The Chicago Bears’ running back position had a makeover this offseason with Jordan Howard (traded) and Benny Cunningham (free agent) both gone, and Mike Davis added in free agency. The Davis pickup didn’t elicit a lot of excitement from the fanbase, but he’s coming off a productive year in Seattle where he averaged 4.6 yards per carry.
The explosive Tarik Cohen is still around, as is Taquan Mizzell and Ryan Nall, but those two are fringe roster guys. Newly signed Cordarrelle Patterson, a wide receiver by trade, has lined up at tailback the last few years and figures to do the same with the Bears on occasion.
But the biggest splash at the position game a couple weeks ago during the 2019 NFL Draft.
The Bears traded up to take the powerful and elusive David Montgomery with the 73rd pick in the third-round, and they doubled-down on the running back position to take speedy Kerrith Whyte Jr. in the seventh-round. Both rookies impressed at mini-camp according to Larry Mayer of chicagobears.com. He said that Montgomery, “looked quick and explosive with the ball in his hands and really impressed me with his receiving skills,” and that Whyte, “looked like someone pressed the fast-forward/search button every time he had the ball.”
But let’s back up to the first guy they added this offseason, Mike Davis. With so much happening at the position since he was given a two-year deal on the first day of free agency, it’s easy to see how he’s the forgotten man, but he still figures to get plenty of work in 2019.
Before the draft, our very own Robert Schmitz broke down the veteran running backs on the roster, but I wanted to spend a little more time on Davis because I think his skill set is a good fit for what head coach Matt Nagy plans to do.
This first clip shows how quickly he can get back up to top speed after the catch.
It’s just a simple playaction pass, but it’s the type of quick hitting play that can take the place of a normal “running down,” and get the running back in the open field. On this first down play, Davis comes through the line and with no one on him he makes himself available to his quarterback. Russell Wilson hits him and Davis does the rest for a ten yard gain.
It’s an easy pitch and catch, but Davis has the skills to get a chuck of yards.
For this next clip I went back to his college days at South Carolina, because this is the same play we’ve seen the Bears run under Nagy. On the wheel route the back starts out like he’s flaring to the sideline before turning to run up-field. The defender reads that Davis is going to the flat, and before he can realize it’s a wheel route, the back runs by him.
Look at how smooth Davis is on the route. The ball was placed perfectly, but Davis catches it with his hands before tucking and running without breaking stride. This type of play was usually reserved for Tarik Cohen last year, but in 2019 every running back on the Bears roster can do this.
This next one is also from the Gamecocks, and it again shows Davis’ quick acceleration. He makes a good play on a poorly thrown ball, spins to break a tackle, then hurries up-field for a big gain. He’s not a speed demon, but he also doesn’t take him long to get to top speed. The Bears can it him on flares and screens and he has the quickness to get yards in chunks.
This last GIF is just a fun play that shows-off Davis’ quick feet. Seattle’s blocking wasn’t the best, but Davis got to the hole quickly before turning on the jets and the jukes to get twenty yards.
At 5’9” his low center of gravity makes for good balance, and at 217 pounds he has the power to break arm tackles and push the pile.
Last year the Bears gave the ball to the running backs 369 times, with Howard’s 250 attempts checking in as the sixth most in the NFL. I’d expect the Bears to hover around the 350 carry mark again in 2019, but I don’t think anyone will come close to the 250 that Howard had a year ago. Montgomery may eventually end up taking over the lead back spot this season, and he could end up winning the starting job in training camp, but this will be a committee approach and don’t forget about Mike Davis.