The Bears Running Back situation looks rock solid. You have one of the very best Running backs in the league, one of the best swiss army knife backs in the league, and you may actually cut another valuable back who had a good season in 2017 and contributes to special teams at an elite level, because you have a couple of guys below him who are intriguing themselves. You may also have one of the best Fullbacks in the league who may get beat out by someone who was undrafted but is so talented that you can’t chance cutting him and trying to move him on your practice squad because he’ll surely get scooped up on the waiver wire.
With all the concentration on the Bears shinny new passing weapons and the possible progression of franchise Quarterback Mitch Trubisky, the running game has been almost completely ignored by fans and the media. However, make no mistake, the running game will play a major role in the ascension of this offense if it does get to the top of the league. As a matter of fact, it will be the very base on which it’s built on and a huge key to the success of the RPO plays they’ll run. Something I wrote about back in May.
Locks to make the team: Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen
No big surprise that anyone would put these two as locks to make the team. This tandem has a real chance to be the most productive Running Back duo in all of football. Making that possible will largely depend on how Howard catches the ball. By now his 18.8% drop rate is well known amongst media and fans and seems to be proof of everyone’s absolute evaluation of Howard’s catching ability. I am not one of the many who believe Howard is an absolute stone hands receiver.
His biggest issue appears to be simple concentration. Also, ball placement on the Quarterbacks part has betrayed him on some of his drops that would have been tough catches to make. So his Quarterbacks haven’t done him any favors. Howard is a better athlete than most people think but he’s still not someone who’s going to make acrobatic Ariel’s and come down with off target throws consistently. For the most part, if you lay a reasonably catchable ball in his hands it’s going to go for a reception. So far in camp it appears to be something he’s overcome and will be drastically improved on.
As for Cohen receiving is an obvious strength of his. His route running is every bit as good as any slot receiver in the league and he’s only a sophomore in the NFL. His hands are sticky and strong thanks to his huge 10 plus inch hands and his athleticism is of the charts. Oh and his football IQ scores at a high level as well. He is fast and explosive with tons of twitch to break ankles. Cohen will draw a ton of attention from opposing defenses. This will open things up for everyone and anyone on any down in any situation. The fact is, if you have Cohen on the field he will have to receive big time attention or you can probably put up a 6 on the scoreboard for the Chicago Bears.
The biggest question will be if he can hold up as a blocker to help the Bears not be predictable when he’s there. If they do leave Cohen in to block will teams load up the box and blitz forcing a one on one with Cohen? If he is tasked to block a Linebacker speeding up the A gap full speed at 240 plus will Cohen be able to offer enough resistance to keep his Quarterback clean to et the pass off? Cohen has added bulk to his frame so time will tell if he can be trusted in pass pro as a blocker.
Bubble players competing for the final spot(s) on the 53 man roster: Benny Cunningham, Ryan Nall
At this point I have to believe Cunningham will be on the final 53 man roster. He is a multi-phase special teamed and a very competent Nickle down Running back who can run, catch or block on passing downs. He had a pretty good year last year and is a leader on this team. Will he make a pro bowl or even be a huge playmaker off the bench for the Bears? No, of course not, but he will grind for you in games and in practices and be a guiding light for the younger pups on this team of how to conduct themselves on and off the field. As the 3rd Running Back on the team that’s all you want and really need.
Nall just might be the most intriguing undrafted player in camp this season. He has the size (6’2″ 233) to carry the load as a featured back should something unfortunate befall Howard health wise number one. Number two, he has a little elusiveness to his game. He scored well on his pre-draft metric and has a very solid RAS (relative athletic score) of 8.72 and was among the most elusive backs per Pro Football Focus metrics throughout his college career and was the most elusive in 2016 according to PFF. He’s also very good in the passing game. As a matter of act, there were reports pre-draft the Bears were looking at Nall as a possible move TE convert and low and behold they signed him. My suspicions is they will give him a spot as their H-back will impact another position and player I’ll discuss in the next section. Of course he’ll have to show he can handle the blocking duties and assume a role on special teams first.
Dark horse candidates and parties squad possibilities: Michael Burton, Taquan Mizzell
Both of these players in my opinion are long shots to make the team. The first guy I’ll discuss Fullback Burton, plays a position seldom used in the NFL and that includes Matt Nagy‘s offense. Also, as I mentioned earlier Nall is well liked by the Bears and chose the Bears to sign with because they told him something he liked. My opinion is he’ll play a valuable role as the Bears H-back which will do a lot of the blocking duties Burton’s position would otherwise be talked with along with the extra bonus of being a very dangerous threat out of that spot as a pass catcher and I believe that makes Burton expendable. If retained he is one of the best blocking backs in the entire NFL.
Mizzell’s chance to make the team is diminished by his limitations to how he can contribute to the team. On special teams he’s really only valuable on returns and the Bears are well positioned there on punt returners and kickoffs are essentially being phased out and more times than not don’t even produce a return these days. At 5’10” 190 there is no way he can ever assume a role as a featured back or as a blocker in blitz protection. His value is as an explosive gadget player on third downs and that role will be played by Cohen and Cunningham will have a decent amount of snaps on third down as well.
Up next: Tight Ends