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Matchmaker, matchmaker: Analyzing which running backs Bears should target in 2019 NFL Draft

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Last week, I asked you all on Twitter which running back draft prospects you wanted me to break down. This week, I share my analyses.

TaxSlayer Gator Bowl - North Carolina State v Texas A&M
Trayveon Williams is among the running backs in this year’s class who would fit well with the Bears.
Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The 2019 NFL Draft is exactly one week away, and for the Chicago Bears, it will provide the answer to the question that has been on the minds of many all offseason:

What is the Bears’ plan at running back?

They signed Mike Davis and Cordarrelle Patterson—the latter of whom had more of his touches at running back than wide receiver last year—and traded Jordan Howard to the Philadelphia Eagles, but their construction of the position is not yet complete. This year’s running back draft class isn’t deep on top-end talent, but it contains plenty of potential contributors outside of the first two rounds. That bodes well for the Bears, given they don’t pick until the No. 87 overall selection.

Chicago has been linked to dozens of running backs in the draft process, but I wanted to give my thoughts on as may of them as I could. I asked the Twitterverse to send me names of prospects they wanted me to break down, and they did not disappoint. I will be breaking down every single back that popped up in my mentions, so buckle up and prepare yourselves for a whole lot of draft discussion.

If you’re looking for a home-run threat at the running back position, you’ll find no better player than Darrell Henderson.

The Memphis standout has fantastic acceleration and great breakaway speed in the open field, and he runs with impressive lateral quickness. His raw speed allows him to get to the edge as an outside zone runner, and his agility allows him to bounce outside of the tackles as an inside zone runner. This versatility would serve him well in Chicago’s offense, as he could provide them with a player who can excel in both systems. He’s not just a scat back, though, as he’s a solid downhill runner for a smaller back: he runs with good contact balance and is good at identifying holes and squeezing his body through tight running lanes. Though he’s unproven as a receiver and doesn’t offer much as a blocker, his athleticism indicates he could improve as a pass-catcher.

If the Bears intend of drafting a running back in the third round, then an argument could be made that he could end up being their best option.

As far as do-it-all gadget players go in this year’s draft class, there may be no running back who fits the bill more than Tony Pollard.

The Robin to Henderson’s Batman at Memphis, Pollard saw much of his playing time come as a receiver, though he’s a better fit as a running back at the next level. He has impressive lateral agility in space and makes smart cuts with the ball in his hands. He accelerates well out of the backfield and out in the slot, and he is a good route runner who can sink his hips and make sharp cuts to create separation. The former Tiger also has significant value as a special teamer, as he returned seven kicks for touchdowns at Memphis—a mark that is tied for the most in NCAA history.

The issue with Pollard is that he doesn’t project as much more than a gadget player. He doesn’t have the strength, frame or contact balance to be a starter or a key member of a running back committee. He definitely has a future in the NFL, but my guess is the Bears will look for a player who can take on more touches on the ground.

Lighting round!

Texas A&M’s Trayveon Williams is a well-rounded back who offers a bit of everything. He has athleticism, strength and ball-carrier vision, and though he isn’t incredible in any particular area, he’s at least serviceable in all of them. He’s also a fluid receiver out of the backfield and a willing blocker. I would definitely take him in the fourth round if he’s still available.

Alex Barnes from Kansas State is a bigger back who tested well at the Combine, and he has good ball-carrier vision, as well as impressive lateral agility for a 226-pound runner. Plus, those 34 bench press reps were absolutely remarkable. However, his strength doesn’t always show up on tape, as his contact balance was a little underwhelming upon reviewing his tape. He also doesn’t have significant value as a receiver. Barnes will get drafted at some point in Day 3, but the Bears can probably do better.

Boise State’s Alexander Mattison plays with a solid blend of intelligence and finesse—he can consistently identify open running lanes, and he has the wiggle in his hips to cut into them. He has a compact frame and offers solid value as a blocker on passing downs. His breakaway speed is below average, though, and he doesn’t have the speed to consistently get to the edge as an outside-zone runner. Mattison could serve as a decent backup at the next level, but he doesn’t have enough upside for the Bears to consider drafting early on.

I personally doubt that Damien Harris from Alabama will be available when the Bears pick in the third round, but he would be a very good pick if he were to somehow fall. He has a strong lower body and runs with toughness and very good contact balance. His rough-and-tumble style of running makes him an intriguing short-yardage back, but he also has solid breakaway speed for someone with a more compact frame. Though he isn’t an incredibly patient runner, he has the physical tools to develop into a solid starter in the NFL.

Even though Florida Atlantic’s Devin Singletary has fallen down draft boards after a subpar Combine, the tape doesn’t lie—he’s still a very good running back. He has always been quicker than fast, and though he doesn’t have superb breakaway speed, he is very elusive and can change direction seamlessly. His frame carries solid lower-body strength, allowing him to run through defenders as well as he can run around them. An intelligent runner who can identify open lanes consistently, Singletary’s processing abilities allow him to make the most out of his skill set. He doesn’t have a sky-high athletic ceiling, and he still has much to prove as a receiver, even though he did flash solid route-running abilities in college. The third round may not be the best place for him, but the Bears would be wise to pick him if he were to fall into the fourth round.

Like the aforementioned Harris, I don’t expect Iowa State’s David Montgomery to be available when the Bears first pick. However, I do think that he would be a great fit in their offense. Though he isn’t a burner in the open field, he’s a well-rounded back with good vision, agility and contact balance. He’s a good route runner out of the backfield who showcased smooth hands in college, and he has shown willingness as a blocker. Plus, he’s a former Eagle Scout who was reportedly a beloved figure in the Cyclones’ locker room. Though he will likely end up getting selected earlier on the second day of the draft, he would be a great pick for the Bears if he were to fall. I highly doubt they would trade up for a running back, though, making the possibility an extremely slim one.

Jalin Moore is an interesting case. A Group of 5 running back who is coming off of a season-ending ankle injury, he has a couple of question marks to his game. However, he has a running style that could see him drafted late on Day 3.

Moore is a powerful runner with a strong lower body, a low center of gravity and impressive contact balance. He’s far from just a bruiser, though, as he has good lateral quickness and solid acceleration in the open field. Finding a fit in a zone-blocking scheme like Chicago’s wouldn’t be an issue with him, as he has proven to be successful in both inside- and outside-zone situations, though he is more reliable in outside zone. A passionate blocker who plays in pass protection with a high motor, he also has value on passing downs. That’s encouraging for him, since he doesn’t project very well as a valuable receiving target. He was seldom used as a receiver at Appalachian State, and even in the rare times he was targeted, he didn’t prove to have very good hands. His ball-carrier vision is pretty inconsistent, as he does tend to run right into a crowded pile of linemen instead of cutting outside to create an opportunity to gain more yards.

Moore’s medicals will have to check out, as he was unable to participate in pre-draft workouts. He probably won’t be drafted any earlier than the sixth round, but if he falls into the seventh round, the Bears could very well double down on the running back position and add a sleeper like Moore late in the draft.

I’m personally much higher on Bruce Anderson than most, as I see him as a top-10 running back in this year’s class. While many do not share this sentiment, he has the potential to be a late-round sleeper.

The North Dakota State standout is a determined runner who has great contact balance and can run through arm tackles easily. He is a tough player, and he can take hits almost as well as he can deliver them—his stiff arm is absolutely nasty. He’s not just a big bruiser, though, as he covers a lot of ground when moving laterally. Anderson isn’t proven as a receiver, but he flashed some solid route-running abilities out of the backfield. His running style is a bit upright, though, and he will need to lower his center of gravity to continue to plow through defenders at the next level. He also has merely average breakaway speed, and his ability to run roughshod over defenders could be mitigated in his transition from the FCS to the NFL.

Anderson carries a mid-to-late Round 3 grade on my board, but he won’t be drafted that high. My guess is the Bears will draft a running back before his consensus draft stock, but if they want to double dip at the position, he would be a great target in the seventh round.

If you’re looking for explosiveness at the running back position, there may be no better runner than Justice Hill.

The Oklahoma State running back tore up the Combine, running a 4.4 40-yard dash and putting up incredible numbers in the vertical and broad jumps. That explosion is apparent on tape, as he has great acceleration out of the backfield and the deep speed to outrun defenders in space. His lateral agility is impressive, as he can change direction on a dime, allowing him to juke out would-be tacklers in the open field and bounce outside of the tackles on inside-zone plays. He runs with determination as well as agility, as he isn’t afraid of making contact with defenders. Though he doesn’t have an elaborate route tree, his flashes as a pass-catcher provide for some upside on passing downs. Hill doesn’t have a muscular, compact frame, as he’s fairly top-heavy and still doesn’t have great upper-body strength. His contact balance isn’t all that impressive, and with three seasons of a pretty sizable collegiate workload under his belt, durability could potentially be a concern.

Hill isn’t a powerful runner, but he more than makes up for it with his blazing speed and overall athleticism. The Bears may target a runner with better contact balance and more power in between the tackles instead, but he is still a talented back who has potential to become a solid starter.

Miles Sanders is like the girl of your dreams for the Bears. He fits all the criteria they are looking for and would seemingly be a perfect match for them, but odds are he’ll end up with somebody else. I only have the most uplifting takes on this website, of course.

Sanders is one of the best running backs in this year’s class because he does it all. He’s an athletic back who can change direction laterally very well and break free in the open field, but he’s also a powerful runner with good contact balance who can absorb hits with his compact frame. The Penn State back also a reliable pass-catcher who has smooth hands and can make grabs in stride very well. Though he does need to work on being more consistent in making smart decisions as a downhill runner, the biggest issue with him is that he won’t be available for the Bears to pick.

Sanders’ athletic profile and abilities as a runner—plus the fact that he only has one season of tread on his tires—will almost surely see him selected by the early third round, if not earlier. It would be fantastic for the Bears if he fell to them, but it’s an unrealistic scenario at this point.

I learned from watching Wes Hills this year that Slippery Rock exists, and since I enjoy finding players from colleges I’ve never heard of before, I appreciated the chance to watch his tape. The Division II back started off his collegiate career at Delaware, where he was a two-time captain. In his lone season at Slippery Rock, he ran for 1,714 yards on 246 carries.

The six-foot-two, 218-pound Hills is a long-strided runner who can run through and around defenders. He can make lateral cuts and bounce outside of the tackles like a player three inches and 20 pounds his inferior, but he also has solid contact balance and can run through arm tackles. He is pretty good at discovering open running lanes, and he has shown flashes of being a solid receiver with steady hands, as well. Hills is a solid player, but much of his concerns are not related to his on-the-field play. He isn’t an explosive athlete and he doesn’t have good breakaway speed, but his bigger concerns come from off-the-field situations.

Academic ineligibility caused him to miss the 2017 season, a season-ending injury caused him to miss most of 2015, and he missed multiple games due to injury in 2016. He will be 24 years old in his rookie year, meaning that if he is drafted, he will be 28 by the time his rookie contract expires. Running backs have a shorter shelf life in the NFL than basically every position, so the possibility of getting fairly little use out of Hills by selecting him will surely weigh on evaluators’ minds.

Hills is a solid player who dominated lower-level competition, but he doesn’t offer enough promise for teams to overlook his age and injury history. The Bears could consider him as an undrafted free agent target, but he’s not somebody they should use a pick on.

Having already covered Harris, I’ll only dig into Notre Dame’s Dexter Williams here, instead.

Williams is an intelligent runner who can identify and exploit holes better than most running backs in this year’s class. He’s patient, but he won’t hesitate to hit a hole aggressively if he sees an opening. His vision, as well as his solid lateral agility helps him as an outside-zone runner. For a running back, Williams also packs a powerful punch as a blocker, and he can seal the edge pretty well. This helps his value on passing downs, which is a good thing, considering his poor hands and below-average route-running abilities. He also has pedestrian athleticism and doesn’t have as much power in his frame as someone with his running style probably should.

With his vision and processing abilities, Williams has the potential to outplay his mid-to-late Day 3 draft stock. However, his lack of top-notch athleticism and lackluster receiving skills make him a bit of a poor fit for the Bears, much like Jordan Howard was. They would probably be better off looking elsewhere.

We conclude this article with a twofer, digging into two under-the-radar, late-round tail backs.

Nebraska’s Devine Ozigbo is a top-10 running back for me, though I’m not sure he will be selected as such. He is a powerful runner with a muscular frame and the ability to run through arm tackles with ease. An intelligent outside-zone runner, he has enough speed to get to the edge, the lateral quickness to cut inside, the vision to identify those holes, and the strength to bounce off of defenders. Ozigbo is also a fluid receiver who has decent hands. He doesn’t have top-end speed, though, and he isn’t as explosive as most of the clas’s high-profile backs. He could be a target for the Bears on Day 3, but there could be some concern that his skill set is on similar to that of Mike Davis.

Mike Weber from Ohio State is an electric athlete—he has very good breakaway speed, impressive lateral quickness, and good acceleration when he finds the open hole. He has flashed route-running prowess and solid hands, and he runs with patience as he lets the play develop. However, he doesn’t have much power in his game, and his contact balance isn’t all that great. His skill set would be well suited in a running back committee like Chicago’s, and he could end up being a decent get late in the fifth round if they choose to wait that long to pick a running back.