The Bears have high expectations for second-year running back David Montgomery entering the 2020 NFL season. General manager Ryan Pace didn't invest any draft picks or free-agent money into running backs this offseason which means the Bears' running game will depend heavily on the former Iowa State star.
There's also Tarik Cohen, who's entering the final year of his rookie contract. The 'offensive weapon' who's become more of a receiver than runner as a pro should have his fair share of opportunities to make plays too.
But will the combination of Montgomery and Cohen strike fear in opposing defenses this season?
According to Bleacher Report's Matt Miller's recent ranking of every team's running backs, the answer is no. Chicago's backfield was ranked 27th.
Miller used a composite grading system for each running back that reads similar to what fans of the Madden video game franchise are used to. Montgomery scored a 77. Cohen garnered a 74.
To put their grades into perspective, Christian McCaffrey was given a 99 while Ezekiel Elliott scored a 95.
Is it fair to question whether the Bears' running game will be productive in 2020? Yes, it is. Let's face it, Montgomery is still relatively unproven after failing to crack 900 rushing yards as a rookie, and Cohen has carved out more or a reputation as a quality punt returner than a consistent threat as a running back so far in his career.
There's still reason for optimism in Chicago, however. Montgomery flashed tackle-breaking upside in 2019, and if the Bears' offensive line improves its run-blocking in 2020, Montgomery will be one of the more productive running backs in the NFC.
Until then, Chicago's backfield has a long way to go to live up to the rich tradition of running backs who called Soldier Field home.
Pat Boyle, David Haugh and Mark Carman join Kap on a Wednesday edition of STL.
0:00 - MLB teams continue to get ready for Opening Day. Should players feel any more confident in the league’s testing practices?
4:00 - Patrick Mahomes got a 10-year contract extension from the Chiefs. Are any current Chicago athletes worthy of a 10-year extension?
9:30 - KC Johnson joins Kap to look back at “The Decision” on its 10th anniversary. Just how close were the Bulls to landing LeBron, Bosh and Wade?
19:00 - The panel remembers where they were when LeBron made “The Decision”. Plus, they give their Blackhawks playoff odds.
Listen here or below.
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It wasn't long ago that the Chicago Bears offensive line was considered a strength of the team. They were one of the best in the NFL in 2018. The Bears' starting five was a big reason why the team went 12-4 and won the NFC North that year, but that wasn't the case in 2019. Chicago's offensive line had a lot to do with the team's underwhelming 8-8 season.
As a result, the Bears' starting group isn't getting much respect entering the 2020 season. According to Pro Football Focus' recent ranking of all 32 offensive lines, Chicago checks in at No. 22.
The Bears regressed from a fringe top-10 offensive line in 2018 to the 25th-ranked unit last season despite most of the group remaining intact. Left tackle Charles Leno saw the biggest drop-off in play, as he had four straight seasons grading in the 70s from 2015 to 2018 but finished at just 58.6 overall last season, good for just 64th out of 82 qualifiers. Leno earned his worst pass-blocking grade since 2015 while posting the lowest run-blocking grade of his career, at 47.5.
While PFF's ranking isn't great, there was a bit of optimism baked in. The analytics powerhouse still believes in the o-line's potential.
The Bears have the pieces to rank among the top 10-15 offensive lines in the league, but they need the tackles to get back to their 2018 form to go with progression from at least two players on the interior.
One of the big reasons why the Bears' offensive line struggled last year was the aftermath of Kyle Long's injury. Rashaad Coward was elevated to the first team; Cody Whitehair and James Daniels swapped positions. The best offensive lines have continuity, and that was lost in 2019.
With Germain Ifedi stepping into the right guard spot in 2020, and both Whitehair and Daniels settled in at center and left guard, the Bears will begin this season in much better shape and with a much better chance to return to the level of play we saw in 2018.