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2011 NFL Draft do-over: Recasting the first 20 picks

Tuesday night, the Arizona Cardinals locked up Patrick Peterson to a five-year, $70 million extension that made him the top-paid cornerback in the NFL, topping the four-year, $56 million contract the Seahawks' Richard Sherman signed in May.

Then on Wednesday, the Dallas Cowboys inked LT Tyron Smith to an eight-year, $98 million deal. In a matter of two months, two of the NFL's best cornerbacks and one of the league's top left tackles have been locked up long-term by their respective teams.

This got me to thinking about the 2011 NFL Draft, which not only produced those three players but a boatload of the league's top players across the most critical positions -- quarterback, pass rusher, left tackle and cornerback, in that order. It's quickly gaining a reputation as one of the best drafts in NFL history. Consider:

» Of the first 16 picks, 12 have made at least one Pro Bowl appearance.

» It produced two of the most exciting, athletic quarterbacks in the NFL in Cam Newton and Colin Kaepernick.

» It contained the only two wide receivers I would take over Calvin Johnson.

» It plucked three of the league's best young tight ends (Kyle Rudolph, Jordan Cameron and Julius Thomas) from Rounds 2 and 4.

» Four pass rushers from that draft have combined for 148 career sacks, averaging more than 12 per season.

» It produced a quarter of the NFL's Top 100 Players of 2014.

Based on a best-player philosophy and not on team need, if I could do a do-over of the 2011 draft, this is how I'd pick for the top 20 teams:

1. Carolina Panthers
Original pick:Cam Newton
Do-over pick: Newton
Comment: Newton's rookie season was statistically off the charts, but what has impressed me the most is that the Panthers have improved their record in each of his three seasons, and he took a talent-deprived team to the playoffs last season.

2. Denver Broncos
Original pick:Von Miller
Do-over pick:Colin Kaepernick (Round 2, No. 36 overall)
Comment: Kaepernick wasn't a surprise to be picked by the 49ers in the top 50, but it has been surprising how good he has gotten this quickly. He signed a six-year, $126 million extension in June.

3. Buffalo Bills
Original pick:Marcell Dareus
Do-over pick:J.J. Watt (1-11)
Comment: Watt has been a dominating player from the start, and he's doing it at a valuable position as a pass rusher.

4. Cincinnati Bengals
Original pick:A.J. Green
Do-over pick:Tyron Smith (1-9)
Comment: I think Smith is the best left tackle in football, and he won't be 24 until December. A Pro Bowl tackle is harder to find than almost every position other than QB or pass rusher.

5. Arizona Cardinals
Original pick:Patrick Peterson
Do-over pick: Peterson
Comment: Peterson is worthy of a higher spot but corner isn't as valuable as QB, pass rusher and LT. He's a shutdown corner who returns kicks. There's lots of value in that. If you ask 10 personnel men which player they prefer, Peterson or Richard Sherman, I believe the vote would be evenly split.

6. Atlanta Falcons
Original pick:Julio Jones
Do-over pick:Richard Sherman (5-154)
Comment: Without question, Sherman has been the biggest surprise of the 2011 draft. People didn't know much about him, even though he played in the Pac-12. He didn't run very well in pre-draft workouts, but teams liked his long arms and innate ability to find the ball.

7. San Francisco 49ers
Original pick:Aldon Smith
Do-over pick:Robert Quinn (1-14)
Comment: Quinn, who had a brain tumor in high school, didn't perform at North Carolina like he has in NFL. He should have been picked higher, but I remember the brain surgery he had in high school being an issue with a few teams.

8. Tennessee Titans
Original pick:Jake Locker
Do-over pick:Aldon Smith (1-7)
Comment: Smith was a two-year player at Missouri who was wildly inconsistent. He was lights out in a game vs. Oklahoma, but in other games the light never came on. On pure talent, he's a top-10 pick in 2011 or in this do-over; he has 42 sacks in three seasons. Only thing holding him back is his off-the-field decision-making.

9. Dallas Cowboys
Original pick:Tyron Smith
Do-over pick:A.J. Green (1-4)
Comment: I know players voted Calvin Johnson the No. 2 player in the NFL recently, but I'd take Green or Julio Jones over Megatron, who puts up numbers because they throw him the ball so much. You could flip Green and Jones here and be happy.

10 Jacksonville Jaguars
Original pick:Blaine Gabbert
Do-over pick:Julio Jones (1-6)
Comment: Both Jones and Green are better route runners, with better hands than Calvin Johnson; their speed is about even. It's a big year for Jones, who is coming off foot surgery, but has looked explosive in camp so far.

11. Houston Texans
Original pick:J.J. Watt
Do-over pick:Muhammad Wilkerson (1-30)
Comment: Wilkerson was a basketball player who played on some pretty poor Temple football teams. It was all projection with him. His stock rose dramatically when teams got a closer look at him in pre-draft workouts.

12. Minnesota Vikings
Original pick:Christian Ponder
Do-over pick:Justin Houston (3-70)
Comment: Some off-the-field issues dropped Houston to the third round. He proved his worth last year when the Chiefs' defense fell apart after he went down to injury.

13. Detroit Lions
Original pick:Nick Fairley
Do-over pick:Von Miller (1-2)
Comment: Miller is a really good player but a bit undersized. It shows the depth of this draft when guy like this drops to 13.

14. St. Louis Rams
Original pick:Robert Quinn
Do-over pick:Cameron Jordan (1-24)
Comment: Jordan has some pass-rush ability. He played on a bad Cal team in college, and I'm not sure we knew him as well as we should have. He's certainly one of the surprises of this draft.

2011 NFL Draft grades

It takes three full years to evaluate a draft class, so it's time to take a long, hard look at the 2011 NFL Draft. Bucky Brooks offers his review of the 2011 draft. **More ...**

15. Miami Dolphins
Original pick:Mike Pouncey
Do-over pick:Andy Dalton (2-35)
Comment: Dalton is head and shoulders above three quarterbacks who went in the top 12 of this draft, even though he lasted until the second round. He has taken the Bengals to the playoffs every year. Now he needs to win a postseason game.

16. Washington Redskins
Original pick:Ryan Kerrigan
Do-over pick:Marcell Dareus (1-3)
Comment: After a slow start, Dareus has come alive recently. Wasn't a big factor early, but made the Pro Bowl last year. He shouldn't be measured alone on his sacks, but his career total (18.5) is still good.

17. New England Patriots
Original pick:Nate Solder
Do-over pick:Ryan Kerrigan (1-16)
Comment: Kerrigan is the Redskins' best defensive player. Scouts liked him coming out of Purdue, but he has certainly surpassed expectations.

18. San Diego Chargers
Original pick:Corey Liuget
Do-over pick:Nate Solder (1-17)
Comment: Solder stepped right in and played both left and right tackle for the Patriots. His best is ahead of him.

19. New York Giants
Original pick:Prince Amukamara
Do-over pick:Mike Pouncey (1-15)
Comment: Pouncey went to the Pro Bowl as a rookie. You hate to draft centers this early, but he might be the exception.

20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Original pick:Adrian Clayborn
Do-over pick:DeMarco Murray (3-71)
Comment: Murray has exceeded expectations as both runner and receiver. He just can't stay healthy. There were injury concerns when he came out, but he's still a good player.

Other players who would now have first-round grades based on their NFL production: Corey Liuget, Randall Cobb, Phil Taylor, Kyle Rudolph, Jordan Cameron, Julius Thomas, Cecil Shorts, Prince Amukamara.

Follow Gil Brandt on Twitter _@GilBrandt_.

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