- Pat Yasinskas, ESPN Staff Writer
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Mel Kiper usually does a great job of helping us look ahead to the draft. But, in this Insider post, he takes a look back.
Kiper has his rankings of the top 20 rookies in the 2011 season, and the NFC South plays a prominent role. In a development that shouldn’t surprise anyone, Kiper ranked Carolina quarterback Cam Newton as the best rookie of 2011.
That had to be an easy call. Newton was the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, and he lived up to the hype. Heck, he went beyond the hype. He broke all sorts of records and was good immediately, even though he had no offseason dbecause of the lockout.
Kiper also has Atlanta wide receiver Julio Jones at No. 9. The Falcons took a lot of heat for trading up to get Jones. He turned in a solid first year, and easily would have gone over 1,000 receiving yards if he had stayed healthy all season.
The Falcons still are going to get some criticism for making the trade, especially since it left them without a first-round pick this year. But I think time will show this was a good move by the Falcons.
A couple hours ago, I heard veteran Atlanta tight end Tony Gonzalez talking about Jones on Sirius NFL Radio. Gonzalez called Jones “the most complete receiver’’ he’s ever been around. Gonzalez said that’s because of the combination of size and speed Jones possesses. He admitted Jones isn’t a finished product, but said Jones just needs a little more game experience before he really starts to shine.
The final NFC South player in Kiper’s top 20 is Tampa Bay defensive end Adrian Clayborn at No. 16. I think Clayborn kind of got overshadowed by his team’s collapse. But the rookie had a pretty nice season. He played the run well and produced 7.5 sacks. Kiper says that Clayborn could end up being a Pro Bowler. I don’t think that’s a stretch. If Tampa Bay can keep defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Brian Price healthy, Clayborn has a real shot to produce double-digit sacks on a regular basis.