We figured change was coming to the Bears’ backfield when we posted our offseason outlook on the position back in February, but we didn’t know exactly how things would shake out, because there were so many paths forward.
But now that Chicago has traded Jordan Howard, the road is clear for the team to properly round out the group of running backs. The only thing left to answer is which player(s) are on the radar. Let’s discuss what the Bears have and who could be on the radar now that running back is more of a need than a luxury.
WHO’S ON THE ROSTER
We often listed Howard and Tarik Cohen as starters last year, so it’s possible that Cohen and Mike Davis can split those duties this season.
Davis is similar to Howard’s in that they both operate well between the tackles and can truck through weak-armed tackle attempts because of their punishing style. Howard is a more polished and proven rusher, but Davis is a better pass-catcher and has considerably less wear-and-tear on his body because he was a reserve in Seattle and San Francisco. But just because a player was a reserve for Team A doesn’t mean he is destined to be in that role forever. NFL history is littered with examples of players who were in backup roles early in their careers who went on to play well when given a bigger piece of the opportunity pie elsewhere. Without any additional high-profile moves, that’s gotta be what the Bears are banking on with Davis.
As for the in-house depth at the position, Taquan Mizzell Sr. is still under contract as is 2018 undrafted free agent signing Ryan Nall. Those two could be dueling for a spot as the No. 4 back in the rotation when training camp rolls around.
AVAILABLE FREE AGENTS
Here are four free agents who could be of interest to the Bears:
- Benny Cunningham, Bears
- De’Anthony Thomas, Chiefs
- Spencer Ware, Chiefs
- T.J. Yeldon, Jaguars
The Bears aren’t likely to invest much of what’s left in their free agent budget on a running back, but that’s fine because the type of player they are probably targeting now is someone who can play special teams snaps while sitting at No. 3 on the positional depth chart. Cunningham, Thomas, and Ware each have noteworthy special teams experience, which is important because RB3 needs to be a core player in that phase of the game. Yeldon has no special teams experience in his four-year NFL career, but his pass-catching proficiency and ability to make plays as a receiver out of the backfield are too good to be ignored.
The Bears have been connected to the following backs during mock-draft season and through the pre-draft rumor mill:
- Ryquell Armstead, Temple
- Damien Harris, Alabama
- Darrell Henderson, Memphis
- Bryce Love, Stanford
- David Montgomery, Iowa State
- Tony Pollard, Memphis
- Miles Sanders, Penn State
- Devin Singletary, Florida Atlantic
- Benny Snell Jr., Kentucky
- Mike Weber, Ohio State
- Trayveon Williams, Mississippi State
Most of these players fall into a range where the Bears will be in a position to make a move and draft them if they so choose, which is one of the reasons why the team made Howard expendable. They received three productive years from a fifth-round pick and are positioned to move on and find their next long-term solution in the draft again. There is no shortage of mid-to-late round diamond-in-the-rough type running backs who have gone on to shine in the NFL. Chicago had two such players in its backfield last season.
ALTERNATIVE RUSHING OPTIONS
The following non-running backs carried the ball in 2018:
- Cordarrelle Patterson (42 rushes, 228 yards)
- Taylor Gabriel (9 rushes, 61 yards)
- Anthony Miller (6 rushes, 26 yards)
- Marvin Hall (2 rushes, 0 yards)
- Allen Robinson (1 rush, 9 yards)
- Trey Burton (1 rush, 2 yards)
- Akiem Hicks (1 rush, 1 yard)
And that doesn’t even include quarterback Mitch Trubisky, who carried the rock 68 times for 421 yards to become a threat in this area.
Let’s face it, the rushing attack is in transition across the league. Teams are moving away from traditional high-volume, load-carrying backs who thrive when given a ton of touches and gravitating toward spreading the wealth among a variety of ball-carriers. Whether it’s by design in an attempt to keep opponents on their toes and guessing or because the battle of attrition can easily be lost at the running back position, so attacking with waves of depth is necessary, just know that how the run game is being used is evolving.
I don’t think Bears Head Coach Matt Nagy was lying when he said Jordan Howard had a role in the team’s offense. But I *do* believe he was telling us more with what he wasn’t saying about the future of the ground game. The Bears offense is going to have a different looking dynamic when it comes to rushing the ball next season, with a variety of pieces that give the team an assortment of looks and options. Only time will tell how well it works. I suppose we’ll get our answers once the team fills the vacancy left behind by Howard’s departure.