Re-grading Bears' 2011 draft

The Bears got brief glimpses of promise from their top three draft picks last season -- Gabe Carimi, Stephen Paea and Chris Conte -- but questions remain about each. Getty Images

Optimism often oozes from the fingertips of reporters tapping away at the keyboard in the minutes immediately after a team makes a draft pick, resulting in sometimes overly-positive grading.

We’re certainly not immune to the phenomenon, or afraid to admit we might have been wrong. So as we prepare to kick off our pre-draft coverage in the coming days, we decided to take another look at the Chicago Bears 2011 draft class and re-grade it.

Here’s what we came up with:

Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin

Round: 1 Pick: 20 (Overall: 29)

CarimiWhat we said after the draft: Considered one of the more technically-sound prospects among the 2011 class of offensive tackles, Carimi should play a key role -- likely as a starter -- in Chicago's effort to revamp its offensive line. After having to replace 2007 third overall pick Joe Thomas at Wisconsin, Carimi is no stranger to the high expectations he'll face as a rookie.

Initial grade: B+

What we say now: There’s a strong possibility Carimi’s grade would have actually improved, had he not suffered a season-ending injury in Week 2. Offensive coordinator Mike Tice said Carimi was “playing winning football” prior to the injury, which is why the staff is currently pondering moving the rising second-year player to left tackle in 2012 if J’Marcus Webb falters. The team maintains Carimi remains on pace for a full recovery. So if that transpires, quarterback Jay Cutler’s protection should improve this season.

Current grade: B+.

Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State

Round: 2 Pick: 30 (Overall: 62)

PaeaWhat we said after the draft: Paea fills an immediate need and might one day develop into a starting three-technique defensive end. However, the Bears have a history of being burned by taking players with medical red flags, and Paea is coming off an offseason knee injury at the Senior Bowl. – JD

Initial grade: B-

What we say now: Paea struggled to recover from a knee injury suffered at the Senior Bowl, and endured a few setbacks in transitioning to the pro game. Those early problems led to the team placing Paea on its inactive list for the first five games. Paea made his debut on Oct. 16 against the Minnesota Vikings and posted a sack. Paea finished the season with 19 tackles -- including a career-high five stops against Kansas City -- and two sacks. With Amobi Okoye and Anthony Adams no longer on the roster, Paea’s role could grow in 2012.

Current grade: C+

Chris Conte, S, California

Round: 3 Pick: 29 (Overall: 93)

ConteWhat we said after the draft: Conte appears to add versatility in the secondary and a potential contributor on special teams. Having spent his first three seasons at California as a cornerback, Conte moved to safety as a senior and became a first-team all-Pac-10 performer. The Bears aren't concerned about Conte's inexperience at safety because that only adds to his upside.

Initial grade: C-

What we say now: Conte definitely didn’t look the part as a rookie, and could use this offseason to improve his strength. But there’s no denying Conte surprised plenty of observers with his strong rookie campaign. Conte racked up six tackles in his first start, and tacked on his first career interception the next week. In nine starts, Conte contributed 47 tackles and provides a ballhawking element to the secondary. The only concern moving forward would be Conte’s ability to stay healthy. The club placed Conte on the injured reserve on Dec. 19, forcing him to miss the last two games.

Current grade: B

Nathan Enderle, QB, Idaho

Round: 5 Pick: 29 (Overall: 160)

EnderleWhat we said after the draft: The Bears' thought process behind selecting a quarterback is understandable. Caleb Hanie probably won't be around past the 2011 season, so the Bears likely will be searching for a new primary backup to Jay Cutler. It's better to develop your own young, inexpensive quarterback rather than waste money on a bad veteran backup, a la Todd Collins. Who knows if Enderle will pan out, but Mike Martz does have a nice track record with unknown quarterbacks.

Initial grade: B-

What we say now: Enderle raised eyebrows when former offensive coordinator Martz briefly moved him ahead of Hanie on the depth chart during training camp. That should have been viewed as nothing more than a motivational ploy by Martz, because as the season played out it became clear the team wasn’t confident in Enderle’s abilities. The Bears made that clear when they started Josh McCown less than a month after his arrival over Enderle, who despite being a rookie, had been with the team all season.

Current grade: D

J.T. Thomas, LB, West Virginia

Round: 6 Pick: 30 (Overall: 195)

ThomasWhat we said after the draft: The Bears brought aboard a durable, three-year starter with plenty of experience on special teams and decent athletic ability. But Thomas lacks explosion (lowest vertical at the combine at 30½ inches), and comes with a blemish in the character department from a 2007 arrest for transferring and receiving a stolen laptop. Given how late the team took Thomas, the character risk would seem minimal.

Initial grade: C-

What we say now: Thomas’ February arrest for misdemeanor marijuana possession now seems to make the initial character red flags valid. But we’ll confine the criticism of Thomas to his play on the field. Thomas caught the staff’s attention early in camp when he was forced to take a good portion of repetitions because the veterans were unable to practice initially due to the rules coming out of the NFL lockout. The problem was Thomas’ practice showings never transferred onto the field. Within the organization, some questioned Thomas’ physicality. Eventually the team gave Thomas somewhat of a redshirt year when it placed him on the injured reserve before the season started due to hamstring and back issues.

Current grade: Incomplete.