This weekend, the Panthers and Broncos will meet in the Super Bowl thanks in large part to contributions from the top two picks in the 2011 draft, quarterback Cam Newton and outside linebacker Von Miller.
Newton, the No. 1 overall pick in 2011, is the favorite to win the league’s MVP award, and he threw three touchdown passes and rushed for two others in a pair of playoff wins to lead the Panthers to the Super Bowl.
Miller, meanwhile, terrorized Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in the AFC championship game. He recorded 2.5 sacks and picked off a pass.
On Sunday, Miller will try to chase down Newton in the Super Bowl.
With those two in the spotlight, let’s look back on that stacked 2011 draft class, one that is surely a source of frustration for Vikings fans.
Nine of the first 11 draft picks and 15 of the first-round selections would go on to play in at least one Pro Bowl in their first five NFL seasons.
After Newton and Miller went 1-2, the Bills took defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, the Bengals drafted receiver A.J. Green and the Cardinals grabbed cornerback Patrick Peterson. Receiver Julio Jones went sixth to the Falcons followed by outside linebacker Aldon Smith, who went to the 49ers.
Future All-Pro left tackle Tyron Smith was picked ninth by the Cowboys, sandwiched between quarterbacks Jake Locker and Blaine Gabbert, who went to the Titans and Jaguars, respectively, and became busts.
With the 11th pick, the Texans took J.J. Watt, a four-time first-team All-Pro defensive end who has twice been named the Defensive Player of the Year.
The Vikings were on the clock at No. 12 overall and were in desperate need of a quarterback after the Favre era fizzled out. They were fond of Locker and might have picked him if he was still on the board. But he was gone so they took Christian Ponder. You know how that turned out.
In the next five picks, three Pro Bowlers (center Mike Pouncey and pass rushers Robert Quinn and Ryan Kerrigan) and two solid starters (defensive tackle Nick Fairley and offensive tackle Nate Solder) were scooped up.
There was plenty of talent selected outside of the first round, too.
QB Andy Dalton and receiver Randall Cobb were second-rounders. Pass rusher Justin Houston and running back DeMarco Murray were third-round selections. Tight end Julius Thomas went in the fourth, cornerback Richard Sherman went in the fifth and center Jason Kelce went in the sixth.
Standout Broncos cornerback Chris Harris went undrafted that year.
Only two members of the Vikings’ 10-player draft class remain in Minnesota: tight end Kyle Rudolph (second round) and guard Brandon Fusco (sixth).
Around these parts, the 2011 draft is marred by the Ponder pick. But in Carolina, Denver and many other NFL cities, it is remembered fondly.