The Chicago Bears have seen some great players at running back. Gale Sayers, Matt Forte, and (of course) Walter Payton come to mind. Chicago is a town almost preconditioned to love running backs, and so it makes a certain amount of sense that fans of Windy City football tend to gravitate toward the men who carry the rock.
However, the running backs of the Ryan Pace era have been hugely overrated. As a group, I consider them to be the most overrated Bears.
Jeremy Langford was overrated by a fanbase that thought he could actually be a starting-caliber player. When we wrote cautionary words about Langford on this very site, a number of people insisted that critics simply needed to give him a chance. All of this, of course, leaves aside that a running back should also be able to block, and the memory of Jeremy Langford attempting to block is not one that merits fond smiles. After washing out of the NFL, he is currently playing for the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
After Langford, Jordan Howard really was a starting-caliber player, so of course he was anointed as the next great Chicago ball-carrier, and many fans felt he was a perennial Pro Bowler in the making. Simply put, though, he was never more than a volume back who was force-fed yards by a team that leaned heavily on him to cover the failures of...well...the entire passing game. In his first (and only legitimately solid year), he was a Pro Bowl alternate, and he’s the kind of guy who waters down the distinction of Pro Bowler by getting there through grinding some stats. His next two seasons saw him with more carries than all but a few backs in the NFL, but by 2018 he had fallen off to only 3.7 yards per attempt, enough that with the 5th-most carries he had only the 12th-most yards. Eventually, he was traded to the Eagles for what some Chicago fans thought was too little compensation. Instead, he has managed to do very little in the intervening two seasons, playing for two different teams and at times being relegated to the practice squad.
Now there’s David Montgomery. Let’s check. Last year his 4.3 yards per carry had him tied at 31st in the league (or 28th if you discount qualifying quarterbacks). That’s actually an improvement over his 3.7 yards per carry the year before. Last season, he was ninth in rushing yards (eighth if you only count running backs) despite having the fourth-most attempts, and he’s nowhere near the top 25 in yards per attempt. In fact, his profile for both years of his career are those of a volume back who only gets yards as a result of a high rate of use, not being terribly efficient. Statistically, he’s another version of Jordan Howard, even if his playing style is slightly more suited to the modern game. Slightly.
I’m not a fantasy football guy, and so maybe I don’t get the love pure accumulation has for these guys, but for the lovers of film and complete halfback play, it’s hard to see Montgomery play and to respect his blocking game (it’s getting better, but it is not accurate to call him a major factor here). He doesn’t create space in the passing game. He gets his yards, but he’s not a complete back. Yet somehow there are people who think he needs to be used more, and that Nagy is what is holding him back.
There are really good running backs in Chicago’s history. There are really good running backs in the NFL right now. The last difference-maker Chicago had at running back left when Pace let go of Matt Forte (which turned out to be a fine call). However, collectively the running game of Chicago during the last several years has been a result of mediocre players being asked to lighten the load for mediocre quarterbacks.
To paraphrase Dennis Miller, though, that’s just my opinion and maybe I’m wrong. What do you think? Let us know below who you think the most overrated Bear is...