One reason the Bears’ offense was at its best in 2018 was because of how Matt Nagy used running backs Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen.
It was the thunder-and-lightning tandem that let Nagy feature Cohen in a multi-purpose role, while also allowing Howard to the dirty work with the nitty gritty yards. When Nagy went away from this formula, the offense stumbled. But I’ll never forget how the Bears gave Howard 88 carries, which he turned into 399 rushing yards and four touchdowns after Week 13. When extrapolated over 16 games, that’s a 282-carry, 1,277-yard, 13-touchdown season. I think David Montgomery can have such a season, but not without getting some time to breathe every now and again.
And that’s why adding Damien Williams intrigues me. Signing Williams frees up opportunities to use Montgomery and Cohen to the best of their abilities. We can dig into that more down the line. But for now, let’s meet the Bears’ newest rusher.
Player, Age (in 2021), Position
Damien Williams, 29, running back
Nickname: Playoff Damien
Fun fact: Williams had 100-yard rushing games in his first and last playoff games while with the Chiefs. He racked up 129 yards on 25 carries against the Colts on Jan. 12, 2019, then collected 104 yards on 17 rushes in KC’s Super Bowl win. Williams scored 10 touchdowns in 5 playoff games over two years. I suppose that’s how one earns the nickname Playoff Damien. Here’s to seeing Playoff Damien next winter.
Contract: 1 year, $1.5 million ($1M fully guaranteed; $1.125M cap charge)
Contract details via OverTheCap.com
5-11, 224 pounds
2020 stats: Did not play after opting out of the season due to concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic. Williams would go on to reveal he opted out because his mother had been diagnosed with cancer:
Career stats: 85 games (13 starts), 294 carries, 1,231 rushing yards (4.2 y/a), 12 touchdowns; 138 catches, 1,106 receiving yards, 10 touchdowns.
PFF grades: 65.7 (2019), 79.2 (2018), 64.3 (2017), 76.4 (2016), 64.8 (2015), 81.1 (2014)
Williams has a history with Bill Lazor, playing for the Bears’ OC when he served in that capacity for the Dolphins in 2014 and 2015. Additionally, Williams has familiarity with the offense Matt Nagy wants to run, having played with the Chiefs in 2018 and 2019. But Williams’ fit goes beyond having a prior relationship with Lazor or knowing what Nagy’s scheme is supposed to look like when properly run.
Chicago’s lack of backfield depth was on display throughout the 2020 season. David Montgomery’s training camp groin injury was our first exposure to the problem. Tarik Cohen suffering a season-ending ACL injury while returning punts was another data point. Needing to call up Lamar Miller from the practice squad when Montgomery was unavailable provided another reminder that depth was lacking. Ultimately, Montgomery ran for more than 1,000 yards and looked strong down the stretch. But it would be unfair to put another large load on his shoulders in 2021. And that’s where Williams comes into play.
I’ll come short of suggesting the Bears will roll with a running back by committee this season. However, Williams is a solid change-of-pace option. Williams can slot in between Montgomery and Cohen. Should Montgomery miss any time, Williams can enter the fray without fearing a tremendous drop-off. And having that option should allow for Cohen to be utilized in different facets of the offense. This might not seem like a big deal. But as we learned last year, depth matters — especially at a position that takes as many hits as running backs do.