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Chicago Bears 2019 Roster Turnover: Will there be a running back makeover?

In this 13 part series we’ll take an in depth look at each position group for the Chicago Bears with an eye towards the 2019 season. We’ll speculate on who stays, who goes, and some potential additions we’d like to see general manager Ryan Pace make.

NFL: Pro Bowl Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Jordan Howard - Signed through 2019 - I’ve made my personal thoughts on Howard clear in our WCG Offseason Roundtables, but even though I’d like to see him stay, my gut tells me the Chicago Bears will look to move him this offseason. However, with only one year left on his contract, that may lower the potential draft pick return. Ultimately it may be best to let him ride out his contract and have him do what he does best for the Bears in 2019 as they try to get to a Super Bowl.

Howard played 58% of the snaps on offense (624) in 2018, which was up slightly from 2017 when his 578 snaps checked in at 58.4%, but his total touches decreased from 299 a year ago to 270 this season. What Howard “lacks” as a pass catcher, he makes up for with being a skilled pass blocker. Howard may not be a perfect fit, but Nagy found a way to utilize him.

Tarik Cohen - Signed through 2020 - Cohen is the most dangerous playmaker on the Bears. Teams have to game-plan for him when he’s on the field because he’ll line up all over the offense. Check out this passage from the January 3rd New York Times.

Cohen is — O.K., deep breath — the Bears’ handoff-taking, punt-returning, ball-catching, pass-throwing, mismatch-creating, gasp-inducing, highlight-monopolizing cyborg.

Cohen already has several nicknames, but I like that Ric Flair inspired one the best.

Head coach Matt Nagy talked about how disappointing it was in their wild card game that they only got Cohen 4 touches on offense. That can’t happen again. For a little perspective, that was the fewest offensive touches he had in a game all season.

Among Cohen’s 495 offensive snaps, 175 came from somewhere other than the backfield. No other running back had more that that and I’d expect his versatility to grow even more in 2019.

Benny Cunningham - Free agent - Cunningham was a key special teamer, but I don’t think that’s enough to get him another contract for next season.

Taquan Mizzell - Signed through 2019 - Mizzell was an explosive athlete in college, but that hasn’t translated during his Bears’ career. His versatility allows him to play running back and split out as a receiver, but I think the Bears would be wise to find an upgrade as their number three running back.

Ryan Nall - Signed a reserve/future deal - I was surprised that Nall didn’t change positions last offseason as the 6’2”, 232 pounder is about the same size as tight end Trey Burton, and he played some H-Back in college. He’s also not as quick an athlete for the prototypical tailback in this system, but he is a good receiver out of the backfield. I’m interested to see how he’s used this offseason.

Michael Burton - Free agent - The Bears didn’t always have a full back active, it was more on a match-up basis. He only played in 8 games, with 49 snaps on offense and another 50 on special teams. While I’m a proponent of using a fullback, I doubt Burton will be back.

2019 OUTLOOK - One way or another the Bears will add a more versatile running back to the roster in 2019. I’d be completely fine with Howard, Cohen and a new number three that will eventually take over if (when) Howard leaves via free agency after next season. While it’s possible they add a scheme fit guy in free agency, don’t expect that guy to be very expensive like Tevin Coleman.

General manager Ryan Pace has had some success finding quality backs in the later rounds, so don’t be surprised to see him spend a pick on day three. Also don’t rule out an undrafted free agent or two coming to camp. I don’t want to say running backs are a dime a dozen, but these days you can find players that will contribute immediately as rookies.

We’ll get in-depth on some running back draft prospects here at WCG in the coming weeks, so stay tuned.

Also, expect the Bears to thoroughly examine the possibility of signing Kareem Hunt whether we like it or not. They may ultimately decline, but when none of the three key members of the origination shoots down the idea of signing him, you can bet they’ll discuss if his talent is worth the potential PR headache.