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Lessons from the 2011 Draft

Ryan Pace is earning praise for his savvy and most of the experts think the Bears did well. Of course, it's tough to evaluate a draft class until enough time has passed. Fans might be wondering how much stock to place in expert opinion, and so it's useful to look back at an earlier draft with the benefit of perspective.

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As Bears fans bask in the glow of a praised draft (or shrug their shoulders and second-guess the experts), I thought it might be worthwhile to consider the 2011 draft class. Five years is enough time to take a step back and to evaluate a draft class, and it's also a long enough time that Pro Football Reference's Career Average Value metric can give some guidance. For the record, I'm lukewarm to the metric. It's an okay shorthand, but that's all it can be.

Back in 2011, Football Outsiders reported that the experts gave the Bears a grade of 2.64, though that was influenced in part by Jason Cole's ‘F' grade for the failed trade with the Baltimore Ravens. Taking his score out, the Bears averaged a 2.9 (a solid C+ or on the verge of a B-). Closer to home, 85% of the Windy City Gridiron community liked the draft.

Just to remind you, here's who the Bears drafted:

Round 1: Gabe Carimi (CAV 12). Carimi was a disappointment, but it would be tough to blame Angelo for this one. It's true that a knee injury in 2008 might have been a warning sign, but it's a rare player who comes through college without some sort of injury that you can look back at and second-guess with hindsight. Still, when the average first-rounder in that year's draft had a CAV of 33, this is a tough one to smile about. Amusingly, the 29th pick in the draft had the 29th-best CAV among all first-rounders that year. Besides that strange coincidence, the fact is that while Carimi's injury set the Bears back, his selection was pretty reasonable. From the article linked earlier, here is Lester's take on the pick:

"Bottom line he's a good offensive lineman.  If Bears fans have any lingering doubts in their head due to the last first round offensive line draft pick, it's safe to wash those away. This kid is will be good."

Round 2: Stephen Paea (CAV 20). Paea was about what the Bears should have expected out of a second-round pick. The average second-rounder that year had a CAV of 18.4, and Paea's ranking places him in the middle (tied for 16th place), a few slots ahead of where he was drafted (21st in the round). He was a solid player for the Bears.

Round 3: Chris Conte (CAV 21). It's my opinion that a lot of the bad plays that got blamed on Chris Conte were the fault of a generally bad defense, with his failures being more noticeable because of position and bad luck. That said, the very simple metric of CAV likes Conte, giving him the 7th highest score of third-rounders drafted in 2011, well ahead of his draft position (he was the 28th 3rd-rounder taken), and more than half-again better than the 12.7 average that year. He played hard, and while he was overmatched at times, he played more games for the Bears and started more years than any other player Angelo drafted that year.

Round 5: Nathan Enderle (CAV 0). So. Yeah. I think I am going to quote Lester from five years ago on this one:

"Nathan Enderle was a head scratching pick. I understand it. I don't necessarily like it."

While I try not to play the hindsight game, it's worth noting that Pernell McPhee and Tyrod Taylor were both taken after Enderle. It's also worth noting that Nathan Enderle was Nathan Enderle.

Round 6: J.T. Thomas (CAV 12). Thomas posted a much higher CAV than the 5.7 average for the round in 2011. Unfortunately, most of that value was earned while playing for other teams.

Taken altogether, the 2011 draft earned a net CAV of 65. Counting only the average for all rounds that the team actually drafted in, Angelo should have been able to earn a total CAV of 77. Now, this is a little unfair because that year the Bears were drafting later due to the success of the 2010 season. Still, it's safe to say that the experts were right in pegging the Bears draft as a little underwhelming (it got the 20th best overall rank that year, and in terms of netted value, it was a little below average). "A little below average" matches how I feel about the draft, and I agree with a metric that suggests that Paea and Conte at least turned into solid role-players for where they were drafted.

On the other hand, given the praise the Bears are currently receiving, it's also worthwhile to look at the classes that the experts liked back in 2011. The Detroit Lions and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers earned the most praise, pulling in 3.61 and 3.55 GPAs, respectively.

The Lions' draft was headed by Nick Fairley (CAV 18), Titus Young (CAV 8), and Mikel LeShoure (CAV 5). Pro Football Weekly's Nolan Nawrocki, infamous in many circles for his criticism of one particular player, and his focus on character issues, dished out more of the same to the Lions' draft haul: "all three enter the league with character and maturity concerns, possess boom-or-bust potential and will have to be managed closely." At least in the case of Detroit, he might have had a point. The Buccaneers' draft featured Adrian Clayborn (15), Da'Quan Bowers (7), and Mason Foster (24).

For those keeping track at home, this means that the 20th-ranked Bears class, which was headed by a first-rounder plagued by an injury, actually did better across the first three rounds in terms of net value than what the experts called the top two classes of the 2011 draft. That is a sobering thought for Bears fans in the middle of the rebuild. Especially because we know, even without any metrics, exactly how mediocre that 2011 class really was.

I hope that this time the experts are right. I want more than a Paea and a Conte out of this draft. It's not how 85% of Bears fans feel this May that matters. I want the Bears fans to feel good about this draft for years to come.