At first blush, this might not seem like much of a need for the Bears. But consider the leaked trade proposal for Jarvis Landry which included Jordan Howard and couple that with the fact that Ryan Pace has drafted 3 running backs in 3 drafts, that tells me a few things.
First off, it tells me that new head coach Matt Nagy might not view Howard as a scheme fit for the offense he will be installing. As far as a runner, I really fail to see the issue with Howard but when you watch the Chiefs offense, they use the running back as a receiver a lot as well. If only we could clone a 22 year old number 22...but I digress.
The next part, which is probably more important and substantial is the fact that Pace has drafted a running back each year he has been the general manager of the Bears. That means that not only does he not value the position as one to spend money on but given the picks used on them—Langford was a 4th, Howard was a 5th, and Cohen was a 4th round pick—he doesn’t value it as a place to spend heavy draft capital either.
Coupled with the fact that this draft is pretty loaded at running back, and you have a recipe for another mid-to-late round draft pick. This means that you can probably automatically dismiss Saquon Barkley, Sony Michel, and Darrius Guice from your list. So we will focus again on the methodology* that was used in the previous article.
*Methodology: Height, 40-time, vertical jump, broad jump, and 3-cone drill were all used to find the Bears “type.” Since Ryan Pace has only been a general manager for 3 seasons and Matt Nagy is entering his first season as a head coach, I have used the last 10 years of Andy Reid’s draft data along with Pace’s 3 drafts to set a baseline.
Here are the Pace/Reid-picked running back’s combine numbers from the past 10 years:
Obviously there are some differences here but when I looked for a baseline, I defaulted to the Reid picks. It is pretty clear here that Reid values lateral movement and a lower center of gravity than Pace does. That made this a little tougher but I tried to focus on that aspect as well as catching ability when I watched these players. Here are the draft prospects that fit the bill:
The first thing I said to myself when I saw this was, “who the heck is Chase Edmunds and where on Earth is Fordham?” Tape of him was not easy to find but (spoiler alert), he absolutely made it into my sleeper article.
In addition to the raw numbers and film study, there is one more aspect that goes into an article like this for me: value. Thanks to Josh Sunderbruch, we have this lovely confidence board to work off of. So while I might really like a player, I might feel that his value doesn’t match his confidence board position.
Now that you understand my methodology, let’s look at some prospects!
Nick Chubb - Georgia
Of the prospects that fit da “Bears box,” Chubb is the cream of the crop. The thing that I found interesting when watching him is how similar he is to Howard. The difference being that Chubb is faster, quicker (more sudden), more violent, and has natural hands. He is also a really solid blocker for a collegiate back. If the Bears want to (gasp) replace Howard with an upgrade of a similar type of player, this is the guy.
One of the first things that stands out when you watch Chubb, besides how violent he is, is his vision. Make no mistake, Howard gets the yards he does because of vision first and foremost. He simply isn’t athletic enough to do it any other way. Chubb has very similar vision and feet behind the line-of-scrimmage.
Here you see the feet and vision again. He doesn’t jump or cut in the backfield but you see patience and the ability to bounce it off-tackle immediately. Did I mention he was violent?
More of that vision and feet. He ends up bumping into his guard—who got pushed into the backfield—but he slides off of that and hits the hole hard. There is definitely some anger when he runs...are you sure I mentioned that he was violent already?
This is the part of his game that separates him from Howard though. He simply has more tackle breaking ability, speed, and agility to break huge gains. That first cut he makes in the open field, I am not sure that Howard can do that. The second run was just true grit. Chubb can play for me any day.
Moderate (45 which is the early part of the 2nd round. He will most likely go in the second round but there is definitely a chance that he slips to the 3rd because of the depth in this class and if he does, package those 4th rounders and move up!)
Kalen Ballage - Arizona State
Another darling of the Senior Bowl, Ballage was a guy that some have dubbed as having an Alvin Kamara like impact as a rookie. While there certainly is a lot to like about Ballage, I don’t think I would go that far. There are some holes in his game and he almost made it onto my overrated players list. But while watching his tape again, I decided that I would spare him that embarrassment because he is a really good prospect.
Here are a couple of plays right off the bat that really bothered me. The first is dropping a swing pass, which wasn’t perfect but something that rears its ugly head on his film. The second is a complete whiff of a blitzer in pass protection. The blitz pickup is definitely a problem, as it is with many young running backs.
He might drop a ball here or there but then he makes a tough catch like this, shows off his real tools, and you re-think your evaluation. The thing about Ballage that everyone loves are the tools. He has good balance, speed, agility, power, but the big thing are his feet. Just watch his feet and nothing else on this play, and it almost looks like it was choreographed by Charlie Chaplin.
Speaking of footwork...this is simply excellent. His ability to adjust his speed, bend, direction, and lateral movements all within a few simple steps is uncanny. While Kamara might be a slightly more straight-ahead runner, I liken his feet to somewhere between Le’Veon Bell and Kamara. Granted, he is a much less refined prospect than those two were coming out of college, especially Bell.
When Ballage puts his foot in the ground and goes, he is a very effective runner, as you see below. The one criticism that I have of his is that he tends to bounce plays outside, and when he does, they are almost never successful. I think that Ballage would be a much better fit in a zone blocking scheme, which might make him a better pro than collegiate player.
Moderate to High (126 which is the end of the 4th round. This seems to be about where everyone has him going. Because of his upside and unrealized potential, the potential for this pick is really high. Since he is likely to be selected where experts perceive his value, I am tempering that a bit a calling it moderate to high)
Royce Freeman - Oregon
This might just be the perfect fit for the Bears. Beginning his career at Oregon under new Bears offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich, Freeman has the ideal combination of size, speed, elusiveness, and ability as a receiver. Unlike previous Oregon running backs, sans LeGarrette Blount, Freeman has an ideal NFL body as well. He could very well be the Bears version of Kareem Hunt.
I think it is important to find a well-rounded running back for this offense, even if they are a player that is going to split time initially. Here you see Freeman in pass protection as well as lead-blocking on a jet sweep. This is the type unselfish play that fires up your teammates and will have Kyle Long giving you a head butt.
The buzz word for this article so far has been “feet.” Here is another player that has good feet. He sees the linebacker shooting the gap and immediately jukes right, then back left and bursts through the opening. One of the bigger criticisms I have though is he doesn’t have the best vision. Part of that could be having a freshman quarterback and facing some stacked boxes though. This is another player that might look better as a pro.
Freeman is a “lather” guy and by that I mean that he runs harder later in the game than at the beginning. It’s almost like he gains 15 lbs of muscle at halftime. The thing that drives me nuts is that he often stops churning his legs and becomes a “weak” runner. It is obvious that he can do it when you watch him run through contact and continue to move his legs. Some untapped potential in the power department.
While Freeman doesn’t have elite speed, his is certainly prone to hitting big runs. This is definitely a player that while, not necessarily an upgrade over Howard, would likely be a better fit. Give up a little bit of power and vision for a little more speed, agility, and pass catching ability.
Moderate to High (115 which is the middle of the 4th round. I have seen him projected a little higher than this but if he were to fall to the second of the Bears two 4th rounders, I would consider that a huge win)
Nyheim Hines - North Carolina State
This is my personal favorite on this list. It could be that he is short, or perhaps it’s the top-end speed, or his elusiveness, or maybe even just because he is a really good football player. I honestly didn’t have much in the way of expectations when I first saw Hines, but he he got my attention. I am not sure that he is a perfect fit as a workhorse back but in a rotation with Howard, they could be a perfect pairing.
The first thing that stands out to you is the fact that he is only 5’8” but the next thing that stands out is that he really doesn’t play that way. I could have put 10 examples of him stonewalling blitzers from this game alone. It was very impressive. Hines also weighs 200 lbs and has tree trunks for legs, so it’s not like we are talking about a thin, light player here.
Even though this ends up being a positive play, my biggest criticism of Hines is that far too often, he is forced to bounce it outside. While he might have some juice when it comes to blocking, he doesn’t offer much in the way of breaking tackles. My guess is part of it boils down to the offensive line not being particularly great but I would be curious to see him behind an NFL offensive line.
The first play is an incompletion, and if he was 6’2”, he might have had a chance to catch it, but the route is the thing to look at. Out of the slot, he runs sort of an out-and-up and abuses the linebacker trying to cover him. The swing pass in the second play is just plain fun. This is what Hines is all about. Give him a little bit of space, wind him up, and watch him go!
The former track star has elite running back speed at 4.38 seconds in the 40-yard dash. If he hits a seam, he is gone and very few players, even at the NFL level, are going to catch him. His burst and elusiveness in the open field is pretty special. The fact that he is as compactly built means he has a real shot at sticking as a starter in the NFL, but I like him best as part of a two-headed monster.
Potentially Very High (150+ which is the end of the 5th round or later. There isn’t a ton of buzz around Hines because of his size and all-or-nothing film. If the Bears do hang on to Howard and want a backfield companion, this could be great value here)
As I said, this class is loaded at running back. I skipped over who most believe to be the best in the draft and there are still a number of really interesting options left in the middle rounds. Just as I believe that the Bears won’t attack the wide receiver position until the 4th round, I believe the same about the running back position. Honestly, I would be surprised if it wasn’t a 5th or 6th rounder.
Without a true backup running back on the team, the Bears will likely address this position with a mid-to-late round pick. With the value that this class brings however, that might not necessarily be a bad thing.