Friday, June 03, 2011

2011 NFL Draft; Chicago Bears

So, here we are, finally having gotten around to looking at the Bears draft class.

Now admittedly I've been trying to string these posts out to last us with some football-ish news through the dark days of this lockout. But recently it would appear I've been taking the piss with this Bears post, given that its taken so long to produce.

But there is a good reason. Or at least I think it is.

On April 7th I covered some of the defensive linemen ahead of the draft. One of those players was defensive tackle Stephen Paea, from Oregon State. Paea was taken in the second round by the Bears and this is what I originially wrote about him on April 7th:

"The strength he displayed at the combine (I think it was 49 reps of 225 lbs) is for real. Sometimes he'll just barely get a hand on a running back and yet bring them crashing to the ground. Quick and has pretty good technique. All that helps him to shed blocks. Might slip down because people think he's just a workout warrior, but that's a big mistake. I'm going to put my neck on the line and say he's a worthy first round talent."

So what's the problem then?

The answer is; I have no idea now what made me write that. As part of this series I've been going back and studying each individual player much closer. A good example of this was Colin Kaepernick of the 49ers, who I now feel I didn't give enough credit to before the draft.

And now I'm really beginning to wonder about some of the other evaluations I put up. For example, I've been back and looked at a number of defensive linemen. Nick Fairley is just how I remember him. But reading my review of Corey Liuget and then watching the film, you wouldn't recognise the player I was talking about.

I think on reflection I might also have given too much credit to Adrian Clayborn, and not enough to the likes of J.J. Watt and Ryan Kerrigan. It's odd. I'm having trouble explaining it but it's a very unsettling feeling. I just don't understand how the evaluations I was so sure of a few months ago could change so significantly. It's not like there is a well of new evidence for me to draw on. I'm watching the exact same games that I did back in March/April.

It's roughly the same with story with Paea.

Now, having painted a picture of doom and gloom I should actually point out that there are some things from that original evaluation that I stand by. He is very strong. What you saw at the combine was no fiddle; he really does have an immensely strong upper body. He also does indeed have some good technique.

He comes off at the snap keeping his back low, using those powerful arms and chest muscles to jack the offensive linemen backwards. He has shown at times the ability to literally throw offensive linemen off of their block.


He seems to lack explosion in his legs. If he doesn't rock the offensive guard back with his punch, then he often struggles to get any movement using his leg power alone. His tackling is about average. His awareness of the play is also not great. Other than his "power shrug" for want of a better term, his pass rush moves can be quite limited.

All in all what you end up with is some great raw strength, but not really a lot of polish. I described him previously as a first rounder but looking back now, I'm not so sure I'd use a second rounder on him. A third? Maybe, maybe not, depending on the board. I see him now much more as a development prospect as opposed to a "plug and play" type of guy.

So what caused this switch around? Well, as described earlier the film hasn't changed. It's all the same plays, same games etc. So the problem has to be related to me as an individual. My best guess is this; prior to the draft I had left it quite late before doing the full evaluations and had a ton of players to get through. I even mistakenly thought at one point that the draft was being held a week earlier than it actually was.

So I'm surmising from this is basically just an error of rushing through all the players to get it done, instead of assessing each player on a much closer, more deliberate level. This is something that I'm rectifying now and I should point out it's a process that I've been doing for all of these recaps. So in case you were wondering, yes, I do still think Mark Legree and Anthony Gaitor are unsung, unrecognised gems.

If anything, when I went back and watched those two I came away even more impressed than I had been before.

But we're getting off track. In fact, we've actually jumped ahead of ourselves (I blame you personally). Because in my haste to get to Paea and explain why this has all taken so long I missed Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin. You know, that guy that the Bears took with their first pick and all that.

So what do I think of Carimi? Generally Carimi is strong and pretty sound from a technical perspective. However, originally I compared him to Bryan Bulaga of the Packers. Now? I'm not quite sure he's at that level. One thing I've noticed is that due to Wisconsin being reasonably run heavy, there is a lot more snaps of him to watch in the run game than in the passing game, so that has been something of a hindrance.

As far as run blocking goes I have no real problems with Carimi. He does pretty much everything that is asked of him and he does it consistently, snap after snap. Yet we all know though that you don't sign a left tackle for his run blocking ability, you sign them for their ability to protect your quarterbacks butt.

In that regard Carimi is still good, but putting on my GM hat for a moment I have to think to myself that there are players out there who you've seen much more of when it comes to the passing game. More snaps, more difficult opponents in terms of pass rushers and against defenses that were more geared and ready to stop the pass as opposed to the run. Some of those players showed excellent abilities in pass blocking.

That for me makes the choice of Carimi now seem a little illogical. There were other candidates on the board, all of whom were equally as good, if not better. Critically, decision makers would have seen lots more of them on film and had a much better idea about their consistency from down to down against the pass.

Still, Carimi is a good tackle. Slot him in at the right spot and it'll be interesting to see how he copes with likes of Clay Matthews, Cliff Avril and Ray Edwards twice a year. If nothing else it will force him into a quick learning curve and if he can hang in there and survive against those guys then it'll set him up for a productive career. There is of course one x factor in particular working in his favour; the Bears O-line sucks as it is, so it can't get much worse.

On to round 3 and the Bears took Chris Conte, safety, California. I remember Conte being really good at the combine, but that is of course only a marginally useful tool as far as evaluations go. What I needed to see was on the field action and prior to the draft I hadn't seen a thing, so it was interesting for me to sit down and get a good luck at him finally.

Not least because it rammed home emphatically the sheer pointlessness of the combine, pro days and any other form of evaluation that involves shorts related activities. Conte was a whizz at the combine. He had quick feet, he looked balanced and under control at all times, he cut well in the drills and he seemed to be working really hard.

His film is practically the opposite. Maybe it is some subtle nuance of the Cal Bears defensive scheme, but for a safety Conte seems to acutely lack any understanding of the word "depth", as in, "get depth in coverage because you're the bloody safety man!"

He kept getting drawn in by crossing routes in front of him, even when one of his corners had that covered. As you can probably imagine that left numerous plays where there was a gaping chasm behind him, into which you can expect to see pro level offenses sending their deep receivers, exploiting Conte using various combinations of post routes with either intermediate or deep "in" routes underneath.

He also seems to be less enthusiastic about charging in to make a tackle than he was about flying around the artificial turf in Indianapolis. All in all, wouldn't put much faith in Conte. There really wasn't anything there worth watching and the fact that he was a third round pick is nothing short of astounding.

Again, I understand when teams and analysts look at a group of good players and have varying opinions on how valuable they are. One mans first rounder is another mans third. But then we have players like Chris Conte. I defy any scout, coach, general manager or TV analyst to give me a list of 5 good reasons why Conte should have been taken over guys like Mark Legree. Or even over anybody else in the draft.

Or anyone that went undrafted.

He just does nothing. At all. Not a thing. Watching Conte play is like watching paint dry. There is practically zero evidence to suggest that Conte will amount to anything other than a water boy. Just... I give up. Let's move on.

Skipping the fourth round as the Bears don't have a pick in it (or the seventh), we find ourselves in round five and it's Nathan Enderle, quarterback, Idaho. Now we're talking!

I've been raving about Enderle for a while now and I still am. He played behind a pretty bad O-line in college and at times his wide receivers really let him down, as he hit them in the hands time after time. Those points are important for me because it shrouds the true story behind his completion percentage and also gives us a good look at how he copes under pressure.

One of the key aspects for me though is the variety of routes that Enderle threw to in college. Post routes, corners, deep ins and outs, dump offs, intermediate passes. Enderle has thrown just about every type of route he'll be asked to in the pros. He's run an offense similar in nature to the one he'll be introduced to in Chicago. He's made the type of reads he'll be asked to by Mike Martz against the types of defenses that he'll face on a weekly basis.

To cap it all off, he did all of these things very well, despite the troubles that his offense as a whole had. If I had any criticism of Enderle it would be that sometimes he's a little too inclined to throw over the middle when perhaps there are better options outside. That's not a huge deal though and with time and a bit of patience, practice and diligence in the film room he'll work out of that habit.

Overall I think Enderle is a really good pick and I think he's a great fit for what the Bears do, as well as how their team is set up right now, e.g. they too have a shitty O-line. It will be like being back at Idaho when Enderle steps out onto the field. And that may be sooner than anyone thinks, or hopes. Yes, I'm talking about Jay Cutler.

We'll leave that particular thread hanging for now though and progress to the sixth round where we find J.T. Thomas, linebacker, West Virginia.

The main issue that Thomas has to overcome is adaptation, shifting from a largely 3-4 scheme in college to a 4-3 team in the NFL. Quite where Thomas fits into that equation is also up in the air right now. But he should find a home, if not this year then next.

He's pretty quick. Tackling can sometimes be a little so-so, but generally good. He plays well in pass coverage, has an nose for sniffing out screen passes early and has enough mobility to get around the field and pursue the play. He also has an upside in the form of his special teams experience, which is always a valuable asset for a young guy to bring to the table.

As an overall package I really like Thomas. I think he has a lot of the skills that you want to see from a versatile linebacker, with the ability to contribute to some degree from day one. As a sixth round pick that's really good value for the Bears.

And that is it for the Bears draft class. To be fair, looking at the broad spectrum of picks the Bears did pretty well. Enderle and Thomas are big highlights for me, Carimi pretty good, Paea.. meh, for now. We'll have to wait and see how he pans out.

Chris Conte?

Chris Conte meet Mike Person. Mike Person meet Chris Conte. Enjoy each others terrible film.

Next up, the Detroit Lions.

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