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Saturday Spotlight: Ryan Nall

Throughout the 2020 NFL season, we’ll spotlight a Bears player in a weekly column. This week, we’ll take an in-depth look at running back Ryan Nall.

NFL: OCT 04 Colts at Bears Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Name: Ryan Nall

Position: Running Back

Number: 35

Age: 24

Time with Bears: 2 seasons

The Past:

“Looking right though, and the pass is caught, and getting in for the touchdown is Ryan Nall!”

In relief of injured running back David Montgomery, young Oregon State product Ryan Nall scored his first touchdown of his career two Sundays ago against the Tennessee Titans. While the result of the game wasn’t ideal for the Bears, it was an exciting milestone for Nall. “I barreled through there and I got up, and it was unbelievable,” he said to the media back at Halas Hall last week. Nall has been an active though seldom-used player on this team for years now.

Nall grew up in Oregon, attended high school in Portland at Central Catholic High School, and was ranked by 247sports as a 3-star prospect for NCAA ball. He elected to stay in-state and enrolled at Oregon State University to play for coach Mike Riley and the Beavers. Nall redshirted his first year for the school, and in December of that year, Riley transferred jobs to go coach at the University of Nebraska. Before he had played a snap at the collegiate level, he was going through a coaching change.

Oregon State hired former Wisconsin head coach Gary Anderson to lead their program, and Ryan Nall saw limited action as a redshirt freshman in 2015. In October of that year, the Beavers took on the Colorado Buffaloes, and Nall was fed the ball 20 times. He justified his high carry total with yardage, 122 to be exact, and scored a touchdown in a tough conference loss. Coach Anderson pointed his performance out and said, “I want that ‘war daddy’ everywhere I go. Those are the guys I want to recruit and those are the guys I wanted to surround myself with.” He called Nall, “tough...physical...[and] unselfish...[Nall] excites the hell out of me.” The young back later ripped off 174 yards rushing in a big rivalry game against the University of Oregon, and finished his redshirt freshman season with 455 yards rushing and 3 touchdowns.

NCAA FOOTBALL: NOV 26 Oregon at Oregon State Photo by Brian Murphy/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

As a redshirt sophomore in 2016, Nall expanded his role significantly. He scored two rushing touchdowns against Boise State in an early-season non-conference matchup. He then gashed Cal two weeks later for 221 yards on just 14 carries, averaging an insane 15.8 yards per carry. He averaged 121.75 rushing yards per game through the final 4 games, helping Oregon State go 2-2 against the likes of Washington State, Stanford, Arizona, and Oregon. After rising to the starting running back position for the Beavers, Nall could start to dream for the pros.

To start his junior year, Nall picked up right where he left off. In the season-opener against Colorado State, the redshirt junior took 15 carries for 115 yards and a touchdown. He also started getting involved in the passing game in 2017, averaging about 2.5 catches for 8.9 yards per game. After rushing for 810 yards and scoring 10 total touchdowns in his senior season, Nall opted for the NFL draft, forgoing his final year of NCAA eligibility. He went undrafted in 2018, and chose to sign with the Chicago Bears.

Nall had an impressive preseason, but still rode the practice squad for his rookie season in the NFL, as he adjusted to the speed of the NFL and learned the Bears’ playbook. His professional career truly started in 2019 once the Bears waived failed project Mike Davis. He was activated to play the emergency running back position, and saw action mostly on special teams. He finished 2019 with 2 rushing attempts for 8 yards, to go along with 3 tackles on special teams. Nall stayed with the Bears entering 2020, remaining an emergency running back in case of injuries to starter David Montgomery and/or Tarik Cohen.

The Present:

The injury bug got to the Bears running back room in a bad way this season, with Tarik Cohen going down for the season with a torn ACL and David Montgomery in concussion protocol. Ryan Nall, the in-case-of-emergency-break-glass running back on the squad, has seen an significant uptick in playing time. Against the Titans, Nall caught 4 passes for 35 yards, and scored the first touchdown of his pro career. This past week against Minnesota, he had a carry and a reception for 18 yards.

NFL: AUG 16 Preseason - Bears at Giants Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With Lamar Miller activated from the practice squad, Nall will be a role player in the chart. He’s looked impressive in the opportunities he’s been given, so Bears fans should hope he gets more opportunities than the somewhat-gimmickey Artavis Pierce. With Nall’s production in the passing game, paired with Nagy’s penchant for pass-catching running backs, Nall’s role in the team should grow as long as Montgomery is held out.

The future:

Nall is on a 1-year contract for the league minimum, so his future on the Bears is anything but certain. That said, he spent enough time on the Bears practice squad for other teams to have snatched him away from the Bears, and he’s stayed in Chicago. If he can stay healthy, Nall should be back for next year at least, although a long-term deal seems less likely. It might not be time to buy his jersey just yet.

The Bears are on a bye this week, but they play the Packers in week 12. Nall’s playing time will depend on if David Montgomery is healthy, but expect some special teams stats out of him. Expect a slim total, but a reception on a play in space.

Week prediction:

2 carries, 5 yards, 1 reception, 15 yards, 1 tackle on special teams.