The Chicago Bears haven't done anything significant to address running back this offseason. In part, it's because GM Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy have confidence in second-year back David Montgomery. But the decision to ignore the position completely in free agency and the 2020 NFL draft has left the team vulnerable if Montgomery gets injured.
Tarik Cohen will likely assume the role as the first option off the bench if Montgomery goes down, but his skill set is better suited as a do-it-all offensive weapon than a traditional first- and second-down running back. As a result, the Bears need someone to step up and prove they're capable of handling early-down carries if needed.
Undrafted rookie Artavis Pierce may end up being that guy. Let's face it, the former Oregon State Beaver is the only real candidate for the job aside from Ryan Nall, another Oregon State product who's spent most of his Bears career on the practice squad.
Pierce checked-in at his pro day in March at just under 5'10" and weighed 209 pounds. He's a bit undersized for between-the-tackle duties, but players like Dalvin Cook and Alvin Kamara have proven running backs can succeed in the NFL around 210 pounds.
Pierce ran a 4.47 40-yard dash at his pro day, too. Pro days provide infamously fast tracks for draft prospects, however. Pierce's film does offer moments when he flashes above-average speed, but he doesn't consistently run with that kind of juice.
From Weeks 3 through 8 in the 2019 college football season, Pierce looked like a player destined to be drafted. He had three games with more than 100 rushing yards and a fourth game that totaled 90 yards on the ground. He scored four rushing touchdowns and added another as a receiver. It was that stretch of performances that likely sold him as an NFL prospect, even though he fell out of the draft and into the free-agent market. Pierce finished the 2019 season with 146 carries for 873 yards and six touchdowns.
Pierce's game film is a mix of average running back play with a few quality highlights mixed in. He isn't the most natural runner -- his feet get too choppy behind the line of scrimmage when he's looking for a running lane -- and he doesn't possess much tackle-breaking power. He's a decent change-of-direction guy, but for a player of his size, I expected to see more wiggle in his game. It isn't there.
This isn't to say he can't stick around and make the Bears' gameday roster. In fact, he landed in the best possible situation for a fringe player. His road to a roster spot doesn't have many obstacles, so if he proves to be a capable player on special teams and makes enough positive plays as a running back in training camp, he could hang around into September.
After reviewing Pierce's game and taking another look at the lack of talent behind Montgomery and Cohen in the Bears' running back room, it's clear that Pace has to add another veteran to the depth chart before the regular season kicks off. Relying on an undrafted rookie and a practice squad star as your top reserves isn't good enough for a team that needs a big performance from its running game in 2020.