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