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The 2011 NFL Draft featured roughly half a dozen future Pro Football Hall of Fame inductees and dozens of All-Pros. Very few drafts in history included as much depth and stardom as the Class of 2011. A team formed solely from members of that elite crop could surely capture multiple Super Bowls and run roughshod over the league.
Today, we’ll explore what a collective team formed from the best members of the Class of 2011 would look like. The process is similar to putting together an all-pro team, except the options all come from one draft. A close examination revealed some flaws in the 2011 draft, but the group could still easily form the best team in the NFL.
For the sake of including as many great players as possible, this article includes enough defensive personnel to run 4-3, 3-4, or 4-2-5 defenses. The readers can decide their ideal formation based on the players selected. Some numbers in this article came from Pro Football Focus (PFF). Unless specified, assume all data is from Pro Football Reference.
Selections for this article weren’t based on how well players performed in recent seasons or their current standing in the NFL. I took into account the entire careers of the chosen players.
Quarterback- Cam Newton, Auburn
The 2011 NFL Draft produced three Pro Bowl quarterbacks, only two of which have over 30,000 passing yards. Newton entered the NFL to high expectations after capturing the Heisman Trophy and BCS Championship at Auburn. The dual-threat quarterback hasn’t always lived up to expectations, but he’s easily outpaced his competition for this spot.
Newton set NFL rookie records for passing yards (4,051) and rushing yards by a quarterback (706). Even though he never threw for 4,000 yards again, Newton remained one of the league’s better quarterbacks. He was the NFL MVP in 2015, when he led the Carolina Panthers to a 15-1 record and a Super Bowl berth.
The New England Patriots brought Newton back for another season, but he’s in danger of losing the starting job to Mac Jones.
Ingram won the Heisman Trophy with Alabama in 2009. He ran for 1,658 yards and 17 touchdowns that season as the Crimson Tide won a BCS Championship. Ingram never replicated that level of dominance in the NFL, but he reached great heights. After a slow start to his career, the New Jersey native hit his stride from 2014 through 2019.
During his six-year peak, Ingram totaled 7,265 yards from scrimmage and 59 total touchdowns while averaging 4.8 yards per rushing attempt. He earned three Pro Bowl selections but never cracked the league’s elite class of runners.
Ingram is 781 yards away from becoming the 107th player in NFL history with 10,000 yards from scrimmage. He set career lows in touches and yards last season but plans on bouncing back with the Houston Texans.
The Dallas Cowboys quietly added Murray as a third-round pick to a backfield that already featured Tashard Choice and Felix Jones. Murray quickly established himself as Dallas’ top running back but wouldn’t vault into stardom until his third season.
In 2013, behind an offensive line featuring prime Tyron Smith and rookie Travis Frederick, Murray ran for 1,121 yards while averaging 5.2 yards per attempt. That was the first of three Pro Bowl campaigns for Murray, all of which accompanied his only 1,000-yard rushing seasons.
In 2014, Murray captured the triple crown, leading the NFL in rushing attempts, yards, and touchdowns. He also led the league with 449 touches and 2,261 yards from scrimmage. The Oklahoma product’s final Pro Bowl campaign came in 2016 with the Tennessee Titans.
Murray amassed 1,302 touches, 6,420 yards from scrimmage, and 42 touchdowns during his four-year peak. His final NFL snap came during the 2017 season.
Dallas didn’t get much production out of its 2011 class, but Murray and Smith carried the day. The towering tackle proved worthy of the ninth overall pick during his prime seasons. Smith was an All-Pro by his third season. The 30-year-old has four All-Pro selections and a spot on the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s All-Decade Team for the 2010s.
Unfortunately, injuries could force Smith to retire early. He only appeared in two games last season, breaking his streak of seven consecutive Pro Bowl nominations. According to Pro Football Focus, Smith remains an above-average pass blocking tackle, but his production in the running game is dwindling.
The 2011 NFL Draft didn’t have many flaws. A lack of stout guard play is the most notable stain on the immortal class’ résumé. Carpenter entered the draft as a tackle but converted to guard within his first few NFL seasons. The Alabama product started 121 of his 127 appearances over the past ten years and went to two Super Bowls with Seattle.
Carpenter is a free agent. The 32-year-old former first-round pick hasn’t posted a PFF grade over 60.0 since 2016.
Poor offensive line play didn’t extend to center in the 2011 draft. While Kelce earned this spot, the NFL also saw All-Pro Rodney Hudson and Pro Bowler Mike Pouncey enter the league in 2011. Hudson went 55th overall and was arguably the best pass blocking center of the 2010s. Pouncey went 15th overall and made four Pro Bowls before retiring last February.
While Hudson and Pouncey both turned into productive top-60 picks, Kelce waited until the sixth-round to hear his name called. He’s dominated as a run blocker with the Eagles and occasionally turns in elite years in pass protection. Kelce earned three consecutive First-Team All-Pro selections beginning in 2017.
Boling is the weakest player on this fantasy offense, but he carved out a good career in Cincinnati. The Georgia product heard his name called in the fourth-round and spent eight seasons in the NFL. He announced his retirement on July 15, 2019. Boling struggled as a run blocker but routinely turned in solid pass blocking grades for PFF.
Boling started 109 of his 111 NFL appearances, only missing six games in his final seven seasons.
Cannon opted out of the 2020 season, and New England recently traded the former fifth-round pick to Houston. Cannon is 33 years old, and fans don’t know how much he has left in the tank. There’s a good chance Cannon sees snaps at guard in 2021, but he’s staying at right tackle for this exercise.
The TCU product started at least seven games for New England five times, but he only has three seasons with over ten starts. However, two of those healthy seasons came when the Patriots won Super Bowls (LI & LIII). Cannon’s last season with a PFF grade over 70.0 came in 2018.
Rudolph recently left his decade-long home in Minnesota to join the Giants as a free agent. The 31-year-old tight end became a fan favorite with the Vikings but is well past his prime. Rudolph’s 4,488 receiving yards rank tenth in franchise history, and his 48 touchdowns are fifth with a nine-score lead on sixth place (former teammate Adam Thielen).
Rudolph was never a top-three NFL tight end, but he still had some great years. His most productive season came in 2016, when the former 43rd overall pick caught 83 passes for 840 yards and seven touchdowns. Rudolph also has some of the league’s most reliable hands. According to PFF, he only dropped two passes in the past four years.
There’s not much to explain here. Jones is the most dominant wide receiver of the post-Calvin Johnson era and is trending toward first-ballot Hall of Fame status. Two or three more decent seasons could vault the former sixth overall pick into the top-six all-time in receiving yardage leaders.
The Falcons traded Jones to Tennessee this offseason. The Titans throw the ball less than most teams in the NFL, which could impact Jones’ seasonal production. However, there’s no overlooking that he averaged 95.5 receiving yards per game through his first ten seasons. During that time, Jones led the NFL in receiving yards per game three times.
Green went two spots ahead of Jones in 2011, but he’s looking up at the former Alabama star after a string of brutal injuries. Green only appeared in 25 games for Cincinnati over the past three seasons. While he averaged 77.1 yards per game in 2018, all of his speed and explosiveness looked sapped last year.
The Cardinals signed Green this offseason, hoping that he’ll bounce back after the worst season of his career (apart from sitting out 2019). Green opened his career with seven consecutive Pro Bowl campaigns and currently has 649 receptions, 9,430 receiving yards, and 65 receiving touchdowns.
Defensive end- J.J. Watt, Wisconsin
Watt is another future first-ballot Hall of Famer. The former 11th overall pick is one of three players in NFL history with three Defensive Player of the Year awards (along with Aaron Donald and Lawrence Taylor). Watt amassed 85 sacks, 22 forced fumbles, and roughly 137 tackles for loss during his five First-Team All-Pro seasons.
Injuries stole 32 games from Watt over the past five years, and 2020 was his first full season with under ten sacks since 2011. Nevertheless, Watt is still the best defensive and overall player on this squad.
New Orleans made Jordan the 24th selection ten years ago. Despite starting 15 games as a rookie, the former California Golden Bear didn’t make much of an impact. Jordan wrapped up his rookie season with only one sack. Six Pro Bowls, three All-Pro selections, and an All-Decade Team nomination later, Jordan has a legitimate Hall of Fame case.
Last season marked Jordan’s first campaign since 2016 with under ten sacks. Over the past nine years, he’s totaled 93.5 sacks, 122 tackles for loss, and 180 quarterback hits, according to Pro Football Reference. Jordan recently turned 32 years old.
Other defensive ends had strong cases for this position, including Robert Quinn and Muhammad Wilkerson. Quinn amassed 40 sacks between 2012 and 2014 before back injuries dramatically altered his career trajectory. Quinn posted a career low two sacks in 2020. He has 82.5 sacks during his career to go along with a 2013 First-Team All-Pro selection.
Injuries pushed Wilkerson away from the NFL after 2018, but the Temple product had two ten-sack campaigns and two All-Pro selections to his name.
After a slow start to his career, Heyward continues to get better with age. The Ohio St. product has 33 sacks and 44 tackles for loss over the past four seasons. During that time, he’s made four Pro Bowls, earned three All-Pro selections, and finished with a PFF grade over 89.0 three times. Only Aaron Donald and Chris Jones can match that grading profile.
Casey only missed seven starts during his nine seasons with the Tennessee Titans. Over his final seven campaigns with the organization, Casey recorded 45.5 sacks, 71 tackles for loss, and 102 quarterback hits. The USC product posted at least five sacks each season during that run and was a Second-Team All-Pro in 2013.
Casey was an integral part of the Titans for almost a decade. Jeffery Simmons’ arrival and changes along the defensive front led to Tennessee trading the former third-round pick to Denver, where he played three games before suffering an injury in 2020. Casey is an unrestricted free agent.
Marcell Dareus deserves a mention. The third overall pick established himself as one of the league’s best defensive linemen by earning a First-Team All-Pro selection in 2014 before flopping out of the NFL. Dareus recorded 28.5 sacks in his first four seasons before only picking up nine over the next five years.
Miller went second overall in 2011 behind Newton. The Texas A&M product served a six-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse program in 2013 but rebounded nicely. He recently came under investigation by the Parker Police Department, but no charges were filed.
On the football field, Miller is an exceptional player with a Hall of Fame future. The 32-year-old totaled 98 sacks and 196 quarterback hits during his first eight seasons. He led Denver to Super Bowl 50 and was the game’s MVP. Miller also earned a boatload of other accolades, including eight Pro Bowl appearances, seven All-Pro selections, and a spot on the 2010s All-Decade Team.
Miller missed the entire 2020 season with a tendon injury.
Between 2012 and 2014, Houston amassed 43 sacks. He led the NFL with 22 in 2014, receiving the only First-Team All-Pro selection of his career. Unfortunately, injuries and scheme changes limited Houston’s effectiveness in future years. He’s currently a free agent coming off back-to-back 16-game seasons in a more limited role with the Colts.
Houston has 97.5 career sacks. Assuming he signs with a team this year, the former third-round pick should cross the century mark around the same time as Cameron Jordan.
Two other outside linebackers had cases for this spot. Ryan Kerrigan is coming off the worst two-year stretch of his career, but the Eagle totaled 60 sacks between 2014 and 2018. He has 95.5 career sacks and was one of the most consistent past rushers in the past decade.
Aldon Smith was a star in the making before substance abuse and off-field issues ruined his NFL career. Even after an impressive comeback with Dallas last year following a four-year absence from football, Smith recently found himself dealing with more legal issues. The Missouri product recorded 33.5 sacks in his first two NFL seasons. He was a First-Team All-Pro in 2012.
Wright is somehow still a free agent. The soon-to-be 32-year-old former fourth-round pick started all 32 games for Seattle over the past two years. He’s only missed 20 starts during his career and is often a forgotten cog from the dominant Legion of Boom defenses. Wright earned All-Pro selections from PFF in 2015 and 2016.
Despite his age and Seattle’s attempts to replace him, Wright posted the second-highest PFF grade of his career (75.3) in 2020. Wright played at least 900 snaps in six of the past seven years. He’s still capable of contributing at a high level. We’re pulling him from his usual 4-3 outside linebacker role to play inside for this fictional squad.
This spot came down to Mason Foster and Smith. Foster started 92 of his 107 appearances and hasn’t played since the end of 2018. Smith, the MVP of Super Bowl XLVIII, is still in the NFL but only has 56 starts in his 119 appearances. Foster also appears to still have a higher snap count despite possessing two fewer seasons of playing time.
Smith graded out slightly better than Foster in pass coverage, which is why he gets the nod here.
Sherman appeared in the news for some disturbing reasons recently, but he’s the best cornerback from the 2011 NFL Draft. His prime years were the closest any cornerback from this past era ever got to Darrelle Revis. Sherman recorded 36 interceptions and 115 passes defensed over the past decade.
The Stanford product turned from a fifth-round pick into a living legend. He served as the face of the Legion of Boom, received five All-Pro selections, and was a member of the 2010s All-Decade Team. PFF claims Sherman on average only allowed a 54.5 passer rating when targeted during the first decade of his career.
The other future Hall of Fame cornerback from the 2011 class, Peterson went fifth overall to the Cardinals. The LSU product opened his career with eight consecutive Pro Bowl selections and was a First-Team All-Pro kick returner as a rookie. He subsequently earned two First-Team nominations as a cornerback.
Peterson has 28 interceptions and 91 passes defensed. He’s only missed six games in his career (in 2019 for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs). Peterson only recently turned 31 years old, while Sherman is already 33. After a decade in the desert, Peterson is in Minnesota for his 11th year in the NFL.
Remember when I said guard play wasn’t a strong suit of the 2011 NFL Draft? Apparently, safety play wasn’t either. That’s not a shot at Parker, who carved out five starting seasons in Kansas City after going undrafted. However, it’s pretty clear this position group is light at the top compared to other roles.
Parker recorded all 11 of his career interceptions from 2013 onward. He last played in 2018 and officially retired in Jan. 2020.
The Chargers used a second-round pick on Gilchrist in 2011. He started 98 of his 128 appearances over the past ten years and recently played for the Ravens. Gilchrist only appeared in two games for Baltimore last year and three games for Jacksonville in 2019. This period of decline followed a six-year stretch where he only missed three games and six starts.
Baltimore released Gilchrist from its practice squad in October, meaning the 32-year-old is likely at the end of his playing career. The Clemson product has 14 career interceptions.
Harris was the undrafted gem of the 2021 class. All 32 NFL teams overlooked the Kansas product, and he made 31 of them pay for it during his nine seasons in Denver. Harris compiled 20 interceptions and 86 passes defensed with the Broncos. He, Darian Stewart, Aqib Talib, and T.J. Ward formed one of the most intimidating defensive backfields in the NFL.
While with the Broncos, Harris made four Pro Bowls, three All-Pro teams, won Super Bowl 50, and earned a spot on the 2010s All-Decade Team. Unfortunately, the 32-year-old only played nine games for the Chargers last season and saw his play decline dramatically.
Kicker- Dan Bailey, Oklahoma St.
The only two kickers from the 2011 class qualified for this role are Bailey and Kai Forbath. Forbath only attempted 19 field goals over the past three seasons, while Bailey attempted 79 during that time. Neither of these kickers is worth much at this point, but Bailey led the NFL in field goal percentage in 2015.
Fans often forget that Bailey made 90.6% of his field goal attempts and 100% of his extra point tries in his first five seasons. Everything went downhill in 2017, and now he’s one of the most disliked men in Minnesota.
The punter battle came down to Bosher and Chris Jones. Dallas kept Jones around for the last decade before cutting him in March. He punted 483 times during his decade of service in Dallas while averaging 44.5 yards per punt. According to NFL.com, 187 of those punts were downed inside opponents’ 20-yard line.
In comparison, Bosher punted 489 times with Atlanta but hasn’t appeared in a game since 2019. He averaged 45.7 yards per punt and buried 190 punts inside the 20. The former sixth-round pick also handled kickoff duties, which is why he ultimately claimed this spot.
Quarterback- Andy Dalton, TCU
Wide receiver- Doug Baldwin, Stanford
Center- Rodney Hudson, Florida St.
Center- Mike Pouncey, Florida
Defensive end- Robert Quinn, UNC
Defensive end- Muhammad Wilkerson, Temple
Defensive tackle- Marcell Dareus, Alabama
Outside linebacker- Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue
Outside linebacker- Aldon Smith, Missouri
Defensive back- Jimmy Smith, Colorado
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