The Schein Nine

J.J. Watt, Richard Sherman headline epic 2011 NFL Draft class

At first glance, the assignment from my crack editorial staff at seemed harmless.

On the heels of Justin Houston rightfully getting PAID, the powers that be asked me to provide a Schein Nine ranking the top players from the 2011 draft class.

OK, pretty straightforward, right? Then I took a glance back at that group ...

Um, do you remember this class?? Talk about an influx of talent! Man.

Patrick Peterson wasn't 100 percent healthy last year. When he is, the Arizona Cardinals cornerback is a star, a true cornerstone. Peterson is one of my favorite players in the NFL, but the No. 5 overall pick from 2011 isn't on my list below.

I voted running back DeMarco Murray and left tackle Tyron Smith first-team All-Pro this past season. Neither one made the cut here. Crazy.

Peterson, Smith and Murray were my toughest snubs -- their omissions kept me up last night.

Von Miller is a star. Ryan Kerrigan is an integral piece in D.C. Randall Cobb is a budding stud. None of those three made it, either.

Cam Jordan is the centerpiece of the Saints' defense. Mike Pouncey just became the highest-paid center in the NFL. Yet I had to leave both of them off, too.

Heck, I didn't even remotely consider Aldon Smith or Torrey Smith.

This is the single most competitive list I've put together in the history of The Schein Nine.

Here are my top nine players from the epic 2011 draft class, with their respective draft slots listed for quick memory jogging:

1) J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans

Round 1, No. 11 overall pick

The man is carving out an iconic career. Since 2012, Watt has 51.5 sacks. Nobody else is even close to that total. And in that three-year span, he's also swatted a whopping 33 passes, forced 12 fumbles and recovered nine. Watt was the first ever unanimous Defensive Player of the Year last season, marking his second time winning the award in the past three campaigns.

Bottom line: Watt is unstoppable and unblockable. Heck -- he even scores touchdowns on offense! And to think, former Jags general manager Gene Smith took Blaine Gabbert one pick ahead of Watt. You can't make that up.

2) Richard Sherman, CB, Seattle Seahawks

Round 5, No. 154 overall

Sherman is a real-life Horatio Alger story, going from fifth-round pick to arguably the best corner (and one of the top overall defensive players) in the NFL. Since 2011, no player has more picks than Sherman's 24. (In fact, nobody else has even eclipsed 15 in that time period.) It's even more impressive when you consider how much opposing quarterbacks try to avoid Sherman altogether.

He's the emotional leader of the "Legion of Boom" and the pulse of the best defense in the NFL.

3) A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati Bengals

Round 1, No. 4 overall

He's a bona fide star. Since entering the league in 2011, Green ranks fourth in receiving yards (4,874), ninth in receiving touchdowns (35) and ninth in total receptions (329). And not to completely disparage Andy Dalton, but let's be honest: Green has stacked up those figures with mediocre quarterback play.

Four years, four 1,000-yard campaigns, four Pro Bowl nods. Yeah, I'd say he's lived up to the billing.

4) Justin Houston, OLB, Kansas City Chiefs

Round 3, No. 70 overall

Kansas City locked up its stud sack artist Wednesday, fittingly making him one of the highest-paid players in the sport by handing out a new contract that includes $52.5 million in guarantees. Since coming into the league as a third-round pick (fantastic selection by former K.C. GM and brilliant talent evaluator Scott Pioli), Houston has made the Pro Bowl three times. Just a fantastic edge defender who gets after the quarterback and stuffs the run.

Lost in the shuffle of Watt's transcendent effort last season: a brilliant year from Houston. Although it went criminally undercovered, with an NFL-high 22 sacks, Houston fell a half-sack shy of Michael Strahan's single-season sack record.

5) Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons

Round 1, No. 6 overall

Jones is a bad man. He made my Schein Nine list of the most indispensable offensive players last month, and for good reason: When Julio's healthy, Atlanta is a competitor; when he's injured, the Falcons have no chance.

Since 2011, Jones ranks third in receiving yards per game -- behind only Calvin Johnson and Odell Beckham Jr. (the latter of whom obviously only has one season under his belt). Of course, injuries have robbed Jones of 15 games in his four-year career. Still, since entering the league, he ranks 12th in receiving yards (4,330) and 17th in touchdown grabs (26). This guy is an absolute physical freak -- as opponents like the Packers, whom Jones burned for 259 yards in Week 14 of last season, know well.

6) Robert Quinn, DE, St. Louis Rams

Round 1, No. 14 overall

The Rams defensive lineman is a flat-out beast. Last season, he deflected six passes, forced five fumbles and registered 10.5 sacks. This after racking up an NFC-high 19 sacks in 2013. Quinn has 45 sacks in four NFL seasons, and he only started one game as a rookie. Since 2012, Quinn has 40 sacks -- third-best in the NFL, behind only his superstar classmates, Watt and Houston.

Simply put: This guy wrecks games.

7) Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers

Round 1, No. 1 overall

The Panthers just gave Newton gobs of money based upon his maturation as a player and leader. And he cracks this list while playing the most important position in football. Newton has steadily improved as a throwing quarterback, while his legs remain lethal. With 33 rushing touchdowns since 2011, Cam not only tops the board among quarterbacks, but he ranks fourth among all players -- trailing only Marshawn Lynch (48), Arian Foster (34) and Adrian Peterson (34).

I just wish, for Cam's ultimate development, that the Panthers would do a better job surrounding him with more talent. Carolina's finally starting to give Newton some receivers -- having added Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess over the past two drafts -- but how about an offensive line? (Michael Oher is the left tackle?!?!) I also have questions about the coaching staff.

8) Marcell Dareus, NT, Buffalo Bills

Round 1, No. 3 overall

This cat is a true stud. Dareus sacked the quarterback 10 times last year, anchoring the middle for the Bills. And, as colleague Bucky Brooks just noted, Dareus is also a spectacular run stuffer.

He's the best player on the best defensive line in the NFL. (No, I haven't forgotten about Mario Williams.)

9) Muhammad Wilkerson, DE, New York Jets

Round 1, No. 30 overall

Often times, the easiest way to back up someone's standing on a list like this is to supply a bushel of eye-catching statistics. Obviously, I took that approach with just about everyone above. Wilkerson's stats are strong, for sure, but you have to watch the games to understand his true impact on the Jets.

Wilkerson stops the run, rushes the passer, takes on double-teams and just makes everyone around him better -- all while serving as a team leader. There's no overstating how important Mo is to the Jets.

Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.

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