PALO ALTO CA - NOVEMBER 27: Stephen Paea #54 of the Oregon State Beavers loses his helmet as he tackles Tyler Gaffney #25 of the Stanford Cardinal at Stanford Stadium on November 27 2010 in Palo Alto California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
I was fired up for the Stephen Paea selection, and, conversely I was dumbfounded by the Chris Conte pick. I didn't look at safety very much in the weeks leading up to the draft, as I didn't think Jerry Angelo was going to take one before the 6th round, if at all. I should have know he'd swerve us at some point. So, it's back to the scouting reports to touch up on my Conte knowledge. But first lets look at the former Oregon State Beaver.
In our Staff Mock Draft we hit on the 1st round Gabe Carimi pick, and oddly enough in the SBNation Mock Draft, we took Stephen Paea in the 1st round. I like him better in the 2nd (obviously), but regardless I'm calling it a 2 for 2 for Windy City Gridiron. Paea (pie-uh) drummed up a ton of buzz at the combine when he pumped out 49 reps on the bench press. But he was a highly regarded prospect before that. That huge number in the bench led to scouts going back to the film to see if he played that strong, and most thought he did. Paea has the quickness to shoot his gap and the strength to demand a double team. His pass rush skills are a work in progress, but his bull rush will collapse a pocket. The Bears will play him at the 3 Technique. From NFL.com:
Paea is a powerful run stuffer that plays angry and should contribute immediately at the next level. He is as strong as an ox and consistently knocks lineman back on their heels. He takes on double teams and is near impossible to move out of the hole. He lacks refined pass rushing skills, but has heavy hands and a good burst to eventually become a weapon on third down. He is still learning the finer points of the game, but he has unparalleled toughness and a tireless work ethic. Paea will likely not last past the middle of the first round.
At 6'1 and 303, he's a short stocky player that plays with incredible leverage. You add in his incredible strength (a 600 pound squat and a 500 pound bench) and you have a difference maker at DT. Then you get him on the practice field with d-line guru Rod Marinelli, and you might have a Pro Bowl player.
Now on to Chris Conte. My initial take was a negative one, but I'll do my homework and look into the player before I offer up my take. NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock thinks highly of him, and that has to count for something. The former reserve California corner back made the switch to free safety in 2011 and it was like a light bulb went on for him. CBS Sports and NFLDraftScout.com had him rated as the 3rd best FS in the draft and the 95th prospect overall. Walter Football had him as a 3rd-5th round prospect. I guess some scouts thought he went about where he was supposed to go. The National Football Post had him listed as a fast rising strong safety prospect at 210. Sports Illustrated had him rated as the 5th best safety with a 4th round grade. From the SI scouting report:
Positives: "Intelligent and fierce defensive back with an improving game. Quickly picks up assignments in center field and remains cognizant of what's happening in front of him. Displays solid sideline-to-sideline range, gets outside the numbers to make plays, and shows a burst of closing speed. Stays with defenders down the field and shows the ability to burst to the ball out of his plant. Explosive run defender who aggressively lays his pads into ball carriers."
Negatives: Lacks ball skills in man coverage. Marginally productive until his senior season.
Analysis: Conte watched his game takeoff as a senior and as a result is moving up draft boards. He possesses the physical skills and football abilities to be used in centerfield at the next level and enters the league with a solid amount of upside.
He's a raw talent. Had he spent his entire Cal career at safety I wonder where his skill set would be. I'm optimistic about him now that I actually read up on the kid. He's an athletic kid that will add depth to a position that needs it, and he'll be a special teams guy as a rookie. The arrow is definitely pointing up for Conte.