This year’s Running Back draft classes sweet spot appears to start from the third round down. That’s good news for the Bears as they don’t have a pick until the late third and have a need at the Running Back position.
Well, it’s more of an opportunity for an upgrade rather than a need really. If they went into the season with what they have currently it wouldn’t necessarily be a weakness. However, they won’t have the dynamic big play factor as often as they’d like as Tarik Cohen‘s diminutive size limits his snaps as a Running Back. Jordan Howard isn’t going to put fear in the hearts of defenses with his big play ability as he’s more of a banger than a home run threat.
The one thing this draft class does bring is that dynamic quick twitch athlete at the Running Back position. There aren’t too many bell cows, however. Fortunately, for the Bears their offense doesn’t feature one. Matt Nagy prefers to use a Running Back by committee to keep his backs fresh and play the situational/matchup game. There will be plenty of backs that fit Nagy’s profile of what he wants in a Running Back as You’ll see from the list I’ll be featuring in this blog.
Darrell Henderson – Memphis: When it comes to rankings like these it’s sometimes in the eye of the evaluator. Case in point Henderson. Looking at rankings while researching this piece and another one I did earlier just last week he’s all over the place. Some have him ranked as high as the 3rd best back and others have him 15th. This entire draft class is like that at the Running Back position.
The consensus is there are no slam dunk 1st rounders. As a matter of fact, I’m predicting the first back off the board Comes in the early 2nd round. At least I would not target one in the 1st. One or both of the twin Alabama backs might sneak into the first however. The biggest reason for this is there Doesn’t appear to be immediate day one 3-down starters. Of course, this has been said before in previous drafts and than all of a sudden some obscure UDFA like Phillip Lindsay disproves that notion.
Henderson looks like he’ll be a part of a Running Back by committee Corp mainly due to a smaller frame at 5’9″ 200 lbs though he is compactly built. This, of course is academic for the Bears and most teams in the NFL as they prefer to use a committee type rotation anyway. So a draft like this lines up perfectly for the Bears as their need areas appear to line up with positional strength in the day 2 to mid round area. Another great job of forecasting by Bears General Manager Ryan Pace. With cap space limited and a generational player at arguably the 2nd biggest impact position on an NFL roster in Khalil Mack available last year, it was a great year to trade away your high picks for one of the best players in the NFL.
Henderson is a dynamic runner with a ton of juice. His change of direction is elite and he will embarrass even the top defensive athletes with dizzying moves. Not elite speed but more than enough to rip off big play after big play. Henderson might be the back that profiles perfectly to what Nagy is looking to add to his current stable of Running Backs. As a matter of fact, he’s probably the player who closest resembles Kareem Hunt. Has to show he can run a pro route tree first, however.
His two biggest flaws may be in pass pro and perhaps a lack of power in short yardage situations. Two areas that can easily be improved upon with elite coaching and an NFL strength training program. He can also improve his skill as a pass catcher. Mostly in his route running so you can split him out wide or in the slot to take advantage of matchups. He was not really used in this capacity in Memphis’ offense but showed elite skill in the open field on screens and as a checkdown option.
Another plus with Henderson is that he has shown he doesn’t need to be a volume snaps back to produce. He also has low miles coming into the league with plenty of tread on the tires. Insanely high production with limited touches. Only 431 carries and 63 receptions in his 3-year career at Memphis. Had 3,545 yards rushing with a ridiculous 8.2 yard average including 1,909 yards on just 215 carries for an 8.9 yards per carry average. Of his 36 career receptions he’s accumulated 758 yards for a 12.0 yard average including 295 this season on only 22 receptions for a 15.5 yard average. Eight of his career 36 catches have gone for touchdowns. Out of 494 touches 44 have resulted in 6 points. He’s probably my favorite fit for the Bears.
Myles Gaskin – Washington: Unlike possibly Henderson, Gaskin figures to be there when the Bears first pick comes up. Like Henderson, his round value is across the board by all the draftniks. I’ve seen him as high as 5th on someone’s board to as low as 20.
By my eyes I see a late third rounder at best. Think he’s more of an early day 3 pick myself but he may not last until the 4th round slot where the Bears will be picking. Especially after all the compensatory picks are determined. That’s going to knock the Bears even further back and miss out on the opportunity to get some guys they have on their board.
Gaskin should be there when the Bears pick in the third. The biggest pro for Gaskin is kind of his biggest con and that’s him being the work horse bell cow back since day one. Gaskin was a 4 year starter putting up consistent and productive numbers. That shows in Spite of his size (5’9″ 190 lbs.) he’s capable of being a high volume snap Running Back. The bad part about that is his high volume workload. You wonder how much tread was used up. Especially given he’s a smaller back.
He’s a smart player who shows he has the ability to be a quick study and an award payer on the field which should help him when there are audibles and with the RPO scheme the Bears run. He’s also a tough player that will have no issues with the inside zone scheme. He’ll also flourish in the outside zone or the stretch the Bears run a ton of.
Has a little shiftiness as one would expect from a smaller back but not at the same level as say a Tarik Cohen. He wasn’t a big part of the passing game with just 65 receptions in 4 full seasons. So its hard to project what he can do catching the ball at the next level but nothing on tape shows he can’t be dangerous out of the backfield.
Gaskin was a very productive player at Washington as I’ve mentioned and it happened right out of high school. As a freshman he touted the rock 227 times for over 1,300 yards and a 5.7 yard average. His best year was his Junior season where he had 222 carries for 1,380 yards and a 6.2 average. Also caught 19 passes for 232 yards for a 12.2 average and 3 TD’s. He had a total of 62 TDs in his career (57 rushing) so he has a nose for crossing the goal line. Finished his career with a whopping 1,010 touches 945 of which were carries.
Dexter Williams – Notre Dame: Williams is a player Pace should have deep knowledge of as he travels to South Bend at times during the season to take a look at the talent playing that day. Williams is another back that has an ambiguous scouting report amongst the draft media community. Some love him some don’t. I really like him myself. I disagree with a lot of the Knocks on him. I see him being able to run for power. He’s got a sturdy frame and doesn’t look afraid of contact. Think he’ll learn that aspect of his game as his career moves along.
I also doubt that he doesn’t have long speed. When I watch his highlights all I see is him running away from people. I also see him consistently getting the corner for big runs and see him with plenty of burst through the A-gaps for big runs.
I feel he’s going to be a better pro than a collegiate. One of his appeals is his low usage. Sure, it brings some unknown as there isn’t a big sample size to lean on, but you do get fresh legs and a block of clay to mold. I see a 3-down back in Williams. He wasn’t used a lot as a pass catcher but I see potential in that area. Although he’s not an overly accomplished blocker but he definitely has the frame to excel in pass pro and seems to have the willingness to engage.
He’s produced at a high rate with minimal opportunity. In 4 seasons at Notre Dame he’s had only 279 touches for 1,798 yards from scrimmage for a 6.4 yard average with 22 TD’s, 2 through the air. In my opinion his private workouts will be huge for his draft position. If he shows he can pickup things quickly and can contribute in the passing game he could go just before day 2 ends.
Devin Singletary- Florida Atlantic: Singletary is an interesting prospect. He’ll likely get over-drafted even though he looks like he’ll only be a change of pace back due to his size. However, he has a chance to be a special change of pace option in the mold of a Darren Sproles.
Singletary has a suddeness in his movements which allow him to change direction quickly and in tight quarters. Not elite long speed however. Can be run down but he does rip off a lot of explosive runs. Runs with Good pad level and can break some tackles by getting low and using a spin move to break free.
Runs with patience waiting for his blockers to open up holes. Once a hole develops he’s quick to hit it hard with good burst. He can also get skinny in the hole and fit through tight spots. Looks like a natural fit for both and inside and stretch outside zone scheme similar to what the Bears run.
There are questions about how well he’ll fit in a pro passing offense. Not a good profile for a change of pace back as they’re typically used on Nickel downs. Passing downs. In pass pro he is ineffective. Not due to willingness to engage. He just simply gets overpowered. As for his receiving abilities he shows potential there. Generally used as an outlet receiver on checkdowns he doesn’t have a lot of experience with a pro route tree, so there is some development to be done.
Another reason I personally wouldn’t draft Singletary until the mid rounds aside from the fact he projects as a PT back is the mileage he accumulated. In three seasons he’s gotten 765 touches 714 of which were via handoff. He has been ultra productive though. Sure, it has been at a small school level but he dominated there. Of those 765 touches he’s amassed 4,685 total yards from scrimmage averaging 6.1 yards per play and getting 67 TDs. Most of those were via the run. Had a monster sophomore season carrying the rock a whopping 301 times for 1,918 yards with a 6.4 average and a mind numbing 32 scores.
Justice Hill – Oklahoma State: Full disclosure, Hill is my Running Back Draft crush. This doesn’t mean he is or will be the best prospect in this draft. He probably isn’t &/or won’t be but he’s the guy I like watching the most. It will be hard to not gush when talking about Hill but I’m going to be as impartial and realistic as possible.
When considering the entertainment factor Hill is the one player in this draft that probably delivers the biggest Ooo’s and aah’s. Hill delivers an array of dizzying moves and cuts in his repertoire. Probably more so than any other back in this draft. He should excel in a system like the Bears, however, given that his skill set resembles that of Cohen, his snaps may be limited.
Like so many of these Running Backs in this draft he wasn’t really used in the passing game as a weapon even though it appears he would be an amazing option. With his footwork and quick-twitch it would appear he’d be a natural route runner. This aspect of his game is in question but the projection of what he could possibly be is exciting.
There are some cons to his game however. Probably the biggest is his size. At 5’10” 190lbs he doesn’t project as someone who can carry the load and will have to have his workload kept to a minimum to keep him off of injury reports and out of the tub. This also hurts him in pass pro. However, he’s better at it than you’d expect. He competes hard in this area which should serve him well in developing this part of his game at the next level.
Hill is elusive to say the least. A nightmare to square up in the open field. He has great vision and burst. Once he sees a hole it doesn’t take him long to zip through the line of scrimmage and into the second level of the defense where he does most of his damage. Has all the moves. Jab and stutter steps, shoulder shimmys, and spin moves. His ability to cut in stride is astounding. Once the ball is in his hands prepare to be amazed.
Although he wasn’t featured as a pass catcher out of the backfield in college don’t expect that to be the case at the pro level. The key is to do everything you can to get him in open space and what better way to do that than out on routes with linebackers trying to cover him? This skill set also makes him a natural as a kickoff returner. An area of the team that can use a big upgrade for the Bears.
Of course a talented kid like Hill produced in college but what makes it more impressive is his doing it in the SEC which is loaded with future pro prospects on defense.
Bryce Love – Stanford: Speed, speed and more speed is what Love’s game is all about. When watching a highlight video of this kid you’ll see it too. When Love mashes on the gas he leaves defenders behind in his dust. It’s truly a sight to behold. With a homerun hitter like him in the Bears backfield that RPO game would have more legs under it.
Love looks like he made a mistake in staying in school. If he came out last year after having a monster junior season he would possibly have been a first rounder. However, it shows the character of this kid and that’s why it would not surprise me if he got picked in the second round in spite of all the draft media predicting 3rd rd. And even high day 3.
Love wasn’t used as much as a receiver as you’d expect a David Shaw run pro style offense to do which raises some doubt over his usage potential out of the backfield. However, he did show potential to be dangerous as a pass catcher his freshman season where he caught 15 passes for 250 yards for a 16.7 yard average and a score. Obviously, getting him into space would be ideal.
As a runner he’s had mixed results. Rarely used as a freshman with just 56 carries and a standard sophomore campaign he did have a spectacular junior season as previously mentioned where he ran for 2,119 yards for an 8.1 average and 19 TDs. Injuries slowed his production up significantly his senior season which might contribute to a plummeting draft stock for Love.
Miles Sanders – Penn State: Sanders is probably my second favorite back to watch in this draft class. Extremely shifty and dynamic especially in the open field. Once he gets to the second level it’s a show that’s a feast to the eyes. Can make sharp sudden cuts on a dime with minimal speed lost. Seems to have eyes in the back of his head. Spectacular jump cuts even when a would be tackler closes on him from behind.
He also shows the ability to run away from defenders and explode into the open field and take many of his carries for a homerun once he gets past the second level. He’s extremely stout and thick especially in his lower half but isn’t really a power runner although you would expect him to be able to drop his shoulder and get some extra yardage with leg churn should he want to.
He also was used a lot in the passing game running a variety of routes out of the backfield and out of the slot as well. So he fits the mold of a Nagy type running back. He also has the body type to be a load back if needed.
His production was stunted by being a backup to Sequon Barkley which means lower miles which is another appealing aspect to his draft stock. Had a fairly productive 2018 season where he gained 1,274 yards on 220 carries for a 5.6 yard average and 9 TDs.
Elijah Holifield – Georgia: Holifield is yet another twitched up back in this draft class who profiles well in Nagy’s system. Has excellent acceleration when he plants and goes. Shows good vision with enough patience to allow blocks to develop in front of him. He also shows the speed to hit the edge with outstanding short area burst. He has enough long speed to run away from most defenders and can hit the occasional homerun but not sprinter speed.
Holifield has a lot of moves that he strings together very well. Possess’ an excellent jump cut he uses to evade would be tacklers in the open field trying to square him up.
He also shows a ferocity in his running style as he does not shut away from contact. Shows the ability to consistently lower his shoulder pre-contact and drag defenders for extra yardage. Especially when in short yardage and goal line situations.
Holifield shows off a soft pair of hands when receiving the ball and should be a factor as a pass catcher out of the backfield. His ability to plant and cut sharply should serve him well as a route runner.
Another appeal is Holifields low usage. While at Georgia he sat behind two high picks in last year’s draft in Sony Michell and Nick Chubb. Even this year he had only 215 carries for 1,018 yards a 6.4 average and 7 TDs. H olifield should be a more productive pro if his usage ratchets up.