Not all draft classes are created equal. In some years, the depth of talent is shallow, and the star power is minimal. However, occasionally, individual draft classes produce marquee players who will dominate at the NFL level for a decade. By that measure, the two most recent drafts have already proven to be very special.
The Pro Bowl teams announced Wednesday feature eight players who were products of either the 2011 or 2012 NFL Draft. Class of 2011 draftees A.J. Green, Von Miller and Patrick Peterson were voted Pro Bowlers for the second straight season, while fellow 2011 draftees J.J. Watt, Julio Jones and Aldon Smith earned their first Pro Bowl berths thanks to outstanding sophomore performances. Class of 2012 draftees Robert Griffin III and Blair Walsh will both represent the NFC on the heels of impressive rookie campaigns.
1) Richard Sherman, CB, Seattle Seahawks
That Sherman did not make the cut this season represented one of the most egregious Pro Bowl omissions. The second-year defender was the NFL's top coverage player this season. He's big, physical, fast and instinctive. He has picked off seven passes this season and leads the NFL with 30 pass breakups. I will be very surprised if he doesn't accumulate multiple Pro Bowl appearances over the next decade.
2) Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts
There is no denying that Luck's impact on the Colts' turnaround season was Pro Bowl-worthy, but some of his numbers didn't pass the eye test. The rookie is completing just 54.3 percent of his passes and has coughed up 18 interceptions, tied for the most in the NFL. However, Luck will improve in both areas as the roster is improved around him, and he should be a fixture on the AFC team for a very long time.
3) Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers
After being named an alternate for last season's Pro Bowl, Newton was expected by many pundits, myself included, to earn his way onto the NFC squad this season. His slow start to the 2012 campaign prohibited the Panthers' gifted signal-caller from delivering on that expectation. He has really come on strong down the stretch, however, and his 2012 numbers are still very impressive. Russell Wilson has had a better year than Newton, but the Seattle Seahawks' rookie quarterback doesn't have the same statistical upside to make future Pro Bowls.
4) Matt Kalil, OT, Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings hit a home run when they selected Kalil with the fourth overall pick in April's draft. He has ideal size, quickness and awareness. He has the power to knock defenders off the ball in the run game, and he's agile enough to handle speed rushers in the passing attack. He has more natural ability than current NFC Pro Bowler Joe Staley; I would be surprised if Kalil doesn't replace him on the 2014 roster.
5) Mike Pouncey, C, Miami Dolphins
Mike's twin brother Maurkice has already become a fixture on the AFC Pro Bowl roster. Mike, a first-round pick in 2011, deserved to join him on this year's squad but didn't get enough votes. He is a punishing run blocker who has worked hard to improve in pass protection, and he will get his rightful spot on this team in the near future.
6) Luke Kuechly, LB, Carolina Panthers
Kuechly currently leads the NFL in tackles and has a very good shot at being named the Defensive Rookie of the Year. He is an impressive young talent stuck in a crowded NFC field of inside linebackers. The San Francisco 49ers' duo of NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis secured the two available roster spots, while Daryl Washington of the Arizona Cardinals was left off the squad. Standing above such talented peers is a tall order, but I do expect Kuechly to earn multiple Pro Bowl honors.
7) Janoris Jenkins, CB, St. Louis Rams
After evaluating all of the top cornerbacks available in April's draft, I felt strongly that Jenkins was the most talented. His play during his rookie campaign has only solidified his standing in this class. Jenkins has picked off four passes, returning three for touchdowns; he has also returned a fumble for a touchdown. His instincts and ball skills remind me a lot of Asante Samuel, though Jenkins is much better against the run.
8) Alfred Morris, RB, Washington Redskins
Morris has begun to emerge from RG3's shadow as the Redskins pursue an NFC East title. The Redskins hit big on both of these rookies. Morris is currently the NFL's fourth leading rusher (1,413 yards) and he has also racked up 10 rushing touchdowns. His physical, pounding running style is a perfect complement to Griffin's perimeter speed and agility. Morris' ability, coupled with coordinator Kyle Shanahan's creative offensive mind, should continue to produce huge numbers over the next several seasons.
9) Justin Houston, LB, Kansas City Chiefs
In his second season, Houston has quickly established himself as one of the NFL's most dangerous edge rushers. He has racked up 10 sacks this year, clearly outplaying fellow Chiefs outside linebacker Tamba Hali. Unfortunately for Houston, Hali was the one who garnered the Pro Bowl invitation. Von Miller will have a stranglehold on one of the AFC's outside linebacker spots for the next decade, but I expect Houston to join him shortly.
10) Randall Cobb, WR/KR, Green Bay Packers
Cobb had a solid rookie season in 2011, but he's taken his game to a new level in his sophomore campaign, catching 80 passes for 954 yards and eight touchdowns. He's become one of quarterback Aaron Rodgers' favorite targets, and he should post huge numbers over the next several seasons. He's also proven to be a dangerous returner, tallying three return scores so far in his young career.
Just missed the cut:Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawks; Robert Quinn, DE, St. Louis Rams; Bobby Wagner, LB, Seattle Seahawks; Harrison Smith, S, Minnesota Vikings; Doug Martin, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers; Muhammed Wilkerson, DE, New York Jets; Lavonte David, LB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers; Casey Hayward, CB, Green Bay Packers; Fletcher Cox, DT, Philadelphia Eagles; Torrey Smith, WR, Baltimore Ravens.