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Wednesday, April 16, 2014
Reviewing the Bears' drafts: 2011

By Michael C. Wright
ESPN.com

Here’s Part 3 of our series reviewing the past five drafts of the Chicago Bears.

Finally, the Bears moved from under the limitations brought on by the Jay Cutler deal, and held a first-round pick for the first time since 2008. Too bad the club didn’t choose wisely (although bad luck played somewhat of a role).

First-round pick: Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin

Number of picks: 6

Carimi
Offensive tackle Gabe Carimi, selected 29th overall in 2011, was a disappointment for the Bears.
How they did: This draft yielded two major contributors in defensive tackle Stephen Paea and safety Chris Conte, but first-round pick Gabe Carimi was largely disappointing. Carimi started 16 games for the Bears in two seasons before the club traded him to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and he appeared to be worthy of his first-round pedigree early on. Carimi dislocated a kneecap in the second game of his NFL career, and was never the same during his tenure with the Bears. Though it would be easy to be critical of the Carimi pick, it appears some bad luck conspired against Chicago on this one.

Pivotal pick: After three years without a first-round pick, the Bears needed to hit with Carimi, but they didn’t. The Bears needed to shore up a leaky offensive line going into this draft, and it appeared the chances for doing so with Carimi were good. Carimi had started in 49 games for Wisconsin at left tackle, won the 2010 Outland Trophy, and began his rookie season as the starting right tackle. Up until Carimi suffered the dislocated kneecap at New Orleans, he had been playing winning football. The Bears received a sixth-round pick for Carimi last June in the trade with Tampa Bay, which released him. Carimi signed with Atlanta in February, and will be reunited with former Bears offensive line coach and offensive coordinator Mike Tice.

Best pick: No doubt, Conte struggled through the 2013 season. But he’s still the best pick of this class, and he’ll likely bounce back. Going into 2013, Conte was expected to put together a breakout season after producing 68 tackles in 2012, along with two interceptions and nine pass breakups. Conte finished last season with 90 tackles and three interceptions. He is coming off shoulder surgery, which means he’ll likely miss time at training camp. But if Conte’s rehabilitation goes smoothly, he has a good chance to win a starting job and return to the ascending player the team thought he was entering last season.

Worst pick: Linebacker J.T. Thomas was a three-year starter at West Virginia, but turned in the lowest vertical at the 2011 combine (30 inches), which raised questions about his explosion. Thomas caught the coaching staff’s eye early in camp after taking several first-team reps because of the rules at the time preventing veterans from practicing immediately coming out of the NFL lockout. But Thomas’ practice exploits never transferred onto the field, and he appeared to lack physicality. The Bears waived Thomas after the 2013 preseason, and he signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars.