After watching the first playoff game today, I was amazed at how much of an impact DT JJ Watt out of Wisconsin has had on the Houston Texans defense this season. While admiring Watt, I began to think of Dareus and Fairley as well, resulting in me doing a little research on the first 15 picks of the 2011 NFL Draft. I'm going to take a look at each player and the impact on their offenses and defenses, respectively.
#1: Cam Newton, Carolina: As almost everyone knows, Newton has had a huge impact on the Panthers this season. After going 2-14 in the 2010-2011 season, the Panthers finished 6-10 which was good for third place in the very difficult NFC South. The Panthers went from ranked 32nd in the NFL in total offense in 2010 to 7th in 2011. Newton broke NFL and Rookie records during this season finishing with 4,051 passing yards (10th in NFL), 21 TD passes (11th), 17 INT (6th most in NFL), and a 84.5 QB Rating (15th). While Newton's passing stats are great for a rookie, they don't tell the whole story. He also had 706 yards rushing and 14 TD's. Personally, I think Newton is without a doubt the Rookie of the Year and the right choice with the #1 pick.
#2: Von Miller, Denver: A fan favorite in Denver, Miller has transform Denver's defense into one of the more respectable, if not better defenses in the NFL. The Broncos have improved from being 4-12 in 2010 to 8-8 in 2011. Their defense has gone from being ranked 32nd in total defense, 25th in passing defense, and 31st in rushing defense in 2010 to 20th in total defense, 18th in passing defense, and 22th in rushing defense in 2011. The Broncos have also gone from being 32nd in sacks with just 23 last year, to 10th this season with 41. Of course the addition of John Fox, Elvis Dumervil, and company have helped improve these stats, but Miller's individual stats of 64 tackles, 11.5 sacks, and 2 FF while missing a game and playing in four games with a cast on his hand speak for itself. Unfortunately the cast has slowed his production down significantly and we can only imagine his total production if he hadn't had the hand injury. Miller was elected to play in the 2011 Pro Bowl and was named 2nd team All-Pro.
#3: Marcell Dareus, Buffalo: The Buffalo Bills were one of the hottest teams starting the 2011 season, but unfortunately their luck ran out. The Bills improved from being 4-12 in 2010 to 6-10 in 2011, but their defense didn't seem to improve In 2010, the Bills finished 24th in total defense, 3rd in passing defense, and 32nd in rushing defense. In 2011 the Bills finished 26th in total defense, 19th in passing defense, and 28th in rushing defense. Unfortunately, the team defense didn't seem to improve a whole lot, and Dareus' stats were moderate with 43 tackles and 5.5 sacks.
#4: A.J. Green, Cincinnati: Alongside QB Andy Dalton, the Cincinnati Bengals have found a dynamic duo with WR A.J. Green, and I look forward to watch this two rookie standouts for years to come. The Bengals' record has improved from 4-12 to 9-7 in the tough AFC North. In just 15 games this season Green recorded 65 catches for 1,057 yards and 7 TD. He was also selected for the 2011 NFL Pro Bowl.
#5: Patrick Peterson, Arizona: Patrick Peterson was raked as the highest CB prospect to come out of college in a long time, and he made his presence well known on both defense and especially special teams. The Cardinals record improved to 8-8 in 2011, after being just 5-12 in 2010. The Cardinals' pass defense improved from being 23rd in 2010 to being 17th in 2011 and Peterson finished with 64 tackles, 2 INT, and 1 sack. Peterson also tied a rookie record with 4 special team TD's and was voted to the 2011 Pro Bowl and 1st team All-Pro as a return specialist.
#6: Julio Jones, Atlanta: The Falcons traded up in the draft to select Jones in order to add a dangerous weapon to what was one of the most potent offenses in the NFL. The Falcons didn't have as good of a season as they did in 2010, but their passing offense improved from being 15th to 7th in the NFL. Unfortunately, Jones had a nagging hamstring injury throughout the season but he still was able to record 54 catches, 959 yards, and 8 TD's in just 13 games this season. Jones looks to be a solid pick and one of the more dangerous offensive weapons in the future if he can stay away from injuries.
#7: Aldon Smith, San Francisco: The 49ers added Aldon Smith to one of the most dangerous defenses in the NFL. The 49ers improved from being 6-10 in 2010 to 13-3 in 2011. In 2010 their defense was ranked 13th in total defense, 24th in pass defense, and 6th in rushing defense. In 2011 they improved to 4th in total defense, 16th in pass defense, and 1st in rushing defense. Although Smith plays on one of the best defenses in the league his stats of 37 tackles, 14 sacks, and 2 FF although he didn't start a game. Smith is an exciting pass rusher with a great future ahead of him.
#8: Jake Locker, Tennessee: Tennessee made one of the more surprising picks in the 2011 NFL Draft by selecting Jake Locker. While Locker didn't play much because of Matt Hasselbeck's great performances, Locker impressed when the opportunity rose. Locker compiled 542 yards passing, 4 TD, 0 INT, and a QB rating of 99.4 in just 5 games of action. Locker also added 56 yards and 1 rushing TD. Locker seems to have a bright future although his small playing sample size.
#9: Tyron Smith, Dallas: Tyron Smith looks to be a solid T for the Cowboys in the future. He was the first OL taken by Jerry Jones in the first round and started every game for the Cowboys this season. The Cowboys averaged 4.4 YPC this season.
#10: Blaine Gabbert, Jacksonville: Blaine Gabbert was another surprise pick this season with Jacksonville already having David Garrard. The Jags ended up cutting Garrard before the season and Gabbert started every game this season. To be honest, the Jacksonville pass offense was awful this season. They were ranked 32nd in the NFL for passing offense this season and Gabbert had stats of 2,214 yards, 12 TD, 11 INT, and a QB rating of 65.4. To Gabberts credit, Jacksonville might have the worst receiving corps in the NFL. Hopefully with some added weapons in the off-season Gabbert can improve, but as of now this pick is looking very questionable.
#11: J.J. Watt, DT, Houston: J.J. Watt was one of my favorite players in the draft this season and he didn't disappoint. The Texans ended up winning the AFC South and look to be a threatening team for years to come. In the past, the Texans defense was the only thing holding them back from being a playoff contender. That isn't the case anymore. In 2010 the Texans defense ranked 30th in total defense, 32nd in passing defense, and 13th in rush defense. In 2011 the Texans improved to 2nd in total defense, 3rd in passing defense, and 4th in rushing defense. It's hard to believe such an amazing improvement, especially considering the loss of Mario Williams for most of the season. Although the whole defense had improved under Wade Phillips, Watt's stats were solid. Watt compiled 56 tackles with 5.5 sacks and 4 passes knocked down. Watt is a great addition to a young, promising Texans defense.
#12: Christian Ponder, Minnesota: Christian Ponder was also one of the more questionable, surprising picks of the 2011 NFL Draft. The Vikings were hoping McNabb could be a temporary fix, but that wasn't the case. After cutting McNabb, Ponder became the starter. Ponder appeared in 11 games, starting 10 of them. Through those games, Ponder compiled 1,853 yards passing, 13 TD, 13 INT, and a QB rating of 70.1. Ponder also showed good mobility adding 218 yards rushing to his resume. Ponder played on a bad team and has shown some promise for the future, although I still consider this a questionable pick.
#13: Nick Fairley, Detroit: After being projected the #1 overall pick during part of the offseason, Fairley's character issues caused him to drop all the way to Detroit at #13. Fairley is a physical beast, but he has been bothered by injuries and his stats don't really show his talent. In 10 games this season Fairley has compiled just 15 tackles and 1 sack.
#14: Robert Quinn, St. Louis: One of the biggest mysteries going into the 2011 NFL daft had to be Robert Quinn since he didn't play his senior season at UNC. Character issues were a question after not being allowed to play at UNC during the 2010 season. Quinn has played on one of the worst teams in the NFL this season. He has compiled a modest 23 tackles and 5 sacks in 15 games with 1 start. Hopefully he can turn it up in his sophomore season or this could turn out to be another questionable pick
#15: Mike Pouncey, Miami: Pouncey looks to be a solid building block on a Dolphins O-Line that needed help. After only playing 1 year at C in college, there were some questions he could make the transition. Those questions have been answered and Pouncey looks to be a solid pick. He's the centerpiece along with Jake Long on the Dolphins O-Line that helped Reggie Bush achieve a healthy average of 5 YPC. Pouncey started all 16 games this season and looks to be a solid pick
In conclusion, this draft might have had the most production and talent of any 1st round that I can think of. Every player drafted in the top 15 ended up earning a starting spot on their respective teams by the end of the season. Numerous records were broken or nearly broken, and I can only imagine the amazing play to come. After looking at the Top 15 players drafted in 2011, I have no doubt that Von Miller was the right choice for the Broncos. In my opinion, there's no doubt that he should be the Defensive ROY this season. It's very unfortunate that he injured his hands because through 12 games this season he was on pace for a ridiculous 83 tackles and 15 sacks this season. Regardless, he's had an amazing season so far and has made himself one of the top defensive players in the NFL this season.