2011 NFL Draft: The 32 Best Players Still with the Team That Drafted Them
The 2011 NFL draft is sure to see its fair share of reaches, risers, fallers, booms and busts. Only in a few years will we be able to grade each team's performance drafting in 2011.
It's no secret, though, that winning teams are built through the draft. Teams will be judged based on how their prospects contribute to the team over time. It doesn't help much if a prospect contributes heavily and leaves via trade or free agency, either.
Ultimately, though, teams want players who can contribute early and often.
It's worth it, then, to investigate the best player on each team that's stayed with the team that drafted them.
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Arizona Cardinals: Larry Fitzgerald
Are the Cardinals on the verge of losing the only good thing they have going for them? They may be, if they don't find Larry Fitzgerald a talented quarterback to throw him the ball in 2011. He suffered for a lack of one last year, but was still able to reel in 90 passes for 1,137 yards and six touchdowns.
He doesn't miss Anquan Boldin, but he clearly misses Kurt Warner.
As the third overall pick in the 2004 NFL draft, Fitzgerald has lived up to every bit of the expectations set for him. With five Pro Bowl selections and a first-team All-Pro nomination in 2009, that statement is held up as fact.
Career stats: 613 receptions, 8,204 yards, 65 touchdowns
Atlanta Falcons: Matt Ryan
Finding Matt Ryan as the franchise quarterback of the future wasn't a mistake by the Falcons, but it was definitely a perfect storm. Not often does a quarterback start in his first year and instantly give the team hope for the future by playing his position well and leading his team to the playoffs.
He has had the help of a steadily improving roster, and some great weapons in Roddy White, Michael Turner and Tony Gonzalez.
He earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl this year, and has now led the team to three consecutive winning seasons for the first time in team history.
Career stats: 60.8 percent completion rate, 10,061 yards, 66 touchdowns, 34 interceptions
Buffalo Bills: Kyle Williams
After a few above-average years as a defensive tackle in the 4-3, Kyle Williams really made his presence felt in 2010 as a nose tackle in the Bills' new 3-4 system. He registered 5.5 sacks and 77 tackles last year.
At this point, it's a coin flip between Williams and linebacker Paul Posluszny, but I take Williams because he was a later pick and has contributed heavily, but also because he plays on the line. His play actually helped Posluszny have one of the better years of his career last year.
Career stats: 291 tackles, 13.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles
Baltimore Ravens: Ray Lewis
This man needs no introduction. He'll take care of that himself.
He's been voted to 12 Pro Bowls and seven first-team All-Pro squads. He has won Defensive Player of the Year twice, and even won Super Bowl MVP in the Ravens' lone win in franchise history.
The Ravens are lucky to have an inspirational leader like Ray Lewis in their defense.
Career stats: 1,909 tackles, 38.5 sacks, 30 interceptions, 3 touchdowns, 16 forced fumbles
Carolina Panthers: Jon Beason
A good quarterback for the defense is hard to come by. Jon Beason gives the Carolina Panthers that level of football intelligence, though. Beason is arguably one of the best middle linebackers in the league right now, so he was a lock for this pick.
He's been voted to three consecutive Pro Bowls and had an All-Pro year in 2008, in which he had 138 tackles and three interceptions.
Even as the Panthers begin their rebuilding phase, Jon Beason figures to be a central piece to their defense for years to come.
Career stats: 539 tackles, 4 sacks, 8 interceptions, 3 forced fumbles
Chicago Bears: Brian Urlacher
Could the Chicago Bears have asked for a better linebacker to live up to the Monsters of the Midway mantra of the city and team? Urlacher has been everything for the Bears defense, and has consistently been their MVP.
He's a member of the prestigious "5 and 5" club, recording five sacks and five interceptions in one year. Injuries held him up in 2009, but 2010 was a banner year for him with 125 tackles, four sacks and an interception.
Career stats: 1,190 tackles, 41.5 sacks, 18 interceptions, 1 touchdown, 9 forced fumbles
Cincinnati Bengals: Carson Palmer
Palmer has been everything for the Bengals the past seven years. Literally, everything. That fact has him looking for a way out of Cincinnati now.
Prior to all that, drafting Palmer first overall in 2003 was the smart choice for sure. There really weren't any other players worthy of consideration who were taken in the top 10. Three top-10 choices that year are no longer in the league.
Palmer has led the Bengals to the playoffs twice, although the team was bounced out in the first round both times. He had an elite year in 2005, his third year in the league. However, since suffering an ACL injury in a playoff loss to the Steelers, he's never been the same.
Career stats: 62.9 percent completion rate, 22,694 yards, 154 touchdowns, 100 interceptions
Denver Broncos: Ryan Clady
There's been a lot of turnover throughout the Denver Broncos' organization as of late. As a Pro Bowler and first-team All-Pro in 2009, Clady has shown that he's coming along as a franchise left tackle for the Broncos. They can use the stability anywhere they can get it.
Even with the franchise in a state of flux, Clady will keep his spot locked down on the left side of the offensive line.
Career stats: 48 games started
Cleveland Browns: Joe Thomas
Thomas has started every game over the past four years for the Browns. He's lasted through three different regimes, and has made an impact in all of them. He's been to the Pro Bowl every year he's been in the league, and he is a two-time All-Pro the past two years.
The Browns have a franchise left tackle, one of the most important building blocks for an up-and-coming team with a young quarterback.
Career stats: 64 games started
Dallas Cowboys: DeMarcus Ware
Since his second year in the league, Ware has never put up less than 11 sacks in a season. His recent tear has earned him five Pro Bowl selections and three first-team All-Pro selections, as well. At just 28 years old, the Dallas Cowboys have the centerpiece of their defense for the next four or five years, too.
Perhaps most impressive was his 2008 season, in which he logged at least one sack in every game. That, to me, is much better than a guy who gives you nothing for a stretch and then all of a sudden shows up with a multiple-sack performance.
I think the debate between Ware and Shawne Merriman can officially draw to a close.
Career stats: 423 tackles, 80 sacks, 1 interception, 1 touchdown, 25 forced fumbles
Detroit Lions: Ndamukong Suh
As the No. 2 overall pick in 2010, Ndamukong Suh had to make a big impact to prove he was worth such a high pick as a defensive tackle. Make an impact he did, too, with 48 tackles and 10 sacks. That production earned him a Pro Bowl nomination, and he was voted Defensive Rookie of the Year.
He should continue to be a force for years to come, too. Rarely do you find a defensive tackle to build a defense around, but Suh brings that level of "Ndominance" to the trench.
If the Lions can find some solid talent to put around him, their defensive line could easily become one of the best in football with just a couple of key additions.
Career stats: 65 tackles, 10 sacks, 1 interception, 1 touchdown, 1 forced fumble
Green Bay Packers: Aaron Rodgers
Sitting behind Brett Favre for three years may have felt like a curse, but it ended up being a blessing in disguise. Learning from a legend, whether he was taught by that legend or not, made Rodgers the quarterback he's become today.
Ted Thompson was wise to have the foresight to draft the quarterback of the future with Brett Favre still on the roster. Other GMs may follow suit to have their quarterback of the future learn from the current starter.
Rodgers has been a top-five quarterback for the past two years, and his performance in Super Bowl XLV was proof positive that Rodgers is coming into the elite group of quarterbacks.
Career stats: 64.4 percent completion rate, 12,723 yards, 87 touchdowns, 32 interceptions
Houston Texans: Andre Johnson
A wide receiver taken third overall better have a pretty big impact on the team, or else he could suffer the fate of being labeled a bust. Andre Johnson has no need to worry about that, even as the third overall pick in the 2003 NFL draft.
Johnson has five Pro Bowl selections already to his name and two first-team All-Pro selections as well. The Houston Texans' offense has been one of the most potent in the NFL for years, especially in the passing game.
Career stats: 673 receptions, 9,164 yards, 50 touchdowns
Indianapolis Colts: Peyton Manning
This one was a no-brainer. Even Dwight Freeney was no competition for Manning. The first-overall pick is supposed to be the best selection in the draft. Rarely is that ever the case, but to argue against that logic in 1998 would be moronic.
With 11 Pro Bowl nominations, five first-team All-Pro nominations and a record four MVP awards to his name, Manning's greatness is well-known and without dispute.
Where he stands in the pantheon of all-time greats will be determined when he retires. For now, Bill Polian must maximize his Wunderkind by signing him to a new deal and helping him win another Super Bowl as soon as possible.
Career stats: 64.9 percent completion rate, 54,828 yards, 399 touchdowns, 198 interceptions
Jacksonville Jaguars: Maurice Jones-Drew
The UCLA running back was taken in the second round, and wears No. 32 to remind himself that every team in the league passed on him.
They all are wishing they hadn't. Even at just 5'8", the little guy packs such a punch that he could knock a steroid-enhanced Shawne Merriman on his back. He's a shifty little guy, too, evading tacklers with ease. He even started out as a kick and punt returner, to give you an idea for his quickness and speed.
In each of his two years as a full-time back, he has earned a nomination to the Pro Bowl. With 2,715 yards, 20 touchdowns and a 4.4 yards-per-carry average, it's well deserved.
Career stats: 5,248 yards, 54 touchdowns, 4.6 yards per carry, 13 fumbles; 235 receptions, 2,099 yards, 7 receiving touchdowns
Kansas City Chiefs: Jamaal Charles
The Chiefs always knew they had an explosive threat in Jamaal Charles, they just never realized how best to use him until last season. He and Thomas Jones comprised one of the most formidable one-two punches in the league at running back.
He returned kicks a lot in the early part of his career, but once he became a full-time back, he earned both a Pro Bowl selection and a first-team All-Pro nomination.
Every time he touches the ball, he's a threat to do some damage. That's evidenced by his gaudy 6.4 yards-per-carry average.
Career stats: 2,944 yards, 12 rushing touchdowns, 6.0 yards per carry, 9 fumbles; 112 receptions, 1,037 yards, 5 touchdowns
Minnesota Vikings: Adrian Peterson
The Oklahoma running back might have been the first overall pick had injury concerns not dropped his stock prior to the draft. As it is, he's one of the better top picks from the '07 draft.
With 5,782 yards at a 4.8-yard-per-carry clip and 52 touchdowns in four years, Adrian Peterson may be one of the last of a dying breed of workhorse or franchise running backs. His unique combination of agility and strength makes him the type of running back a team can build an offense around.
That's exactly what the Vikings have done, as they've assembled a top-flight run-blocking offensive line. Even with sub-par play from the quarterback position last year, Peterson finished with 1,298 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Career stats: 5,782 yards, 52 touchdowns, 4.8 yards per carry, 21 fumbles
Miami Dolphins: Jake Long
A run-heavy offense needs dominant offensive linemen to run behind, and Jake Long has been just that for the Dolphins.
Long has been to every Pro Bowl since being drafted first overall. More importantly, he was a key component of the turnaround from 1-15 in '07 to 11-5 and a berth in the playoffs the very next year.
Not often is an offensive tackle taken No. 1 overall, and although Matt Ryan has arguably been a more successful pick, the stability on the offensive line is important for a franchise in flux, as the Dolphins were when the pick was made. He has been a key cog in their offense and will continue to make an impact long after the Tony Sparano era in Miami is over (because, trust me, it's coming to an end sooner than you think).
Career stats: 48 games started
New England Patriots: Tom Brady
Sixth round, 199th overall. Three Super Bowl rings, two regular season MVP awards, including the only unanimous award in league history. Several NFL records set along the way.
Need I say more?
It's safe to say Tom Brady is the biggest steal in NFL draft history. No one knew what Tom Brady would become. Not even the Patriots. If they had known, they wouldn't have waited until the sixth round to take him.
Career stats: 63.3 percent completion rate, 34,744 yards, 261 touchdowns, 103 interceptions
New Orleans Saints: Jahri Evans
For a fourth-round pick, the Saints couldn't have hoped to get anything more than what they've gotten out of Evans in five years in the league. He has started every game for the Saints at right guard, and he is coming off consecutive Pro Bowl and All-Pro seasons.
His presence on the interior of that line is of great importance to the Saints offense. Drew Brees isn't the tallest quarterback, so having clear lanes to see the field up the middle and room to step into his throws both help him tremendously.
Evans was recently granted a large contract extension, and although some consider it too large for him, if he continues to play at this level for the duration of the deal, he'll have earned it.
Career stats: 80 games started
New York Jets: Darrelle Revis
Whether or not Darrelle Revis is the best cornerback in the NFL, there's no doubt he's the best player that the Jets have drafted in recent memory. They aren't inclined to let him go anytime soon, and recently signed him to one of the most lucrative contract extensions in league history.
He had a second consecutive All-Pro year this year despite being slowed by injuries. Last year was his first year without an interception, but teams threw his way less frequently than before. He's helped somewhat by a blitz-heavy front, but I would argue his coverage helps the pressure get there. It sure wasn't getting there last year like it had the year before, but that's a point for another article.
Career stats: 231 tackles, 1 sack, 14 interceptions, 2 touchdowns, 1 forced fumble
New York Giants: Justin Tuck
Tuck brings so much to the table for the Giants. He's exactly the type of pass rusher they love to have off the edge, and a great run-stuffer as well. He can do both exceptionally well playing on the interior of the line, too. This allows his defensive coordinators to mix things up in front.
Tuck has logged 10 or more sacks three times in the past four years. Those are the only years in which he has played every game, and only for the past three has he even been a starter.
He was crucial to the Giants' Super Bowl XLII win over the New England Patriots, getting two sacks on Tom Brady including a forced fumble on a key drive with under two minutes left in the first half.
Career stats: 307 tackles, 40.5 sacks, 1 interception, 1 touchdown, 15 forced fumbles
Oakland Raiders: Darren McFadden
Nnamdi Asomugha would have been the choice here had his contract not gone void at the end of 2010. McFadden only had one successful year, yet he is the best thing the Raiders have going for them in terms of prospects they've drafted.
That should tell you something about the Raiders' scouting department, which has seen many years of draft scouting go to waste on the whims of Al Davis and his need for speed.
McFadden came on strong in 2010, rushing for 1,157 yards and seven rushing touchdowns. He also had 507 receiving yards and three receiving touchdowns. If he can build off his success last year, he could be a formidable back for years to come.
Philadelphia Eagles: DeSean Jackson
DeSean Jackson is arguably the most explosive offensive player in the NFL right now.
He has incredible ability to create yards with the football in his hands, both in the receiving game and in the return game. The Philadelphia Eagles have found multiple ways to maximize his talents. He led the league in yards per reception with 22.5, and he has returned four punts for touchdowns in his career.
Character concerns drove his stock out of the first round, but every team that passed on him is probably kicking themselves right now. And honestly, will anyone forget his punt return against the Giants to win the game?
Career stats: 172 receptions, 3,135 yards, 17 touchdowns; 44 rushing attempts, 337 yards, 3 touchdowns, 7.5 yards per carry; 99 punt returns, 1,112 yards, 4 touchdowns
Pittsburgh Steelers: Troy Polamalu
If you're going to spend a first-round pick on a defensive back, he better have a big impact on your defense. Even still, I don't think the Steelers could have asked for much more of an impact out of Polamalu than what he's given them over the past eight years.
There's a noticeable difference in the play of the entire defense without Polamalu on the field, and it's not for the better. The fact that the absence of one man can make such a big impact on such a talented defense proves that Polamalu is incredibly important to the Steelers' defense.
Polamalu is slowly becoming a sure-fire Hall of Famer. Even with as many talented draft picks as the Steelers have had, that fact weighs heavily in his favor for being the best Steelers draft pick still on the roster.
Career stats: 519 tackles, 8 sacks, 27 interceptions, 2 touchdowns, 8 forced fumbles
San Diego Chargers: Shaun Phillips
Phillips may have only registered double-digit sacks for the second time last year, but he has always been a presence as a pass rusher. In fact, he is credited with helping Shawne Merriman become such a quick success.
His unique combination of size and speed makes him tough to block coming off the edge. Fourth-round picks don't often make as much of an impact as Phillips, so the Chargers got great value for him by picking him that late.
Career stats: 382 tackles, 56.5 sacks, 4 interceptions, 2 touchdowns, 18 forced fumbles
San Francisco 49ers: Patrick Willis
If you were building a defense and had to start with one player, it would be a wise decision to choose Patrick Willis. He's one of the most talented middle linebackers in the league right now, in terms of both his athleticism and intellect.
The awards he's accumulated in just four years are astounding. He was voted Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2007, he's been voted to the Pro Bowl every year and to the All-Pro team three years.
As the 49ers continue making changes in their coaching staff, Willis will probably continue to produce at a high level regardless of the ineptitude around him.
Career stats: 594 tackles, 15 sacks, 4 interceptions, 2 touchdowns, 8 forced fumbles
Seattle Seahawks: Lofa Tatupu
Early in his career, Tatupu was on a tear. He went to three consecutive Pro Bowls, and he was nominated as a first-team All-Pro in 2007.
We all know what Lofa Tatupu is capable of, we just haven't seen it in a little bit. Injuries have bothered him of late, but he continues to produce at an above-average level. Even considering that, he's their best remaining draft pick because of his production over a long period of time.
Most important now will be his leadership as Pete Carroll assembles a young team and trades players seemingly every week.
Career stats: 551 tackles, 8.5 sacks, 10 interceptions, 2 touchdowns, 7 forced fumbles
St. Louis Rams: Steven Jackson
Steven Jackson is one of those guys who reminds me a lot of Rodney Dangerfield. He gets no respect! No matter how much he does, he never seems to get the attention he deserves. Has anyone noticed that he's strung together six consecutive 1,000-yard seasons and looks poised for a seventh? And that's with a couple of injury-shortened seasons in the middle.
Sure, he doesn't dazzle you with blazing speed or elite agility. He's a football player, though, in the purest sense. He knows what he's doing out there, and knows how to get the job done when it matters.
His presence is even more vital now with the maturation of Sam Bradford. Even if the presence of a future franchise quarterback may take away from some of the adulation, excuse Jackson if he keeps those legs churning.
Career stats: 7,948 yards, 47 touchdowns, 4.2 yards per carry, 21 fumbles
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Ronde Barber
Once considered an elite shutdown cornerback for his speed, he's learned sound technique and is now able to cover top-flight receivers even without the top-flight speed he once had.
Barber's career is dwindling, but with 40 interceptions in his career, his contributions are clear. He's also the first player in NFL history to have 40 picks and 25 sacks. He helped the Buccaneers win their only Super Bowl title in team history.
What more could you ask for out of a third-round pick?
Career stats: 1,062 tackles, 26 sacks, 40 interceptions, 7 touchdowns, 13 forced fumbles
Tennessee Titans: Chris Johnson
Chris Johnson's 40-yard dash time of 4.23 seconds sent shock waves through the scouting departments of many teams in the NFL. The Tennessee Titans were the only ones who were willing to take a chance on him. With the talent they have on the offensive line, they were able to harness that speed and get the most out of their back.
With a 2,006-yard performance in 2009, it's safe to say Johnson got the most out of Tennessee's blocking, too.
He may have failed to live up to his expectation of a repeat 2,000-yard season in 2010, but he was an effective back nonetheless and compiled 1,364 yards and 11 touchdowns. He's been voted to the Pro Bowl three times, and as an All-Pro in 2009.
Career stats: 4,598 yards, 34 rushing touchdowns, 5 yards per carry, 7 fumbles; 137 receptions, 1,008 yards receiving, 4 receiving touchdowns
Washington Redskins: Brian Orakpo
As a 4-3 outside linebacker, Orakpo racked up 11 sacks in 2009. When Mike Shanahan came in and implemented his 3-4 scheme, Orakpo's production took a small hit and he only had 8.5 sacks.
Still, he's a hot young pass-rushing prospect with potential through the roof. If he can really wrap his mind around Shanahan's defense, the Redskins could get a lot out of Orakpo in the years to come.
He's been voted to the Pro Bowl both of his years in the league, and should see continued accolades if he can get anywhere near his ceiling.
Career stats: 107 tackles, 19.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles