Each year The Pewter Plank sifts through extensive research to put together a Big Board of the top 100 college players entering the draft. Last year was perhaps one of the best drafts in a while to produce players immediately ready for NFL play. Here is a breakdown of the top 10 players we placed on our Big Board last year and how they ended up panning out in their rookie seasons.
Pre-Draft Consensus: Peterson is the unquestioned best player in the 2011 NFL Draft.
2011 Result: Peterson was no doubt the best cornerback in the draft and after the Cardinals traded Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to the Eagles, Arizona needed a guy like Peterson to really step up. That happened in more then one way in 2011. Peterson only finished the year with two interceptions, but he made his impact as a kick returner. In 2011, Peterson tied the All-Time Single Season Record for punt returns for touchdowns with four. Peterson returned his first punt of the year in Week 1 to clinch the game for the Cardinals and returned another punt in overtime in Week 9 to win the game. Peterson made the Pro Bowl for the NFC and was the only rookie to be named to the All-Pro First Team. Peterson wasn’t the Rookie of the Year but the Cardinals have a dangerous player in Peterson.
Pre-Draft Consensus: Von Miller is an absolute beast of an athlete, has massive raw potential, but he’s still very green.
2011 Result: Miller got drafted second overall and had the Panthers not needed a quarterback as bad as they did, he very well could have been drafted first overall. He started all but one game for the Broncos and was a gigantic part of a defense that made Tim Tebow much better then he is. Miller finished with 64 tackles and 11.5 sacks in the regular season and had a sack against the Steelers in the most improbable playoff win of this postseason. The Broncos got what they wanted out of Miller, but he just needs to grow more. John Elway called Miller a player who only comes around every 10 years. Finishing 140th in tackles isn’t great but Miller showed the chops to be a cornerstone of the Broncos defense. But a few okay years doesn’t make a draft success, it makes a La’Var Arrington, the last linebacker to be selected second overall.
Pre-Draft Consensus: Very talented interior pass-rusher and he has the strength and instincts to be a detriment to any opposing team’s run-game
2011 Results: Fairley slipped all the way to 13th overall to the Lions who, much to the despise of the other three NFC North teams, gladly took him to beef up an already dangerous defensive front. But Fairley was bitten by the injury bug and missed the majority his rookie campaign. He played in just 10 games for Detroit and totaled 15 tackles in those games. Fairley was along side Ndamukong Suh and was supposed to add an even more ferocious run defense. His best game came against the Saints, a game Suh missed due to suspension. However Fairley’s best mark for tackles was 2 and came in that game. Detroit has a solid player in Fairley but as was noted immensely before the draft, Fairley needs to want to be good in order to be good. 2011 wasn’t a good start, but it’s still early and the Lions are getting really good which means Fairley has a ton of upside starting next to Suh.
Pre-Draft Consensus: Consensus top choice at receiver is AJ Green, and you really can’t go wrong with either, but in my book Jones is the superior receiver.
2011 Results: Atlanta traded the farm to trade into the top 10 to select Jones, giving the Cleveland Browns 2 first round picks as well as three mid-level picks. The Falcons did so specifically to make one of the most deadly offenses on paper even more harder to defend. Jones fit right in as one of two deep threats for Matt Ryan in 2011 finishing 22nd among receivers in yards with 958. However, Jones missed four games due to a hamstring injury and has a few embarrassing drops in games the Falcons needed him. Also, despite adding the explosive Jones to a deadly offense, the Falcons still failed to scrap up more then 2 points in their opening round playoff game. Jones also got outplayed by A.J Green, who he was neck and neck with as best receiving prospect in 2011. However, Jones did go over 100 yards receiving five times and showed that he can be a Randy Moss type receiver for the Falcons which means bad things for defenses trying to stop him.
Pre-Draft Consensus: Green combines tremendous size and speed with surprisingly good body control, but his long legs limit his agility and elusiveness after the catch.
2011 Results: The Bengals needed two things badly to start rebuilding in 2011 and the first piece was a franchise receiver to replace (and surpass) Ochocinco. Selecting A.J. Green from Georgia was the right move in the long run for the Bengals which in hindsight seems easy but at the time it was a tough choice. Needing a quarterback as well as a wideout, the Bengals had Julio Jones, Blaine Gabbert, Jake Locker, and Christian Ponder on the board. Green ended up finishing over 1,000 yards receiving and caught 7 touchdowns which was tied for sixth best in the NFL. He missed just one game all year and went over 100 yards four times. Green wasn’t as flashy as Jones was given how low profile the Bengals started out as, but Green was a huge part of the Bengals surprising everyone and making the playoffs. Cincinnati has a solid receiver in Green who turned out to be the best rookie receiver of 2011.
Pre-Draft Consensus: Blaine Gabbert has become the consensus surest thing in the NFL draft.
2011 Results: Gabbert was exactly the opposite of this pre-draft consensus. Everyone got it wrong on Gabbert, a guy who was supposed to come in and start right away and start well for the Jags. The Minnesota Vikings were blasted for reaching to draft Christian Ponder but in hindsight, they may have suffered even more if they had gotten Gabbert. Jacksonville replaced Luke McCown with Gabbert in the second week against the Jets. As a starter he went 4-11 completing just over half his passes. Gabbert was outplayed by Rex Grossman, Matt Moore, Colt McCoy and Tavaris Jackson in 2011 finishing with a quarterback rating of 65.4 which was dead last in the NFL with Curtis Painter and John Skelton both finishing with a better rating. Gabbert is on thin ice already in Jacksonville as a new owner takes over and talks of Gabbert being replaced in this year’s draft. He wasn’t helped by the success of Cam Newton, Andy Dalton and to an extent Jake Locker with Dalton leading his team (who had a higher draft position then Jacksonville) to the playoffs while the Jaguars finished with a record placing them in the top 10 in this year’s draft as well.
Pre-Draft Consensus: If Marvin Austin had played last season he would arguably be first on this list.
2011 Results: The big knock on Marvin Austin was his character as he missed the entire 2010 season at North Carolina after being dismissed from the team. However his skill set and talent is incredible and the Giants drafted him to — much like the Lions — beef up an already scary good front line. But Austin’s luck didn’t get any better as he tore his pectoral muscle in the preseason which forced him to miss the entire 2011 season after
being placed on Injured Reserve. Now the problem with Austin is despite his insane skills, he has now missed two full years.
Pre-Draft Consensus: Newton is hands-down the best athlete playing quarterback in the 2011 draft.
2011 Results: Carolina needed a quarterback bad in 2011 and up until almost the last minute they thought it would be Andrew Luck. When Luck opted to return to Stanford for his senior year, the Panther immediately turned their attention to Auburn’s Cam Newton. That turned out to be a brilliant move. Newton was no doubt athletic, but his character and one year wonder success drew a lot of critics to say he’d be a bust. Newton smiled with glee as he made those doubter eat their crow by the shovel-full. Newton may very well win the Rookie of the Year award after an incredible 2011 campaign that saw him eclipse 400 yards passing like he was used to doing it all the time. He finished 10th in total yards while adding a touchdown to interception ratio of 21 to 17 to boot. Newton instantly made the Panthers a better football team as his mobility coupled with his passing skills took most defenses by surprise. It’s still early to call Newton a stud but the chances we can say that after 2012 are pretty high.
Pre-Draft Consensus: Unlike Austin, Dareus only missed the first two games of 2010 but the me-first perception people have of Austin could certainly be true of Dareus as well.
2011 Results: Dareus had a me-first issue coming into the draft but he showed that may have been a false pretense. Dareus played in all 16 games for the Bills, playing through injuries to his shoulder and hand. He registered 5.5 sacks in his rookie year, adding 43 tackles as well. Dareus was part of an exceptional Bills defense early in the season. But when the Bills fell off the face of the earth, so did Dareus. The question now is how well he’ll show up in the future. He had a luke-warm rookie campaign especially when he was sandwiched between Von Miller and A.J. Green who both had great rookie years. He was also out played by Aldon Smith, the defensive end the 49ers took four picks after him.
Pre-Draft Consensus: Bowers has all the physical tools to be a solid pass-rusher, the one knock on his pass-rushing is he needs to improve his first step.
2011 Results: The Pewter Plank speculated that because of his injury concerns, Bowers may fall to the Bucs at 20. We were wrong. Bowers didn’t fall to the Bucs at 20, he fell to them at 51. Bowers was once considered to be a top three pick but nose dived to the middle of the second round. Bowers rookie campaign reflected that with the Buccaneers going easy on him to let his injures heal. Bowers played in just 11 of the Buccaneers games in 2011 making little impact in them. He did, however, remain uninjured boding well for his future. Bowers started the last 6 games for the Bucs with his breakout game coming against the Panthers in Week 13 where he tallied 7 tackles. This to bodes well for his future in Tampa but as for his rookie campaign, had he been drafted as high as he could have been he no doubt would have been a bust. Thankfully for him, the Bucs grabbed him at 51st overall.