- The players taken in the 2011 NFL Draft will be entering the second decade of their careers in 2021.
- JJ Watt is just one of the big names in a stacked draft class.
- Take a look below at who was drafted and where they are now.
A 10-year NFL career is reserved for only the most dedicated and durable athletes that professional football has to offer, but all the toughness in the world can’t protect them from the business of the league.
To play a whole decade on a single team is a rare specialty in a league with as much roster turnover as the NFL. The Houston Texans’ release of defensive end JJ Watt, a three-time Defensive Player of The Year and iconic philanthropist in Houston is proof that no player is necessarily destined to devote their entire career to a single team.
Watt and several of his fellow classmates from the 2011 NFL Draft will be entering the second decade of their respective careers in 2021. Many are already on new teams and others are set to test the market for the first time themselves.
Here is a look at where time has taken the first-rounders from Watt’s class in 2011 over the last 10 years:
Cam Newton was selected by the Carolina Panthers with the number one overall pick in 2011 out of Auburn after a college career that was highlighted by a national championship victory in 2010.
Despite leading the Panthers to the Super Bowl and garnering MVP honours in 2015, Newton’s time as the Panthers quarterback came to an end after his release last offseason. After a disappointing one-year stint with the New England Patriots, Newton’s future as a starting quarterback is uncertain.
Von Miller was selected second overall by the Denver Broncos out of Texas A&M. Miller was even projected to be a top-five prospect in the 2010 draft but stayed in college for his senior year and declared for the 2011 draft with just as much esteem.
Miller led the Denver Broncos to a Super Bowl victory in 2015. But after missing all of 2020 with a dislocated peroneal tendon, the rebuilding Broncos could choose to decline Miller’s option for 2021 and let the eight-time Pro Bowler find a new home on a contender.
Marcell Dareus was selected third overall out of Alabama by the Buffalo Bills.
Dareus spent seven seasons in Buffalo from 2011-17, earning two Pro Bowl nods and helping the team break its 17-year playoff appearance drought in 2017. Dareus was then traded to the Jacksonville Jaguars and played just two years there before his release. He spent the 2020 season unsigned.
AJ Green was selected fourth overall by the Cincinnati Bengals out of Georgia.
Green was a model of consistency for the Bengals when they were a competent team earlier in the decade, making the Pro Bowl in his first seven NFL seasons as the team’s receiving leader. However, Green’s performance has declined with the rest of the organisation in recent years, and he is expected to sign with a new team this offseason.
Patrick Peterson was selected fifth overall by the Arizona Cardinals out of LSU.
Peterson cemented himself as one of the best cornerbacks of the past decade. However, with his contract also set to expire this offseason, the Cardinals will have a decision to make on whether to keep the eight-time Pro Bowler in Arizona.
Julio Jones was selected sixth overall by the Atlanta Falcons out of Alabama.
Since the Falcons’ infamous Super Bowl LI loss, Jones has only managed to bring his talents back to the playoffs once and missed seven games in 2020 due to a series of hamstring injuries. Jones is under contract through 2023 however and could be in Atlanta to stay as a fan favourite and franchise icon, as he’s already broken every receiving record in franchise history.
Aldon Smith was selected seventh overall by the San Francisco 49ers out of Missouri.
Smith became the fastest player in NFL history to record 30 sacks for the San Francisco 49ers in 2012, but a series of violations of the league’s substance abuse and personal conduct policies kept Smith out of the league from 2016-19. Smith was reinstated and resumed his career in 2020 with the Dallas Cowboys and is set to hit the free agent market this offseason.
Jake Locker was selected eighth overall by the Tennessee Titans out of Washington. Locker had the shortest career of any player drafted in the top 10 picks in 2011, playing just four seasons with 23 career starts. After losing a passion for the sport, he retired. He is now a life coach, owns a gym, and is taking seminary classes.
Tyron Smith was selected ninth overall by the Dallas Cowboys out of USC.
Smith has held down the Cowboys’ left tackle position for the last decade but not consistently, as injuries have caused him to miss 26 games since 2016. When Smith is on the field he is one of the league’s best pass protectors.
Blaine Gabbert was selected 10th overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars out of Missouri. Gabbert became a journeyman backup quarterback for the bulk of his career, as he hopped across five different teams over the last decade. However, Gabbert is the most recent pick from this class to win a Super Bowl, winning a ring as Tom Brady’s backup for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this year.
JJ Watt was selected 11th overall by the Houston Texans out of Wisconsin. Watt began his college career as a tight end at Central Michigan but chose to forego his spot and scholarship to walk on at Wisconsin and convert to defensive end.
Watt became a transcendent figure in Houston and his release marks a new franchise low point for the Texans’ organisation. Now, the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers are the favourites to land the three-time Defensive Player of The Year.
Christian Ponder was selected 12th overall by the Minnesota Vikings out of Florida State. Ponder played four seasons for the Minnesota Vikings and started all 16 games in 2012, helping lead Minnesota to a 10-6 record. But after his rookie contract expired in 2014, Ponder never took another NFL snap, serving as a backup for three different teams over the next two years, and retired after the 2016 season.
Nick Fairley was selected 13th overall by the Detroit Lions out of Auburn.
Fairley played in 46 games for the Lions, recording 13.5 sacks from 2011-14. After a one-year stint with the St. Louis Rams in 2015, Fairley recorded a career-high 6.5 sacks in 16 starts for the Saints in 2016. Fairley was signed to a contract extension but never played another down for the Saints as he missed all of 2017 due to his heart condition and was released the following year.
Robert Quinn was selected 14th overall by the St. Louis Rams out of North Carolina.
Quinn has been an elite defensive end in his career but has not limited his talents to one place. Quinn’s 82.5 career sacks have been spread out across his time with the Rams, Dolphins, Cowboys, and now the Chicago Bears.
Mike Pouncey was selected 15th overall by the Miami Dolphins out of Florida.
After 10 seasons and four Pro Bowl nods with the Dolphins and Los Angeles Chargers, Pouncey called it a career and announced his retirement after the 2020 season.
Ryan Kerrigan was selected 16th overall by Washington out of Purdue.
Kerrigan became Washington’s franchise leader in sacks after surpassing 90 in 2020. Kerrigan was the veteran on a young and talented defensive line uint, but could now be the odd man out as his contract is set to expire this offseason with Washington prioritising their younger defensive linemen.
Nate Solder was selected 17th overall by the New England Patriots out of Colorado.
Solder won two Super Bowls as the Patriots starting left tackle from 2011-17 before spending 2018-19 with the New York Giants. Solder was a no-show in 2020 after opting out of the season due to COVID-19 concerns. There is no guarantee that Solder, a cancer survivor with a son who is also battling cancer, will return in 2021.
Corey Liuget was selected 18th overall by the San Diego Chargers. He played eight seasons in San Diego / Los Angeles Chargers, but was released after the 2018 season and has hopped across three different teams over the past two years.
Prince Amukamara was selected 19th overall by the New York Giants out of Nebraska.
Amukamara was a top rookie contributor for the Giants’ Super Bowl run in 2011, but injuries put a dent in his career over the next four years. After 2015, Amukamara reignited his career with the Jaguars and Bears, but couldn’t make it onto an active roster in 2020.
Adrian Clayborn was selected 20th overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers out of Iowa.
After four solid years with the Buccaneers from 2011-14 and three years with the Atlanta Falcons from 2015-17, Clayborn found a spot on a championship team with the New England Patriots in 2018. Clayborn most recently helped the Cleveland Browns reach the playoffs for the first time in 17 years this past season.
Phil Taylor Sr. was selected 21st overall by the Cleveland Browns out of Baylor. He played in 44 games with 42 starts for the Browns from 2011-14 racking up seven career sacks, but didn’t play another snap after that and officially announced his retirement in 2019.
Anthony Castonzo was selected 22nd overall by the Indianapolis Colts out of Boston College.
Castonzo went on to spend his entire 10-year career on a single team. Castonzo started 144 games at left tackle for the Colts from 2011-20 and officially announced his retirement in January.
Danny Watkins was selected 23rd overall by the Philadelphia Eagles out of Baylore. He made 17 starts at right guard for Philadelphia from 2011-12 then made just one start for the Dolphins in 2013. Watkins retired in 2014 to become a firefighter in Texas, marking the shortest career of any player on this list.
Cameron Jordan was selected 24th overall by the New Orleans Saints out of California.
Jordan could potentially be another rare exception that spends his entire career on a single team, as he’s been a defensive anchor for the New Orleans Saints. Jordan has racked up 94.5 sacks over the last decade and is under contract with the Saints until 2024.
James Carpenter was selected 25th overall by the Seattle Seahawks out of Alabama. Carpenter actually began his career at the junior college ranks at Coffeyville Community College.
Carpenter started 39 games for the Seattle Seahawks from 2011-14, playing a role in the team’s Super Bowl championship in 2013 and subsequent appearance the next year. Carpenter then joined the Jets to become a full-time starter in 2015 and has spent the last two years with the Atlanta Falcons.
Jonathan Baldwin was selected 26th overall by the Kansas City Chiefs out of Pittsburgh. Baldwin caught two touchdown passes for the Kansas City Chiefs from 2011-12 but hasn’t been on an active roster since 2013.
Jimmy Smith was selected 27th overall by the Baltimore Ravens out of Colorado.
While Smith has never made a Pro Bowl, his presence as a dependable player and veteran leader has made him a valuable commodity on the Baltimore Ravens over the last decade. Smith helped anchor the Ravens’ secondary in their 2012 Super Bowl run and has been a key contributor ever since. He is under contract for at least one more year in Baltimore.
Mark Ingram Jr. was selected 28th overall by the New Orleans Saints out of Alabama.
Ingram started a late-career resurgence for the Saints in 2016 when he eclipsed 1,000 yards for the first time. After eight productive seasons in New Orleans, Ingram joined Lamar Jackson in Baltimore and helped the Ravens break the NFL’s all-time team rushing record in 2019. The Ravens released the 31-year-old in January.
Gabe Carimi was selected 29th overall by the Chicago Bears out of Wisconsin. He made 16 starts at left tackle for the Bears in his first two NFL seasons. Carimi then spent the next two years as a backup for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Atlanta Falcons.
Muhammad Wilkerson was drafted 30th overall by the New York Jets out of Temple.
Wilkerson racked up 44.5 sacks in his first seven seasons with the Jets and even earned a Pro Bowl nod in 2015. That wasn’t enough to keep him in New York after 2017, as he was released. Wilkerson spent his last season in Green Bay in 2018 but did not record a single sack for the Packers.
Cameron Heyward was selected 31st by the Pittsburgh Steelers out of Ohio State.
Heyward became a textbook late bloomer for the Steelers over the last four years. Heyward earned his first Pro Bowl nod in 2017 and has been back every year since with a pair of First-Team All-Pro nods to boot. Heyward is under contract through 2024, meaning the Steelers could ensure Heyward finishes his career in Pittsburgh.
Derek Sherrod was selected 32nd by the Green Bay Packers out of Mississippi State. He played in eight games for the Packers as a special teamer from 2011-14. He made one start at offensive tackle in his last season in 2014 but was waived in November that year.
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