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Instant Debate

Cam Newton, Von Miller or J.J. Watt: Which 2011 draftee will finish on top?

This past Saturday night, Cam Newton earned MVP and Offensive Player of the Year honors, while J.J. Watt took home his third Defensive Player of the Year award. Then, on Sunday night, Von Miller was named Super Bowl 50 MVP following a supernatural performance.

What do all three of these guys have in common? They all entered the NFL in the power-loaded draft of 2011.

It's a draft class that also includes 2015 first-team All-Pros Julio Jones and Patrick Peterson, as well as Justin Houston, Richard Sherman, A.J. Green, Tyron Smith, Robert Quinn, Marcell Dareus, Muhammad Wilkerson, Cameron Jordan, Mike Pouncey and Andy Dalton, among others.

So, take a look into your crystal ball: When all is said and done, which 2011 draftee will have enjoyed the best NFL career?

When we look back at the 2011 draft class, Cam Newton will have enjoyed the best career. Five years into the league, he's already been a league MVP and Offensive Player of the Year. This is just the beginning of him coming into his own as a franchise quarterback. As Carolina surrounds him with more talent and the defense continues to play at a high level, Cam will win multiple Super Bowls with the Panthers. Ultimately, that's what people judge careers on. I don't care what anybody says: J.J. Watt will have the best career. Von Miller and Cam Newton might have more natural talent, but character trumps talent every single day of the week. I've watched Watt play in practice and in games, and nobody loves the game more than he does.

He's already a three-time Defensive Player of the Year within his first five years in the league, and he's the only player in NFL history to have two seasons with 20-plus sacks. I don't know if Cam or Miller will get to Canton, but J.J. Watt will -- without question -- end up there. Cam Newton: MVP, OPOY, OROY, All-Pro, Killer Smile.

**Richard Sherman:** 
Super Bowl win, 3x All-Pro, Good Guy Award. 
**Von Miller:** 
Super Bowl win, SB MVP, DROY, 2x All-Pro, Excellent Eyewear. 
**Tyrod Taylor:** Technically has a ring. 
**J.J. Watt:** 3x DPOY, 4x All-Pro. 
  * They've all been to at least one 
 Pro Bowl -- if that still counts. 

Analyze those accomplishments. OK, good. Now let's break down the rest.

A championship adds credibility and cache to a player's legacy, but this is a quarterback-obsessed league. And when a QB plays on a successful team with a bright future, there's more opportunity to make a meaningful impact and more eyes watching. On top of the talent, throw in a huge personality -- somewhat polarizing -- and it's Cam Newton who will be remembered for enjoying the best career. * ** I think that there are seven players from the 2011 NFL Draft who, after five seasons, look like they are on track to have a chance to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame: Cam Newton, Von Miller, A.J. Green, Patrick Peterson, Julio Jones, Tyron Smith and J.J. Watt.

But for this exercise, I'm going with Watt. The Texans dynamo has the chance to play the longest and make the biggest mark on the game because he is such a good pass rusher. In addition, he can catch passes on the goal line for touchdowns, and has the innate ability to be in the right spot at the right time. Right now, Watt is just reaching the prime of his career. He is double-teamed constantly, has stayed injury-free, has great size and speed, and strength and competitiveness. He doesn't lack in any of the categories that it takes to be a great player. Miller will have the best career if he can stay healthy. He's recorded 60 sacks in five seasons, and the only season where he didn't have 10-plus sacks was in 2013, when he served a six-game suspension before tearing his anterior cruciate ligament. He can also drop back and cover receivers.

Don't get me wrong, Cam and Watt are great players, but Miller's versatility sets him apart. Barring injury, it will be J.J. Watt. He compares to any defensive lineman I have seen since 1977, when I entered the NFL. His motor might be the best of -- or at least equal to -- any great defensive lineman during this time span. He can play anywhere across the defensive line. He has played TE and some LB, too. He plays the run and can rush the passer on a dominant level. Cam Newton is already setting records with the way he's playing at the quarterback position. He's the first QB in NFL history to have five straight seasons of 3,000 passing yards and 500 rushing yards. In just five years, Cam already has rushed for 3,207 yards, so he will claim the NFL record for rushing yardage by a quarterback (Michael Vick, 6,109 yards) by the end of his career.

Watt and Miller have been impressive so far in their careers. Watt has 74.5 career sacks, but Reggie White had 81 in his first five years. It's going to be very difficult for Watt to get to 200 career sacks (Bruce Smith's NFL record). I think he'll continue to produce great numbers for the next four years or so, but not when he slows down a step. In this quarterback-driven league, Cam will continue to do what he's doing for the next seven years, possibly, and some of his numbers won't be challenged for a long time. Watt has a chance to become the best defensive player in NFL history, which would put him with Jim Brown, Jerry Rice and Tom Brady on the NFL's Mount Rushmore.

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