Originally Posted by eaglenj
1. Cam Newton (Panthers) | Draft Position: 1
The amazing thing about Newton wasn't just how much he developed, but how much he developed between his final college game and his first NFL game. He destroyed the rookie passing yardage mark with 4,051 yards, had a positive TD-INT ratio and was the second-highest rusher among rookies. He's a passer first, with the profile of a certain superstar.
2. Von Miller (Broncos) | Draft Position: 2
Fewer sacks than the next man on the list, but was a complete linebacker and still managed 11.5. Good from day one, was slowed by injury but still made the Pro Bowl. He'll be a regular there.
3. Aldon Smith (49ers) | Draft Position: 7
I saw Smith as a potential star, but more in the Jason Pierre-Paul mode, where he'd need a little developmental time. But give the Niners credit: With Justin Smith and Ray McDonald occupying on the inside, they gave Smith the perfect space to blow up early on the edge. He piled up a rookie-high 14.5 sacks. He's a major talent teams have to plan around.
4. A.J. Green (Bengals) | Draft Position: 4
With 1,057 yards, 7 TD catches and plenty of highlights, Green is already a dangerous No. 1 option at wide receiver, and was invited to Hawaii. Will only get better and will continue to grease the wheels for the success of a fellow rookie.
5. Andy Dalton (Bengals) | Draft Position: 35
He came in with a lot of experience -- Dalton is five months older than Matthew Stafford -- but still was remarkably steady and poised as a rookie. He had nearly 3,400 yards passing, a solid 20-to-13 TD-INT ratio and a playoff start in his first year. Dalton has the potential to become a Pro Bowl passer.
6. J.J. Watt (Texans) | Draft Position: 11
A key to the leap Houston made on defense under Wade Phillips, Watt was as advertised, playing exactly as Houston had hoped within its scheme. I mentioned Justin Smith, and Watt profiles as that type of player, occupying blocks while still getting to QBs from the inside. He did just that 5.5 times as a rookie and was terrific in the postseason.
7. Patrick Peterson (Cardinals) | Draft Position: 5
Worked through some rough edges as a cover corner, but Peterson's talent still shined, particularly in the return game, where he already can't be punted to. His cover skills have improved, and he's a field position nightmare. A star, with a Pro Bowl invite already.
8. Jabaal Sheard (Browns) | Draft Position: 37
A versatile, solid pass-rusher who piled up 8.5 sacks while showing a mature approach. The Browns really strengthened their defensive line with their first two picks in 2011.
9. Julio Jones (Falcons) | Draft Position: 6
Precisely the home-run threat the Falcons envisioned when they traded so much to get him, his catches went for 17.8 yards on average. He had 989 receiving yards, and might already cause more matchup problems for defenses than Roddy White.
10. Richard Sherman (Seahawks) | Draft Position: 154
He didn't start immediately, but he did get 10 total, and played at what I consider a Pro Bowl level for the second half of the season, helping to galvanize a suddenly very impressive Seattle secondary. He's long at 6-foot-3, and can battle against big wideouts.
11. Stefen Wisniewski (Raiders) | Draft Position: 48
Started all 16 games and provided great work on the interior of that line. A solid regular with Pro Bowl potential for years to come.
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DeMarco Murray showed his potential before getting hurt.
12. Tyron Smith (Cowboys) | Draft Position: 9
Dropped only because he was drafted for left tackle and developed this year on the right side, Smith got better every game and could become an elite blindside tackle if he continues at this rate. Still extremely young.
13. Marcell Dareus (Bills) | Draft Position: 3
Has the potential to become an elite defensive tackle as Buffalo transitions to the 4-3. Loaded with talent and potential, he managed 5.5 sacks in 2011.
14. Ryan Kerrigan (Redskins) | Draft Position: 16
In a year when Kerrigan was learning to play a new position, he played it very well. Now an outside linebacker, he showed his usual relentlessness and picked up 7.5 sacks. Not overly gifted as an athlete, but the motor makes up for it.
15. DeMarco Murray (Cowboys) | Draft Position: 71
Would have easily surpassed 1,000 yards if not for an injury, Murray started just seven games (played in 13) and still managed 897 yards. He also proved he's a threat to break off big runs. If he's healthy, could get starter reps for Dallas in 2012.
16. Adrian Clayborn (Bucs) | Draft Position: 20
He wasn't fully healthy during his final year at Iowa, and showed more explosiveness in his first year on Sundays. Managed 7.5 sacks, and with improvement could become a Pro Bowl DE.
17. Mike Pouncey (Dolphins) | Draft Position: 15
Not at a premier position, but justified his high draft slot with a steady season in which the Miami run game improved.
18. Torrey Smith (Ravens) | Draft Position: 58
Ended up with a similar load for the Ravens as Anquan Boldin (Boldin had 105 targets, Smith 95), but more than twice the TD catches, and was clearly the deep threat on a very good team. Impactful season.
19. Justin Houston (Chiefs) | Draft Position: 70
He gets some credit because he's another guy who had to convert systems, and played really well down the stretch for an underrated Kansas City defense. With 5.5 sacks in his last five games, he could bust out in 2012.
20. Greg Little (Browns) | Draft Position: 59
Not a statistical monster, with 61 catches and 709 yards, but consider the load he took on. Little had 47 more targets than any other Browns player, and 20 more catches.
In the mix: Nate Solder, Phil Taylor, Pernell McPhee, Doug Baldwin, Karl Klug, Brooks Reed, Mason Foster, Sam Acho, Kendall Hunter, K.J. Wright, Roy Helu, Dan Bailey, Alex Henery