I realize that the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is known more for producing basketball stars than gridiron greats. And I also recognize that the last football player the Chicago Bears chose from UNC left a sour taste in the mouths of many. But under the guidance of Mack Brown, the Tar Heels have seen a football renaissance — especially on the offensive side of the ball.
All of that to say, I’m greatly intrigued by this news:
Teams who sent their RBs coach to UNC for Javonte Williams and Michael Carter's pro day: Cardinals, Panthers, Bears, Jaguars, Cowboys, Broncos, Lions, Dolphins, Saints, Eagles and Steelers
— Jonathan Jones (@jjones9) March 29, 2021
CBS NFL reporter Jonathan Jones reports the Bears were among the teams with running backs coaches in attendance at North Carolina’s Pro Day. And in case you missed it, Chicago hired Michael Pitre to be the team’s new RBs Coach earlier in the offseason. So to have a new set of eyes on a pair of top running back prospects is as interesting as it is important when it comes to the pre-Draft process. As for the prospects Pitre had his eyes on, they’re intriguing in their own right.
Javonte Williams is Daniel Jeremiah’s 26th overall prospect in this draft class. Williams runs hard and with power, making him a load to bring down. A well-rounded back, Williams gained 1,140 rushing yards and scored 19 touchdowns on 157 carries, while adding 25 catches, 305 receiving yards, and three more scores. It’s the all-around excellence for me.
Michael Carter, at 5-8 and 199 pounds, is a smaller and shiftier back. But also … he was equally productive. Carter averaged 8.0 yards per carry as he racked up 1,245 yards on 156 carries. He also added 267 receiving yards on 25 catches. Carter found the end zone 11 times (9 rushing, 2 receiving), which really brings it all together. Overall, Carter has back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons under his belt and shouldn’t be overlooked in this running backs draft class.
All this to say that, on the surface, it might not make much sense to have an interest in Carolina’s running backs. David Montgomery has two years remaining on his rookie deal. Damien Williams just signed as a free agent. Artavis Pierce and Ryan Nall appear poised to duke it out for RB3 duties. And yet, a few things come to mind that would make sense of Chicago’s perceived interest.
For starters, teams can’t have enough RB depth. It’s the skill position that sees the most turnover because it puts so much wear-and-tear on the body. Secondly, we’re coming off a season where injuries exposed the Bears’ lack of backfield depth. Needing to pull Lamar Miller off the practice squad for his first action since 2018 in the middle of a playoff race was less than ideal. And finally, GM Ryan Pace’s track record suggests he values drafting running back depth in the middle or late rounds. It was Jeremy Langford (Round 4) in 2015 and Jordan Howard (Round 5) a year later. Tarik Cohen (Round 4) was drafted in 2017, with Howard and Langford already on the roster. David Montgomery (Round 3) and Kerrith Whyte Jr. (Round 7) were 2019 picks.
So, in other words, don’t count out drafting a back despite already having bodies in the backfield.
The Bears could value depth that comes with immense upside. And I suppose that’s where Williams and Carter come into play.