It’s often said that you should wait five years before looking back at a draft and start picking each selection apart. People often rush to label a player a bust as soon as their rookie year, based on preconceived notions they had about a certain player before he was drafted.
There are plenty of biases when draft experts or even fans begin breaking down football players coming out of college. Maybe you don’t like his attitude, so you attack him every chance you get whenever he’s in a down period, saying “Ah-ha! I told you he was a bust!”
We also hear boos at every draft when the fans’ hopeful pick doesn’t get drafted by their team. We also see a fanbase erupt in cheers when their preferred selection goes to their team. Donovan McNabb was booed by Eagles fans when he was selected back in 1999, yet no Eagles quarterback enjoyed more success. Johnny Manziel on the other hand received a hero’s welcome by Browns fans just two years ago and now his team is already sick of him and it looks like he’ll be shipped out of Cleveland this offseason.
There’s simply no way of knowing how a player’s career is going to pan out. Perhaps we shouldn’t be so quick to rush into breaking down a pick until we have a body of work to go by. Why break your head trying to use foresight, when you have hindsight? Let the scouts and GMs worry about foresight.
It’s a great time to look back at the 2011 draft, as we can now see who made the right picks and how those teams that nailed their selections are now playoff teams, or even Super Bowl teams. The first two picks from 2011 are now the best players on their team and are competing against each other in Super Bowl 50. Five years marks a great time to look back and it’s a great time to look back at this draft. Who used this draft as a launching pad for contention? Who whiffed and is still paying the price? How could these teams have changed their fortunes? Well, we’re here to see how these teams would have picked if they had a crystal ball.
1) Carolina Panthers – Cam Newton
If we were holding this re-draft before the 2015 season, many would have said J.J. Watt would be taken first. However, when your best player is your quarterback, rather than your defensive end, your chances of contending for a Super Bowl are far greater. Cam Newton has defied the critics and whether you like him or not, he turned his team from a bottom feeder to the best in the league in a span of five years. That’s a dream scenario for any team picking first and there’s no reason why the Panthers would rather have anybody else from this draft than Super Cam.
2) Denver Broncos – J.J. Watt
The Texans got themselves an absolute steal when they took J.J. Watt at 11th overall. Many other teams besides Carolina would take Watt first overall and he may in fact be the best player from this draft, but Newton’s franchise changing nature drops Watt down to two. It was hard for me to knock Von Miller down a peg, as he has been the centerpiece of the NFL’s best defense in 2015, but Watt truly transcends his team. He’s perhaps the only defensive player in the league that can be considered for MVP.
It’s not like the Broncos whiffed on this pick though.
3) Buffalo Bills – Von Miller
Did you see what Von Miller did to Tom Brady in this year’s AFC Championship game? You have to think the Buffalo Bills, who have been victimized by Brady and company for years would jump at the chance to have someone to do that to Brady twice a year. Von Miller is the best pure pass rusher from this draft. The only year Miller didn’t make the Pro Bowl was in 2013, when he tore his ACL during the season. Miller has continued to get better every year and when Peyton Manning retires, he’s going to be the centerpiece of the Broncos’ championship hopes for years to come.
4) Cincinnati Bengals – Julio Jones
It was hard to knock A.J. Green off this spot, but the explosiveness of Julio Jones is too hard to ignore. The Bengals were in clear need of a wide receiver back in 2011 as the experiment of Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco had crashed and burned. Jones is coming of a 136-catch season in which he recorded over 1,800 receiving yards. Jones has become the Falcons’ most dangerous player and will be terrorizing defenses for years. Jones would make quite the answer for the Bengals to Antonio Brown.
5) Arizona Cardinals – Patrick Peterson
There were not one, but two elite corners selected in this draft year, but Patrick Peterson gets the slight edge over the other one you’ll hear about soon. Peterson did not have the supporting cast his first few years in Arizona, but still managed to emerge as perhaps the best corner in the game. While the Cardinals dwindled for a couple of years even after this selection, the foundation for their current state began by selecting Peterson out of LSU.
6) Cleveland Browns – A.J. Green
A.J. Green has been one of the most consistent receivers in the NFL since his arrival. He’s recorded over 1,000 yards receiving every year. The Browns have been searching for reliability and consistency from their receivers and that’s exactly what Green would bring. The Falcons picked from this spot in 2011 after trading up with Cleveland. The Browns received five picks to move down to 22 but those picks combined don’t equate to what a top receiver could have done for them.
7) San Francisco 49ers – Richard Sherman
Well now, isn’t this quite the twist? Richard Sherman seems to hate Jim Harbaugh, thinking he sabotaged his career back at Stanford, but Harbaugh is now out of the NFL and Sherman is one of the game’s greats. You have to think that the 49ers are sick of Sherman giving them nightmares in all of their matchups with Seattle. If you have hindsight, you have to believe that the 49ers would love to go back and prevent the Legion of Boom from ever forming.
8) Tennessee Titans – Robert Quinn
The Tennessee Titans had just released Vince Young and were overzealous in looking for his replacement. They reached for Jake Locker, when they could have had him in the second round. The Titans also needed to restock their defensive line, as their dominant front-four from their 13-3 2008 season had aged and been dismantled. Robert Quinn would have rejuvenated their defensive line. Quinn led the NFL with 19 sacks in 2013. He suffered injury problems this year, which caused his numbers to dip, but he still is among the elite pass rushers in the league.
9) Dallas Cowboys – Tyron Smith
Some of the Cowboys’ best selections in recent years have been when they’ve addressed their offensive line, which was a recurring problem in Dallas early in Romo’s career. Tyron Smith quickly became one of the NFL’s best young players and can now arguably be considered the best left tackle in the league. His protection allowed Romo and DeMarco Murray to have career years in 2014. You can’t underestimate the importance of elite tackles.
10) Washington Redskins – Justin Houston
The Redskins traded down from this spot in 2011 with the Jags, who used the pick on Blaine Gabbert. Washington took Ryan Kerrigan out of Purdue six picks later. Ryan Kerrigan has become a solid player for the Redskins, but Justin Houston has the type of talent that’s capable of taking over a game. Justin Houston had some off-field issues when he was drafted which is why he dropped to the third round, but Houston’s value to the Chiefs’ defense is huge. Their 2014 season went down the tubes when Houston was injured, and Tom Brady picked them apart in this year’s playoffs because Houston wasn’t there to pressure the QB.
11) Houston Texans – Marcell Dareus
While Marcell Dareus had a bit of a disappointing year this year, his defensive coordinators in Houston would have been Wade Phillips and Romeo Crennel over the last few years. Now that’s a place a talent like him could thrive. In this re-draft, J.J. Watt is not available for Houston at no.11. Dareus was slow to develop, but with him getting that kind of coaching in Houston, his ceiling gets a lot higher. The Texans were on the right track going defense.
12) Minnesota Vikings – Randall Cobb
The Minnesota Vikings were coming off an extremely disappointing season in 2010. The team begged Brett Favre to come back and they traded for Randy Moss midseason in search for a spark on offense. Neither move worked, so the Vikings had to find an answer at quarterback in 2011. That caused the team to reach for Christian Ponder. The team could have swiped Randall Cobb, before he fell to the Packers in the second round. The Vikings have only now started to fix problems at receiver, but the position could have been addressed five years ago.
13) Detroit Lions – Muhammad Wilkerson
The Lions were looking to find the perfect interior d-line partner for Ndamukong Suh and they used the pick on Nick Fairley out of Auburn, who at one point was even being considered as a possible first overall pick. Fairley enjoyed some success with Suh, but was inconsistent and not always in the best football shape. Muhammad Wilkerson would have been a far better option to add to Detroit’s line, as they would have one of the better run stuffers in the league. Wilkerson might have been an even better player than he is now with the Jets if he was next to Suh.
14) St. Louis Rams – DeMarco Murray
Do me a favor for a minute and ignore DeMarco Murray’s 2015 season. Okay? Good. Murray had some injury issues and fumbling issues early in his career, but with Stephen Jackson at 28 years old back in 2011, the Rams should have been looking for a workhorse back to take some of the load off of Jackson. With Jeff Fisher having arrived in St. Louis a year later, the Rams offense would have benefited from someone who could take the load off Sam Bradford. Don’t forget, Fisher’s best years as a coach always came when he had a dominant back.
15) Miami Dolphins – Nate Solder
Nate Solder was a bright spot on New England’s shoddy offensive line the last couple of years. His loss in Week 4 of this season proved to be a significant one. Jake Long was starting to be questioned in Miami around this time, as he was very injury prone and inconsistent. The Dolphins would have gotten some assurance by taking the versatile Solder, who is able to play both tackle spots. Once again, in hindsight, you’d always love to weaken a rival.
16) Jacksonville Jaguars – Andy Dalton
While I don’t consider Andy Dalton an elite quarterback, I do consider him a very good one. He also would have been a far better option than Blaine Gabbert for the Jaguars. While Jacksonville seems to have the position figured out now with Blake Bortles, Jack Del Rio probably could have saved his job if he had Dalton, who has been able to win a lot of games in the NFL, albeit with a talented roster around him in Cincinnati. Either way, the Jags needed a quarterback that year and they could have stood pat at 16 and gone with Dalton.
17) New England Patriots – Aldon Smith
While Aldon Smith has proven to be a headache off the field, he is still one of the most talented pass rushers in the NFL. I only put him here at 17 to New England because it would have been in the best situation possible. If anyone could have straightened him out right away, it would have been Bill Belichick. The Patriots rarely go for need in drafts, instead opting for the best player available. That’s Aldon Smith here and it’s safe to say the Patriots could have maximized his potential.
18) San Diego Chargers – Jurell Casey
The San Diego Chargers were in need of a force on the inside of their defensive line, so they went with Corey Liuget at 18th overall. There was a draft steal waiting in round three, Jurrell Casey, who went to the Titans and has since blossomed as one of the best at his position. Casey moves incredibly quickly for a 305-pounder and is a bright spot on a Titans team low on talent.
19) New York Giants – Chris Harris
The New York Giants have missed on a lot of their draft picks in the last few years, which is why the team now finds itself having missed the playoffs in six of the last seven years. Their secondary in particular has been a mess the last few years. Chris Harris has emerged as one of the most reliable corners in the league and is often overlooked due to Denver having a stacked defense. He would stand out in the Big Apple though, and the Giants may have actually had a chance to stop some players from scoring on them.
20) Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Cameron Jordan
The Buccaneers were looking for a pass rush in this draft, as they took a chance on Da’Quan Bowers later on in this draft. They went with Adrian Clayborn early, but Cameron Jordan went to the division rival Saints just a few picks later. The Bucs moved on from Clayborn this past season, while Jordan made his second Pro Bowl. Jordan was stuck on a bad Saints defense, but under Lovie Smith’s coaching the last couple of years, he’d have been in good hands.
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