Few drafts have begun with that kind of 1-2 punch, but the 2011 edition went much deeper than that, with the first round positively littered with studs (especially compared to the bedraggled crew that led off the following year). Let’s take a look back, shall we?
Normally, one might start by reviewing the top 10, but to paraphrase the immortal words of Nigel Tufnel, and for reasons that will become crystal clear, this glance goes to 11.
1. Panthers: Cam Newton (QB, Auburn)
2. Broncos: Von Miller (LB, Texas A&M)
3. Bills: Marcell Dareus (DT, Alabama)
4. Bengals: A.J. Green (WR, Georgia)
5. Cardinals: Patrick Peterson (DB, LSU)
6. Falcons: Julio Jones (WR, Alabama)
7. 49ers: Aldon Smith (DE, Missouri)
8. Titans: Jake Locker (QB, Washington)
9. Cowboys: Tyron Smith (OT, USC)
10. Jaguars: Blaine Gabbert (QB, Missouri)
11. Texans: J.J. Watt (DE, Wisconsin)
Enough NFL stars there for ya? With the inclusion of the all-universe Watt, there are 23 Pro Bowl appearances — not counting this season — and 14 first-team all-pro selections among that group.
If you buy the premise that San Francisco got an excellent player — albeit a sketchy human being — in Smith, then you have to go all the way to 8 to find a true bust in Locker. And, hey, after the solid run Gabbert just had for the Niners in place of Colin Kaepernick (more on him in a bit), it’s looking like we may have written his NFL obituary a little too soon.
At 12 was Christian Ponder, taken by the quarterback-desperate Vikings (who remained quarterback-desperate), but then came a run of solid-to-excellent players: Nick Fairley, Robert Quinn, Mike Pouncey, Ryan Kerrigan, Nate Solder, Corey Luiget, Prince Amukamara and Adrian Clayborn.
In true Browns fashion, Cleveland ended that run by taking a disappointment, defensive tackle Phil Taylor, at 21. He is currently out of the league, but that has as much to do with a severe knee injury as his talent level.
Other impact players who went in the 2011 first round included: Cameron Jordan (24, Saints), James Carpenter (25, Seahawks but now with the Jets), Jimmy Smith (26, Ravens), Mark Ingram (28, Saints), Muhammad Wilkerson (30, Jets) and Cameron Heyward (31, Steelers).
Early second-round picks included Aaron Williams (34, Bills), Andy Dalton (35, Bengals) and Jabaal Sheard (37, Browns but now with the Patriots). Oh, plus Kaepernick (36, 49ers), and is it too far-fetched to imagine a starting quarterback in Super Bowl XLVII playing well again?
Later selections in 2011 featured the likes of Justin Houston (70, Chiefs), Julius Thomas (129, Broncos but now with the Jaguars) and Richard Sherman (154, Seahawks), but every draft has its underlooked gems. What really stands out with the one that took place five years ago is its quality in the first round, and, as the upcoming Super Bowl will reflect, that started right at the top.