NFL

Is The 2011 NFL Draft Class The Best Ever?

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The NFL Draft is still a couple months away, which gives us time to reflect on past draft classes.

To be more particular, I’m referring to the 2011 class, which features a plethora of household names in the game today.

Players such as Cam Newton, Von Miller, A.J. Green, Patrick Peterson, Julio Jones, Tyron Smith, J.J. Watt, Robert Quinn, Mike Pouncey and Mark Ingram headline this star studded group.

Even as you go deeper down the list, you’ll find names like Torrey Smith, Randall Cobb, Justin Houston, DeMarco Murray, Tyrod Taylor and Julius Thomas.

While all of the aforementioned players are incredible talents to say the least, the more fascinating thing are the teams who missed early on because they’re still struggling five years later.

For example, the San Francisco 49ers, Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars are still feeling the affects of missing during the 2011 NFL Draft.

In the case of San Francisco, they selected Aldon Smith with the seventh overall pick, while obtaining Colin Kaepernick in the second round.

When Kaepernick stepped in for Alex Smith and helped contribute to the 49ers Super Bowl berth three years ago, many were of the belief he was the long-term answer at quarterback.

While he still could be that guy, he’s lost tons of credibility as a passer over the past couple of seasons and was benched in favor of Blaine Gabbert in 2015.

Aldon Smith on the other hand was looked at as a tremendous pickup and when he’s actually on the field, you’d have to agree.

After all, Smith made the Pro Bowl in 2012 following a 19.5 sack campaign.

Unfortunately, Smith just couldn’t stay out of trouble off the field, which led to his release on August 7th.

As far as Tennessee and Jacksonville go, they’re just now looking to dig themselves out of self-inflicting holes.

At the time, both franchises believed Jack Locker and Blaine Gabbert were the respective answers at quarterback.

Now, the two teams have new ‘franchise’ guys under center, in Marcus Mariota and Blake Bortles.

It’ll be premature to say for a fact these two young quarterbacks will end up succeeding their predecessors. However, it can’t get much worse than Locker and Gabbert, right?

Historians of the game will point to the years 1983 (John Elway, Dan Marino, Bruce Matthews, Eric Dickerson, Jim Kelly), 1969 (O.J. Simpson, Joe Greene, Ted Hendricks) and 1996 (Jonathan Odgen, Ray Lewis, Marvin Harrison, Zach Thomas, Terrell Owens, Eddie George) among other legendary classes as holding down the top spot.

With that being said, the quarterback position is the primary spot people will look towards first when comparing draft classes and while Cam Newton has a long way to go to be in conversations with the likes of Elway, Marino and Kelly, the reigning MVP is off to a good start.

When comparing his first five seasons to Elway and Kelly, Newton has both of them beat in touchdown to interception ratio and quarterback rating. Also, Newton just did something in his fifth season the two aforementioned Hall of Fame quarterbacks couldn’t do, which was reach the Super Bowl.

However, Kelly would go on to play in four consecutive Super Bowls later in his career, only to lose all four, while Elway wound up with two Super Bowl rings and a Super Bowl XXIII MVP award.

Furthermore, it’ll be shameful of me to ignore the guys who can make life for a quarterback much easier.

Look no further than Marvin Harrison.

The former Colts great finally found his way to the Hall of Fame and his accomplishments on the field make him worthy of the honor.

Harrison is the Colts all-time leader in receptions, yards and receiving touchdowns. Also, his 1,102 receptions rank third all-time, his 14,580 receiving yards rank seventh all-time and his 128 receiving touchdowns place him fifth all-time.

Oh yeah, Harrison also holds the record for most receptions in a single-season with 143 back in 2002.

As impressive as those numbers are, Julio Jones is already on pace to surpass Harrison in multiple categories.

When comparing Jones’ first 65 games to Harrison’s, you’ll notice Julio has a 414-348 advantage in catches and a 6,201 to 4,704 edge in receiving yards, while only being three touchdowns off the pace.

This past season, Jones even flirted with Harrison’s single-season record for receptions, as the former Alabama product hauled in 136 catches.

At the age of 27, there’s no telling how Jones’ career will pan out, but it’s safe to say he’s on a great path to go down as one of the all-time greats.

Meanwhile, what about the other side of the ball?

Could you imagine if J.J. Watt and Von Miller were on the same team?

Now, that would be completely unfair, but just them being a part of the same draft class is insane in its own right.

This tandem already has eight Pro Bowl appearances between them.

Now, if you were to ask 100 people who the best linebacker of all-time is, about 30 to 40 of them would probably say Ray Lewis.

What if I were to tell you after five seasons that Miller already has 19.5 more sacks than Lewis had his entire career. Sure, Lewis was a middle linebacker, while Miller plays on the outside, but that is still a staggering fact no matter how you slice it.

J.J. Watt on the other hand is simply not from this planet.

Watt already has 74.5 career sacks to go along with five career touchdowns.

All in all, the 2011 draft class has potential to arguably go down as the greatest class ever. Sure, they’re only five years in, but at this current pace, there’s no reason to believe we won’t see multiple Hall of Famers coming from this class.

When it’s all said and done, we may be calling the 2011 draft the best ever.


About Mark Gunnels

Mark Gunnels

Mark Gunnels is an NFL columnist for Football Insiders. He has several years of experience covering the NFL and NCAA football. He's the radio color commentator for Lincoln University football. Mark's work has been featured on Sports Illustrated, Fox Sports and Yard Barker.