For fans of the Chicago Bears, the 2011 NFL Draft offers an opportunity to build on some of the hope that team generated with its surprisingly good, though ultimately disappointing, 2010-11 campaign. Of course, the ongoing NFL lockout has muddied the waters a bit this year. Has interest in the draft waned?
Based on the number of mock drafts going up across the Internet, absolutely not. Most football obsessives seem able to compartmentalize the labor dispute and still enjoy debating and projecting just which player each team will take.
So, in our continuing effort to be helpful in any way that we can, we've compiled a randomly selected compendium of potential Bears first-round (29th overall) picks culled from a variety of mock drafts around the Web. We didn't include the 2011 mock draft picks of Mel Kiper or Todd McShay because they're behind ESPN's pay wall. Nonetheless, leap past the jump and avail yourself of our hard-fought efforts to dig up some over- and under-the-radar choices.
1. Stephen Paea, a defensive tackle from Oregon State University. Our SB Nation Mothership has the Bears pickingPaea, noting he may make a fine replacement for Tommie Harris.
2. Nate Solder, an offensive tackle out of Colorado University. Windy City Gridiron (WCG) cites Solder as a likely target with some question marks but a potential good fit for O-Line coach Mike Tice.
3. Gabe Carimi, an offensive lineman from the University of Wisconsin. He was the winner in WCG's fan vote. Carimiwould reportedly bring a large, physically strong presence to the Bears' O-Line.
4. Jonathan Baldwin, a wide receiver from the University of Pittsburgh. Mike Maycock of NFL.com gives Baldwin the nod for the Bears, saying that, if a trade down doesn't go down, another target for Jay Cutler would come in handy.
5. Marcus Cannon, a guard from Texas Christian University. "Boom-boom" Cannon is the pick of Andre Knott, a writer forWTAM 1000 News Radio out of Cleveland. (Yes, we're digging deep here.) Knott points out the need to get better protection out in front of Cutler. Ain't that the truth.
6. Derek Sherrod, a left tackle out of Mississippi State University. So goes the pick of NFLdraftdog.com, which appears to be affiliated with CBS Sports. Another "protect Cutler!" prediction.
7. Marvin Austin, a defensive tackle from the University of North Carolina. He's the name thrown out by the very nicely formatted draftcountdown.com. The solid paragraph of blurbage accompanying the pick notes that Austin is "... clearly a first round talent but he is a bit of an underachiever with maturity issues and didn't play at all this past season after being kicked off the team for violating NCAA rules." Greaaaaaaat. Still, young athletes have been known to get their respective acts together and, if this one does so, he could turn out to be a steal.
The first round of the 2011 NFL Draft starts tonight at 7 p.m. Central! SB Nation has everything you need to prepare for it -- NFL mock drafts, draft projections, scouting reports, the full NFL draft order and more. Check it all out at SB Nation's NFL Draft Hub and our NFL Draft blog Mocking the Draft. For Bears-specific info, analysis and commentary go to the aforementioned WCG as well as right hee-ya at SB Nation Chicago.