – Lawrence Guy, DT, Arizona State (Packers)
The 315-pound man in the middle bounced around from the Packers (2011-12), Colts (2012-13), Chargers (2013-14) and Ravens (2014-16) before landing with the Patriots in 2017. Guy has thrived in New England, winning Super Bowl XLIII and being named to the Patriots’ 2010s All-Decade Team.