A player lockout was supposed to limit the immediate impact made by 2011 first-round draft picks. Instead, the bar is now set high for the incoming selections of 2012. Despite not having the luxury of offseason programs because of the NFL’s labor strife, a 32-member class led by Carolina quarterback Cam Newton far exceeded expectations as a whole. Even those players who were injured or struggled learning the ropes will have the chance for redemption in their second seasons. Here is a look back at last year’s first-round choices and their status entering the 2012 campaign. -- Alex Marvez
32. Derek Sherrod, OT, Packers
Expectations coming in: On the heels of Bryan Bulaga, the Packers used a first-round pick on a tackle for the second consecutive year. Sherrod was being groomed to eventually replace starting left tackle Chad Clifton. How’d he do?: Sherrod saw action as a backup in five games before suffering two broken bones in his leg during a December game against Kansas City. What’s next?: Sherrod should make a full recovery but he faces a challenge from Marshall Newhouse to replace the departed Clifton with the first-team unit.
31. Cameron Heyward, DE, Steelers
Expectations coming in: They were low. Other high picks like Lawrence Timmons, Ziggy Hood and LaMarr Woodley have traditionally struggled to score playing time as rookies in Pittsburgh’s complex, veteran-filled defense. Heyward also was being asked to make the adjustment to five-technique end in Pittsburgh’s 3-4 after playing in a 4-3 at Ohio State. How’d he do?: Heyward had 11 tackles while receiving spot playing time as a reserve. What’s next?: Heyward is projected as the top backup end in Pittsburgh’s defensive line rotation behind Hood and Brett Keisel. If he continues to progress, Heyward could supplant the 33-year-old Keisel for the 2013 season.
30. Muhammad Wilkerson, DE, Jets
Expectations coming in: The Jets decided to part ways with 11-year veteran Shaun Ellis after drafting Wilkerson. How’d he do?: Thanks to his experience in Temple University’s 3-4 defense, Wilkerson became an immediate Jets starter. He accumulated 49 tackles and three sacks. What’s next?: Wilkerson, who doesn’t turn 23 until late October, has only scratched the surface on what he can accomplish during his NFL career.
29. Gabe Carimi. OT, Bears
Expectations coming in: Quarterback Jay Cutler took a beating in 2010, which made upgrading the offensive line a priority. How’d he do?: Carimi started the first two games at right tackle before dislocating his kneecap. He was placed on injured reserve in November after suffering a setback in practice, leading to two surgeries on his right knee. What’s next?: Now healthy, Carimi will reassume his first-team spot.
Getty ImagesStacy Revere
28. Mark Ingram, RB, Saints
Expectations coming in: With injuries ravaging Saints’ running backs in 2010, Ingram was supposed to help Pierre Thomas carry the bulk of the rushing load. How’d he do?: The Saints had better running back depth in 2011, but that was due more to Darren Sproles and Chris Ivory. Ingram struggled with injuries and becoming comfortable in the Saints’ offense. Unable to supplant Thomas in the starting lineup, Ingram rushed for 474 yards and five touchdowns on 122 carries before missing the final four games with a foot ailment. What’s next?: Saints general manager Mickey Loomis remains bullish that Ingram will justify his lofty selection, which cost New Orleans its 2012 first-round pick in a trade with New England. Ingram, though, will miss a chunk of the Saints’ offseason after recently undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery.
27. Jimmy Smith, CB, Ravens
Expectations coming in: The Ravens hoped Smith would provide secondary depth while gradually working his way into the starting lineup. How’d he do?: Although forced to miss four games with an ankle injury, Smith gradually began earning playing time as cornerbacks like Chris Carr and Domonique Foxworth were sidelined by injuries. Smith started in the AFC Championship Game against New England and registered an interception. What’s next?: Smith and Lardarius Webb potentially give Baltimore its best set of starting cornerbacks since the heyday of Chris McAllister and Samari Rolle.
26. Jonathan Baldwin, WR, Chiefs
Expectations coming in: Baldwin was supposed to help improve one of the NFL’s weakest corps of wide receivers outside of Dwayne Bowe. How’d he do?: Baldwin got off on the wrong foot with his new teammates and suffered a broken thumb in a preseason fight with running back Thomas Jones. Baldwin didn’t debut until Week 7 and finished the year with 21 catches for 254 yards and one touchdown. What’s next?: Baldwin will compete with Steve Breaston to start opposite Bowe, who could be playing his final season in Kansas City.
25. James Carpenter, OT, Seahawks
Expectations coming in: Considered a first-round reach by a majority of draft analysts, Carpenter was projected as an immediate starter at right tackle by Seahawks general manager John Schneider. How’d he do?: Carpenter’s rookie campaign got off to a rough start. He reported to training camp out of shape and surrendered three sacks during a preseason game. Carpenter rebounded to start at both left guard and right tackle before he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament during a mid-November practice. What’s next?: Carpenter’s injury was serious enough that he won’t be participating in any offseason team workouts. If he can avoid starting the season on the physically unable to perform list (PUP), Carpenter should reclaim his starting job. Another option may be switching Carpenter to guard if the Seahawks think Breno Giacomini can capably handle the right tackle duties.
24. Cameron Jordan, DE, Saints
Expectations coming in: The Saints wanted Jordan to help improve the team’s run defense. How’d he do?: Jordan was solid but unspectacular with 31 tackles in 15 starts. The Saints finished 12th overall against the run with a 108.6-yard average. What’s next?: Developing as a pass rusher. New Orleans substituted Jordan with Junior Galette in passing situations. The Saints also hope Jordan can help compensate for the upcoming four-game absence of end Will Smith, who was suspended by the NFL for his involvement in the team’s illegal bounty program.
23. Danny Watkins, G, Eagles
Expectations coming in: Throughout his 13 seasons in Philadelphia, head coach Andy Reid has shown a keen sense of when the offensive line needs new blood. That led to Watkins being selected despite the knock that he was already 26 years old. How’d he do?: Watkins was benched before the start of the season after admitting that playing on the NFL level was “overwhelming.” He redeemed himself by starting the final 12 games at right guard. What’s next?: The offensive line paved the way for running back LeSean McCoy to finish fourth among NFL rushing leaders with 1,309 yards. The next mission — pass protect well enough to let quarterback Michael Vick start 16 games for only the second time in his nine-year NFL career.
22. Anthony Castonzo, OT, Colts
Expectations coming in: The Colts addressed a deficiency at left tackle with Castonzo. He became the first player at the position drafted by Indianapolis in the first round during the Peyton Manning era. How’d he do?: Castonzo never got to protect Manning’s blindside as the future Hall of Fame quarterback missed the entire season following neck surgery. Castonzo did rank among the league-leaders in sacks surrendered, but some of that is the trickle-down effect from one of the NFL’s most putrid offensive attacks sans Manning. Castonzo also missed four games with a lower-leg injury that required offseason surgery. What’s next?: Castonzo is now in charge of shielding Colts rookie quarterback Andrew Luck from elite pass rushers. That includes AFC South foes fielding menaces like Tennessee (Kamerion Wimbley) and Houston (Brooks Reed, Connor Barwin and rookie Whitney Mercilus).
21. Phil Taylor, DT, Browns
Expectations coming in: Ahtyba Rubin is one of the NFL’s most underrated defensive tackles but he still needed someone to draw away double teams. Enter Taylor, a 6-3, 335-pound beast. How’d he do?: A 16-game starter with 59 tackles and four sacks, Taylor helped Rubin clog running lanes and push the pocket. The Browns, though, still allowed 147.4 rushing yards a game largely because of problems with outside containment. What’s next?: Taylor and Rubin could become the kind of interior force that leads to a Browns resurgence.
20. Adrian Clayborn, DE, Buccaneers
Expectations coming in: Tampa Bay’s ends woefully under-produced in 2010, prompting the club to address the position with its first two 2011 picks — Clayborn and second-rounder Da’Quan Bowers. How’d he do?: Among ends in a 4-3 scheme, Clayborn’s 7.5 sacks in 16 starts rank second behind the 8.5 posted by Cleveland Browns second-round pick Jabaal Sheard. What’s next?: Clayborn shows the potential to become a breakout star as new head coach Greg Schiano overhauls an underachieving defense.
19. Prince Amukamara, CB, Giants
Expectations coming in: A secondary which got butchered late in the 2010 season was counting on Amukamara to push for nickel duties or even a first-string role. How’d he do?: Any shot at Amukamara starting ended when he suffered a preseason foot injury that sidelined him until Week 11. Amukamara, though, received snaps as a reserve for the rest of New York’s run to winning Super Bowl XLVI. What’s next?: Amukamara will move into the starting lineup with Aaron Ross signing a free-agent contract with Jacksonville.
18. Corey Liuget, DE, Chargers
Expectations coming in: The Chargers didn’t announce high expectations for Liuget’s rookie season like they did with running back Ryan Mathews in 2010. The best-case scenario was Liuget — an early-entry junior who played in a 4-3 defense at Illinois — learning how to become a five-technique end quickly enough to earn snaps. How’d he do?: Even in a scheme where ends are assigned to occupy blockers so others can make tackles, Liuget finished on the low end of the scale with 19 stops and one sack. Liuget, though, did gain valuable playing experience in 13 starts. What’s next?: Liuget’s continued development and the anticipated impact from new outside linebackers Jarret Johnson and rookie Melvin Ingram are musts if San Diego is going to field a fearsome front seven for the first time since Shawne Merriman’s heyday.
17. Nate Solder, OT, Patriots
Expectations coming in: With the Patriots having two established starters in Matt Light and Sebastian Vollmer, Solder was projected as a swing backup at both tackle spots. How’d he do?: Solder started 13 games with Vollmer sidelined by injuries. He also received some snaps as a third tight end, which was his former position before converting after two seasons at the University of Colorado. What’s next?: Solder is the projected starting left tackle following Light’s retirement.
16. Ryan Kerrigan, LB, Redskins
Expectations coming in: The Redskins were thrilled when a prospect with Kerrigan’s pass-rush potential was still available at No. 16 following a trade-down from No. 10 with Jacksonville. How’d he do?: Kerrigan made a seamless transition from a 4-3 defensive end at Purdue to a hybrid outside linebacker in Washington. Kerrigan had 63 tackles, 7.5 sacks and showcased his ball-hawking skills by forcing four fumbles in 16 starts. What’s next?: Kerrigan and fellow outside linebacker Brian Orakpo have the chance to establish themselves as the NFL’s top young pass-rush combination in 2012.
15. Mike Pouncey, C, Dolphins
Expectations coming in: Interior offensive linemen selected so high in the draft are always projected as immediate starters. The twin brother of Pittsburgh Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey was no exception. How’d he do?: Mike Pouncey became the sixth offensive lineman in team history to start every game as a rookie. What’s next?: Pouncey must learn the nuances of the zone-blocking scheme that new coordinator Mike Sherman is installing as part of his West Coast-style offense.
14. Robert Quinn, DE, Rams
Expectations coming in: Quinn sat out his entire junior season at North Carolina because of an NCAA rules violation. The most realistic rookie scenario was Quinn working his way into the Rams’ defensive line rotation en route to becoming a starter opposite 2007 first-round pick Chris Long. How’d he do?: Quinn had his moments in games against Seattle (five tackles) and Pittsburgh (four). He played in 15 contests with one start. What’s next?: Quinn, who doesn’t turn 22 until later this month, should become a first-string player in 2012.
13. Nick Fairley, DT, Lions
Expectations coming in: The Lions wanted to pair Fairley with another first-round defensive tackle — 2010 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Ndamukong Suh. How’d he do?: A broken foot suffered in training camp caused Fairley to miss the first four regular-season games. He played only as a backup the rest of the way and finished with 15 tackles and one sack. What’s next?: The Lions hope the skills that Fairley flashed in a three-tackle performance against New Orleans in Week 13 are a sign of things to come. The more blocking attention Fairley draws from other teams, the more likely Suh can rebound from a disappointing 2011 season.
12. Christian Ponder, QB, Vikings
Expectations coming in: The Vikings wanted to groom Ponder for a season as he sat behind Donovan McNabb. Instead, McNabb struggled so badly that he was ultimately cut while Ponder started the final 10 games. How’d he do?: Ponder didn’t have as impressive a rookie campaign as Carolina’s Cam Newton or Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton, but he was better than Jacksonville’s Blaine Gabbert. Ponder’s best game came in Week 13 against Denver. He threw for 381 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions in a 35-32 loss. What’s next?: Although the Vikings weren’t overly active in free agency, general manager Rick Spielman knew Ponder needed a better supporting cast to succeed. That’s why Minnesota drafted offensive players with four of their six picks in the first four rounds led by left tackle Matt Kalil. Veteran wide receiver Jerome Simpson (Cincinnati) and tight end John Carlson (Seattle) should also be helpful pickups.
11. J.J. Watt, DE, Texans
Expectations coming in: With the Texans switching to a 3-4 scheme under new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, finding a five-technique end was atop Houston’s priority list. The Texans thought Watt could make the transition after he played in a 4-3 at the University of Wisconsin. How’d he do?: Houston’s projection was spot-on. Watt was an instant starter and became increasingly dominant as the season unfolded. He was a terror in a second-round playoff loss to Baltimore, tallying 12 tackles and 2.5 sacks. What’s next?: If he continues to build upon last year’s success, Watt will soon be considered one of the NFL’s premier 3-4 linemen.
10. Blaine Gabbert, QB, Jaguars
Expectations coming in: Gabbert was projected to spend his rookie season serving an apprenticeship under veteran David Garrard. That changed when Garrard was surprisingly released and backup Luke McCown bombed out. Gabbert was thrust into the first-team lineup for the final 14 games. How’d he do?: Not well. The Jags posted a 4-10 record when he was under center. In fact, Gabbert struggled so mightily that there are questions whether he can succeed at the NFL level. Particularly disturbing were Gabbert’s completion percentage (50.8 percent) and average per attempt (5.4 yards). What’s next?: New head coach Mike Mularkey will attempt to salvage Gabbert in the same fashion that he helped develop Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan during his first four NFL seasons. Gabbert should benefit greatly from the addition of wide receivers Laurent Robinson (Dallas) and rookie Justin Blackmon. As a fallback plan, the Jaguars signed former Miami Dolphins starting quarterback Chad Henne in free agency.
9. Tyron Smith, OT, Cowboys
Expectations coming in: Although he wasn’t even 21 years old entering his rookie season, Smith was projected as an immediate starter as the first offensive tackle drafted. How’d he do?: Smith didn’t disappoint, starting all 16 games at right tackle. What’s next?: Smith’s combination of size (6-foot-5, 311 pounds) and nimble feet are ideal for a left tackle. That’s where the Cowboys have shifted Smith while moving Doug Free to right tackle, which is a better fit for him.
8. Jake Locker, QB, Titans
Expectations coming in: When first drafted, it appeared Locker might get thrust immediately into the starting lineup. The Titans, though, bought Locker some time to develop by signing ex-Seattle starter Matt Hasselbeck in free agency. How’d he do?: Locker never started but did receive extensive action in games against Atlanta, New Orleans and Indianapolis. While his 51.6 completion percentage was well below average for an NFL quarterback, Locker did throw four touchdown passes without an interception on 64 attempts in those three contests. What’s next?: The Titans will stage an open competition between Locker and Matt Hasselbeck for the starting spot during the preseason.
7. Aldon Smith, LB, 49ers
Expectations coming in: Some 49ers fans were puzzled why the club drafted a pass-rusher ahead of a quarterback when Jake Locker and Christian Ponder were still on the board. How’d he do?: Smith and his namesake – quarterback Alex Smith – proved that 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke knew what they were doing. Aldon Smith led all first-year players with 14 sacks and finished second in NFL Rookie of the Year voting behind Denver’s Von Miller. What’s next?: Becoming an every-down player and dealing with the fallout of a January arrest on DUI charges. Smith is projected to push Parys Haralson for a starting spot at outside linebacker opposite Ahmad Brooks.
6. Julio Jones, WR, Falcons
Expectations coming in: They were through the roof. The Falcons surrendered five draft picks, including their first-round picks in 2011 and 2012 as well as a 2011 second-rounder, to move up 21 slots to select Jones at No. 6 overall. How’d he do?: Jones showed all the earmarks of being the deep receiving threat that general manager Thomas Dimitroff envisioned when swinging such a blockbuster trade. Jones led all rookie receivers in touchdowns (8) and tied with Cincinnati’s A.J. Green for the top spot in catches of 40-plus yards (7). What’s next?: Although Jones averaged 17.8 yards on his 54 receptions, Falcons brass believes he can make even more big plays under new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter.
5. Patrick Peterson, CB, Cardinals
Expectations coming in: The Cardinals hoped Peterson would become an immediate starter while bettering their punt return game. How’d he do?: Peterson tied an NFL single-season record with four punt returns for touchdowns. He started all 16 games and finished with 13 passes defensed and two interceptions. What’s next?: Peterson showed far better discipline in his final six games after committing 10 penalties in the first 10. If he continues to improve at last season’s pace, Peterson will soon rank among the NFL’s top shutdown cornerbacks.
4. A.J. Green, WR, Bengals
Expectations coming in: Although he turned pro after his junior season at Georgia, Green was projected as a starter after the Bengals traded Chad Ochocinco and didn’t re-sign Terrell Owens. How’d he do?: Green led all rookies in catches (65) and was the only one to post a 1,000-yard receiving season. What’s next?: Judging by his offseason schedule, Green hasn’t become complacent. Bengals.com reported Green has spent time working with Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson and Carolina quarterback Cam Newton in Atlanta. Green also plans to train later this summer with Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald, who leads rigorous workout sessions for younger wideouts.
3. Marcell Dareus, DT, Bills
Expectations coming in: Dareus was drafted to bolster a run defense that allowed an NFL-high169.6 rushing yards a game in 2010. How’d he do?: The Bills surrendered 30 less rushing yards a game in 2011 thanks to Dareus helping to plug gaps at nose tackle and five-technique end in a 3-4 scheme. What’s next?: The Bills are shifting to a pure 4-3 defense under new coordinator Dave Wannstedt. This means Dareus and fellow defensive tackle Kyle Williams will be expected to occupy interior offensive linemen so middle linebacker Kirk Morrison can scrape and make the bulk of the unit’s tackles. The offseason additions of free-agent ends Mario Williams and Mark Anderson should create more pass-rush opportunities for Dareus, who had 5.5 sacks as a rookie.
2. Von Miller, LB, Broncos
Expectations coming in: The Broncos hoped Miller could help bolster a pass rush that posted a league-low 23 sacks in 2010 and draw double-team blocking away from Elvis Dumervil. How’d he do?: Miller proved far more effective than Dumervil, who battled injury problems for the first half of the season. Miller was named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year after notching 11.5 sacks during Denver’s surprising run to the playoffs. What’s next?: “I want to be better in the classroom,” Miller recently told me and co-host Jim Miller on SiriusXM NFL Radio. “My position coach and my teammates, they let me have that rookie tag my rookie season. I don’t want that. I want to be the guy who’s coming in, taking notes, and calling out plays and certain formations that the other team is doing. I want to start to be like that Ray Lewis/Patrick Willis type of linebacker — the leader of my defense.”
1. Cam Newton, QB, Panthers
Expectations coming in: The NFL lockout and having only one season of starting experience at Auburn made it appear that Newton would be in over his head as a rookie starter. How’d he do?: Newton turned conventional wisdom on its head. He set NFL rookie records for passing yards (4,051), quarterback rushing yards (706) and overall touchdowns with 35 (21 passing, 14 running). Those efforts earned him NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. What’s next?: Although Newton is a dangerous runner, the Panthers will continue to develop Newton’s passing and recognition skills in the pocket. Newton already started doing a better job minimizing turnovers as his rookie campaign progressed, throwing only three interceptions in Carolina’s final six games compared to 14 in the first 10.