Perhaps the only thing more impressive about the NFL draft than the amount of time it takes to complete all seven rounds is the amount of grades produced in the aftermath of each selection. The draft’s winners and losers are decided before any pick plays a down of professional football.
For all the immediate evaluation that is done, it is impossible to fairly assess a draft class without data and the gift of time. Starting with 2010, 110 Sports is going back and grading every NFL draft of the past decade on a team-by-team basis.
These grades are based first and foremost on production. Other factors were taken into consideration, but the primary goal is figuring out how successful teams were at identifying talent.
With the 2010 draft grades complete, we turn our attention to 2011, starting with the AFC East.
*All stats courtesy of pro-football-reference.com and accurate through the end of the 2019 season.
Picks: DT Marcell Dareus (3rd overall), DB Aaron Williams (34), LB Kelvin Sheppard (68), DB Da’Norris Searcy (100), OT Chris Hairston (122), RB Johnny White (133), LB Chris White (169), DB Justin Rogers (206), DT Michael Jasper (245)
Best pick: Kelvin Sheppard
Sheppard started at least nine games four of his eight seasons in the NFL. He spent his first two years in Baltimore, making 24 starts and recording a total of 150 tackles. In 2015, Sheppard posted a career-high 105 tackles with the Dolphins. His 429 career tackles rank 14th among players taken in the 2011 draft.
Worst pick: Johnny White
When a team’s worst pick comes in the fifth round, that means the first four rounds must have gone fairly well. White appeared in 19 games over two seasons with the Bills and Packers. He finished his career with 72 rushing yards and -3 receiving yards. Yes, his one reception resulted in a loss of three yards. His career came to an end when Green Bay released him on December 27, 2012.
The first five players Buffalo selected lasted at least six seasons and appeared in over 50 games. Dareus was a First Team All-Pro in 2014 but hasn’t registered more than 3.5 sacks in a season since. Sheppard and Searcy both played in more than 100 games and started over 50 times in their careers. The Bills hit on every pick in rounds one through four; they just didn’t hit any of them out of the park.
Picks: OG/C Mike Pouncey (15), RB Daniel Thomas (62), WR Clyde Gates (111), TE Charles Clay (174), DT Frank Kearse (231), DB Jimmy Wilson (235)
Best pick: Mike Pouncey
The first five seasons of Pouncey’s career went as follows: 16 starts, 16 starts playing every offensive snap, Pro Bowl, Pro Bowl, Pro Bowl. He started every game again in 2017 and made his fourth Pro Bowl in 2018. It is also telling that Pouncey has started every game he has played in. The fact he’s not the best offensive lineman in his own immediate family is quite remarkable.
Worst pick: Clyde Gates
Thomas, a running back who started three games in his career, has more receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns than Gates. The fourth-round pick caught two passes as a rookie and was released by the Dolphins on Aug. 31, 2012. Gates then spent two seasons with the Jets, making four starts and playing in 17 games. New York let him go at the end of the 2014 preseason. He was never on an active roster again.
One-third of Miami’s draft class was still active in 2019 and two-thirds of it surpassed the 50-game mark in their career. All six guys played at least two full seasons worth of games. Clay had five straight seasons with over 500 receiving yards beginning in 2013 and has started 110 times. Wilson saw action in at least 13 games all five years he was in the league and made 13 starts in 2014. The only thing missing is another difference-maker to complement Pouncey.
New England Patriots
Picks: OT Nate Solder (17), DB Ras-I Dowling (33), RB Shane Vareen (56), RB Stevan Ridley (73), QB Ryan Mallett (74), OT Marcus Cannon (138), TE Lee Smith (159), LB Markell Carter (194), DB Malcolm Williams (219)
Best pick: Marcus Cannon
Cannon’s career got off to a rather slow start but he’s developed into a reliable starter at right tackle. Fifty-eight of his 69 career starts have come since 2015. In the three seasons leading up to Cannon becoming a regular starter, he played in all but two games. Bill Belichick doesn’t keep guys around for nine seasons who can’t execute at a high level.
Worst pick: Ras-I Dowling
Dowling made two starts as a rookie before landing on injured reserve with a hip injury. He played in seven games the following season but suffered another season-ending injury, this one to his thigh. Dowling failed to make the team in 2013 and was signed to the Jets’ practice squad. They released him on Aug. 24, 2014, and he was picked up by the Raiders. He was eventually promoted to the active roster and made three appearances. Dowling is now the cornerbacks coach at William & Mary.
The depth of this class is awfully impressive. Dowling was the only one of New England’s first seven picks who didn’t last at least seven seasons. Solder, Cannon and Smith have played in at least 115 games. Solder’s 127 starts put him in the top 20 among offensive lineman in the last decade. Vareen and Ridley both generated over 3,000 yards of total offense and scored 43 touchdowns between them. Mallett managed to win three games as a starter.
New York Jets
Picks: DE/DT Muhammad Wilkerson (30), DT Kenrick Ellis (94), RB Bilal Powell (126), WR Jeremy Kerley (153), QB Greg McElroy (208), WR Scotty McKnight (227)
Best pick: Muhammad Wilkerson
Wilkerson did not miss a game until 2014 and played in no fewer than 13 contests each of the seven seasons he spent as a member of the Jets. He recorded double-digit sacks twice and produced a total of 44.5 in his career. A Pro Bowler in 2015, Wilkerson was released by New York on Feb. 28, 2018. He agreed to a one-year deal with the Packers less than a month later and played in three games before an ankle injury ended his 2018 season and his career.
Worst pick: Kenrick Ellis
A native of Jamaica, Ellis produced 58 tackles, one forced fumble and one sack in his five-year career. He appeared in 47 games for the Jets from 2011 to 2014 and made five starts. In 2015, Ellis joined the Vikings after the Giants signed and released him twice. He played in nine regular season games as well as a playoff game and was let go by Minnesota on Sept. 3, 2016. Ellis saw the field in 56 games in his career.
Powell is approaching the 4,000-yard mark on the ground and has 1,600 receiving yards as well. Kerley caught 270 passes for 3,116 yards and 13 touchdowns. The only guys who weren’t able to carve out a long-term career for themselves were the two seventh-rounders. Wilkerson, Powell and Kerley have played in a combined 316 games. Slightly above average feels like a fair assessment of this group.
Click here to see the entire draft grades series.
Photo by Marianne O’Leary / Flickr