The common saying is it takes three years to properly evaluate an NFL draft class. Keeping to that line of think, who won big in 2011?
It didn’t take long for Von Miller to become the best pass rusher on the team and then one of the best in the league. Despite injuries and off-the-field issues, he has amassed 35 sacks in just three seasons.
Prior to an injury that ended his season in 2013, Rahim Moore had developed into a consistent, dependable starter at safety for the Denver Broncos defense.
A second round pick out of Miami (Fla.), Orlando Franklin was plugged in at right tackle from day one in 2011 and has started 57 games for one of the top offenses in football.
It took some time but hopes were high for tight end Julius Thomas. He rewarded that faith by breaking out last year for 788 yards, 12 touchdowns and a Pro Bowl.
A stud coming out of Georgia, A.J. Green didn’t take long to adjust to the NFL level, carving up defenses all over the field. He is already a three-time Pro Bowler.
The Cincinnati Bengals were worried about how they could get over Carson Palmer. It didn’t take long as they found their guys in the second round with Andy Dalton who has led them to three-straight playoff berths.
It didn’t start too well for Tyron Smith with the Dallas Cowboys but he has quickly developed into a Pro Bowl left tackle.
Conversely, the start for running back DeMarco Murray was outstanding but then took a nosedive for awhile. Soon though the juice returned and he breached 1,000 yards last season on his way to the Pro Bowl.
An often overlooked linebacker who has quietly gotten better every year, posting career highs in tackles (96), sacks (2) and pass deflections (3) in 2013.
His official designations is wide receiver but Dwayne Harris made his noise as one of the best special teams players in the NFL, amassing over 1,000 return yards and a touchdown last season.
San Francisco 49ers
Off-the-field problems have seriously clouded what has been the start of a potentially Hall of Fame career for Aldon Smith who has 46.5 sacks in just 51 games.
He literally stole the starting job from Alex Smith, led the San Francisco 49ers to a Super Bowl appearance in 2012 and already has a 4-2 record in the playoffs.
Frank Gore has gotten the spotlight for obvious reasons but Kendall Hunter emerged as one of the most reliable backup running backs in the league. Through three years he has 1,470 total yards, seven touchdowns and is averaging 4.6 yards per carry.
Teams that run the ball love to have a good fullback. Bruce Miller emerged as that guy for the 49ers, all the while becoming an impromptu threat as a receiver.
The self-proclaimed best cornerback in the league, and two-time All-Pro, Richard Sherman was hijacked in the 5th round by the Seattle Seahawks.
The secondary gets all the glory in Seattle but nobody can overstate how good K.J. Wright is for that defense both as a leader and tackler around the line of scrimmage.
The man who ran Brandon Browner out of town. Byron Maxwell is yet another developmental success story at cornerback for Seattle who snared four interceptions last season.
He only started 11 games in three seasons for Seattle after going in the 7th round of the draft. That didn’t stop Malcolm Smith from becoming Super Bowl MVP.
Each of the above teams found terrific success in the 2011 NFL draft. Denver found Pro Bowl talent on offense and defense. Cincinnati got a franchise receiver and starting quarterback. Dallas infused all three phases with quality players. San Francisco found arguably the best pass rusher in the NFC and an up-and-coming quarterback. However, draft productivity is about results and the Seattle Seahawks fortified their infamous Legion of Boom with this draft class, adding four critical starters including one of their cornerstones. Winning the Super Bowl and shutting down the best offense in league history was clear validation.