If any football fan remembers the 2011 NFL Draft, they would think of the immense amount of talent from most of the draftees and what they brought to the table.
The Carolina Panthers held the first overall pick that draft after a tumultuous 2010 season, where they used three different starting quarterbacks and finished with a record of 2-14. They went on to draft a franchise quarterback in Cam Newton, who’s been an offensive stud for the Panthers. Aside from Newton, current defensive stars like J.J. Watt, Von Miller, and Richard Sherman are the notable names that stand out in the NFL. But on the flip side, there are other players who either failed to reach expectations in the league or ruined their reputations as pro football players. The names include Colin Kaepernick, former Titans pivot Jake Locker, and the Jaguars’ failed QB experiment known as Blaine Gabbert.
At TheSportster, we feel it’s time to review that memorable 2011 draft that produced household names and memorable busts who might be remembered for their disappointing careers rather than what they did in the NFL. With that said, let’s begin with the eight duds and seven successes from that draft class.
15. Bust – Jon Baldwin
Drafted: 26th overall, Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs were coming off a surprising 2010 season, as they had vaulted from last to first, securing the AFC West crown, only to lose to Baltimore in the wild card round. Feeling they had to get more vertical weapons for QB Matt Cassel, they took Jon Baldwin 26th overall, with the thought he would be the 2nd WR behind Dwayne Bowe. In preseason, Baldwin suffered a hand injury after getting in an altercation with teammate Thomas Jones – not the best start for a rookie.
Baldwin was a non-factor in Kansas City, only recording 41 total catches in two seasons and scoring just twice. He was traded to San Francisco after his second year for a fellow receiver bust we’ll talk about later.
14. Star – A.J. GREEN
Drafted: 4th overall, Cincinnati Bengals
The Cincinnati Bengals really struggled in 2010 with a 4-12 record, despite boasting wide receiver Terrell Owens and QB Carson Palmer who threw 20 INTs. The franchise ultimately landed pick #4 in the 2011 draft and selected wideout A.J. Green from the University of Georgia. They also selected a quarterback in the second round named Andy Dalton, so he had the chance to play with a rookie who eventually became his go-to target. Green has emerged as a productive and reliable receiver for the Bengals.
As a rookie, he hauled in 65 receptions, then backed it up with two career seasons thanks in part to the play of Dalton. Green made 97 catches for 1,350 yards in 2012 and had 98 grabs for 1,426 yards the following year. He also earned Pro Bowl honors every season as well. Green should be destined for the Hall of Fame someday and it’s safe to say he and Dalton are a stellar QB-WR threat.
13. BUST – A.J. Jenkins
Drafted: 30th overall, San Francisco 49ers
Remember when we talked about Baldwin being traded after just two years for another receiver bust? Well, that other bust was A.J. Jenkins, who was drafted just four picks after Baldwin, and like Baldwin, disappointed in his two seasons with the team that drafted him. In his rookie season, he was only targeted with one pass, which he dropped. In his second season, he got more snaps in, but only caught eight passes for 130 yards. After year two, the Chiefs and Niners decided to swap problems, hoping each would fare better on a new team. Neither did, and the last time both Jenkins and Baldwin played a snap in the NFL was back in 2014. The parallels between the two are uncanny.
12. Star – CAM NEWTON
Picked: 1st overall, Carolina Panthers
As mentioned earlier, the Panthers landed dual-threat QB Cam Newton from the Auburn Tigers. Newton shined in college ball, throwing for 2,854 yards and 30 touchdown passes, won the Heisman Trophy and the BCS National Championship in January 2011. Since Newton arrived in Carolina, he’s lit up opposing defenses by passing for 21,772 yards and gained 3,000-plus rushing yards in six seasons. He’s received Pro Bowl honors three times, became a first-time All-Pro, and league MVP in 2015.
That same year, Newton led Carolina to a 15-win season and a trip to Super Bowl 50 against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. He faced fellow 2011 draftee Von Miller in that very game but took two sacks and two lost fumbles, which led to a pair of Broncos touchdowns. Newton endured a subpar 2016 season, but he has some time to finish what he started in 2015.
11. Bust – CHRISTIAN PONDER
Drafted: 12th overall, Minnesota Vikings
The Minnesota Vikings had to address the quarterback position during the 2011 offseason by drafting Florida State QB Christian Ponder as their 12th overall pick. They also traded for veteran QB Donovan McNabb from the Redskins following the ’11 draft, which gave Minnesota an unlikely tandem under center.
Unfortunately, they stumbled to 3-13 in the 2011 season. Ponder lost eight of his 10 starts, threw 13 TD passes and 13 INTs. McNabb went 1-5 for the Vikings, who released him after a forgettable tenure. Ponder’s only good season was 2012 when he threw for nearly 3,000 yards and 18 TD passes, but he started nine games and threw seven picks in 2013. The last time Ponder played an NFL game was in 2014 for the Vikings who made the choice to let him go and make room for Teddy Bridgewater. He is currently married to Samantha Ponder, who is the new host of NFL Sunday Countdown on ESPN.
10. Star – JULIO JONES
Drafted: 6th overall, Atlanta Falcons
The Atlanta Falcons drafted a talented and reliable receiver in Julio Jones. The Falcons traded five picks to get the sixth-overall selection and used it to draft Jones out of Alabama.
Teaming up with Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, Jones had an impressive rookie season. He caught 54 passes for 959 yards and eight TDs. In 2012, he proved his first NFL campaign wasn’t a fluke. Jones’ offensive production increased to 79 catches for 1,198 yards and a career-best 10 touchdowns. Even though Jones endured an injury-plagued 2013, he signed a five-year extension worth $71 million with Atlanta and picked up over 1,000 reception yards the last three seasons.
The four-time Pro Bowl receiver helped the Falcons reach Super Bowl LI against New England.. Jones is still in the prime of his career, so he probably has about eight years to remain an elite pass-catcher and win a Lombardi Trophy.
9. Bust – BLAINE GABBERT
Original Pick: 10th overall, Jacksonville Jaguars
Well Jaguars fans, I’m sure you’re trying to forget Blaine Gabbert right now because of his struggles at quarterbacking the team. The Jacksonville Jaguars held the tenth overall pick and used it to pick Gabbert out of Missouri. What the Jags got in return was a QB that failed to live up to the hype.
He lost 22 of 27 career starts for the Jags, had a TD-INT ratio of 22 to 24, took 40 sacks in his rookie year, and was out of the organization after 2013. They’ve had no stability at the QB position since the Mark Brunell era. As for Gabbert, he continued his career in San Francisco from 2014-16. He didn’t fare well with the 49ers, throwing 13 picks in 15 games. This past offseason, Gabbert joined the Arizona Cardinals to serve as Carson Palmer’s backup and possibly revive his career. But don’t count on him as a true starting QB anytime soon.
8. Star – PATRICK PETERSON
Picked: 5th overall, Arizona Cardinals
Patrick Peterson has established himself as a rising star on the Cardinals defense. The Arizona Cardinals picked up a fine cornerback in Peterson, who had a standout college career at LSU.
His play at the NCAA level smoothly translated to the pros. Peterson made 64 tackles and one sack defensively his first season. On special teams, he also served as a punt returner and shined as a rookie. Peterson returned a punt 99 yards for a touchdown in overtime against the Rams. The other things that make Peterson a great player for the Cards is his leadership and durability. With 297 total tackles on his resume, he has yet to miss a game in his career and is a six-time Pro Bowler. Peterson is the fourth player to make six Pro Bowls before turning 27, joining NFL legends Jim Brown, Emmitt Smith and Barry Sanders.
7. Bust – Nick Fairley
Drafted: 13th overall, Detroit Lions
Nick Fairley was a dominating force up the middle back at Auburn and he got a lot of attention for his performance in the BCS Championship game in 2011 when he helped shut down Chip Kelly’s high octane Oregon offense. He slipped a little later than expected in the draft, but seemed to land in a great situation in Detroit. He would get a chance to play alongside Ndamukong Suh to possibly form the best DT duo in the league. While Fairley showed flashes of what he was capable of. While Fairley has posted some decent numbers in New Orleans, he’s not quite the dominant player he was projected to be, and he’s been unable to stay consistent.
6. Star – VON MILLER
Picked: 2nd overall, Denver Broncos
The Denver Broncos have a formidable linebacker in Von Miller. They held the second overall pick six years ago and drafted him for a reason. It’s because Miller can change a franchise. He emerged as a force on the Broncos’ defense and already has a Super Bowl ring and Super Bowl MVP on his resume. Miller is certainly capable of getting to the quarterback with his speed and tackle ball carriers with ease.
The fact that he’s recorded over 10 sacks five times in his career shows the Broncos made a great decision. Miller was a force in Super Bowl 50 with 2.5 sacks, six tackles, and two forced fumbles against Carolina. He earned Super Bowl MVP honors and appeared on Dancing With The Stars last March. A few months later, Miller signed a mammoth six-year extension with Denver worth $114.5 million with $42 million guaranteed. Miller had another solid season with 13.5 sacks, but he’s surely won the hearts of Broncos fans.
5. Bust – COLIN KAEPERNICK
Drafted: 36th overall, San Francisco 49ers
All right, if you’re a 49ers fan it might be shocking that QB Colin Kaepernick is on the list as a bust. San Francisco drafted him in the second round from the University of Nevada-Reno, and is tenure with the Niners started promising. Although he won the starting job over QB Alex Smith in 2012, he led the Niners to a Super Bowl loss that same year and their third straight NFC title game in 2013. Then he suffered through three non-playoff seasons and the national anthem protest controversy has tarnished his reputation to front offices in the NFL.
During a 2016 preseason game, Kaepernick decided to take a knee during a rendition of the US national anthem and received lots of criticism for that political statement. Despite his recent fall from grace, Kaepernick threw for over 3,000 yards twice in San Fran. The problem is that he can’t find work in the NFL.
4. Success – J.J. WATT
Drafted: 11th overall, Houston Texans
Houston Texans’ defensive end J.J. Watt lands on this list for the success and popularity he’s gained since the 2011 draft. The Texans couldn’t pass up the opportunity to draft a talented guy like Watt from the Wisconsin Badgers to become a centerpiece of their defensive unit. Watt’s rookie season was quite impressive, collecting 58 combined tackles and 5.5 sacks. Then the 2012 season was his coming-out party. Watt made 81 tackles and a staggering 20.5 sacks.
He’s recorded 76 sacks, one interception in six seasons for Houston, and earned NFL Defensive Player Of The Year honors three times! But 2016 was a year to forget for Watt, as he played three games due to a back injury. Despite that setback, Watt has made a tremendous impact on a franchise that didn’t make the playoffs once until his arrival. It’s clear he is still in the prime of his NFL career.
3. Bust – ALDON SMITH
The San Francisco 49ers drafted another promising player in outside linebacker Aldon Smith from Missouri. Smith had two great seasons for the Niners, as he registered a combined 33.5 sacks in 2011 to ’12. However, Smith has been plagued with multiple legal issues off the field.
He was arrested for suspicion of DUI in 2012, 2013 and 15. That led to the Niners cutting him during the ’15 offseason. Smith immediately joined the Oakland Raiders, but his past problems followed him there. He found himself suspended by the NFL for repeated violations of the personal conduct policy and landed in jail twice this past year. Smith got involved in a hit-and-run incident this past March while he tried to apply for reinstatement to the NFL.
2. Star – RICHARD SHERMAN
Drafted: 154th overall, Seattle Seahawks
Richard Sherman has blossomed into a stud for the Seattle Seahawks. Seattle needed an intimidating player to shore up their secondary after a 7-9 season in 2010, so they decided to draft someone in the fifth round who played college football at Stanford. That fifth-rounder turned out to be Sherman, and they are really fortunate to have a player of his caliber along with Russell Wilson, Kam Chancellor, and Earl Thomas.
Sherman has 332 combined tackles, 30 interceptions, and a Super Bowl title in 2013. He’s never missed a game since his rookie season, a testament to his durability. Sherman made an important defensive play in the 2013 NFC title game against San Francisco by deflecting a Colin Kaepernick pass into the arms of Malcolm Smith for an interception. Seattle won the game and went on to win Super Bowl XLVIII against the Broncos.
1. Bust – JAKE LOCKER
Drafted: 8th overall, Tennessee Titans
Unless you’re a Titans fan, you might have forgotten about quarterback Jake Locker. The Tennessee Titans selected Locker eighth overall from the Washington Huskies after a solid NCAA career. He did not get the starting job his rookie year for the Titans, then became their full-time QB.
Locker made 11 starts in 2012, throwing for 2,176 yards and 10 TD passes but threw 11 interceptions and missed five games that year. It turned out to be Locker’s best in Tennessee, as injuries prevented him from playing a full season and his throwing accuracy failed to improve. He also missed a combined 18 games from 2013 to ’14. Locker retired after four seasons in Tennessee, citing a lack of desire to play professional football and wanted to be with his wife and children.
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