The Bears will head to Indianapolis next week for the NFL Scouting Combine with a number of goals, chief among them to determine if there’s a running back in this year’s draft pool who could be part of the fix to the team’s inconsistent ground game.
The good news, to a point, is that running back generally is a good “need” to have going into a draft. As ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. pointed out on a conference call with reporters on Tuesday, running backs aren’t usually in demand in a given draft, which often pushes players lower than the grade they’re assigned. For instance: A player with a second-round grade could fall to the third round, a third-round player could fall to the fourth, etc.
So that means the Bears will be able to cast a fairly wide net in seeking out a running back who not only would fit Matt Nagy’s offense, but would carry the “best player available” designation that’s guided Ryan Pace’s drafts over the last four years.
That last bit is important — even though the Bears seemed to have a clear and glaring need at outside linebacker last April, Pace only drafted one edge rusher: Kylie Fitts, with the team’s sixth-round selection. This was long before Khalil Mack was a remotely realistic trade possibility. The Bears stuck to their board and didn’t reach to take a player based on need.
So with that backdrop, Kiper offered a few suggestions for running backs that could interest the Bears in the coming weeks and months. The first name the longtime draft guru floated: Penn State’s Miles Sanders.
“I was really impressed with the way he played in some games, in other games he didn’t get a lot of help from the line and that was a factor for him,” Kiper said. “But to me, he’s a talented football player. He came in highly regarded, he’s got an ability to make people miss in the hole, he runs with good body lean.”
Sanders was Saquon Barkley’s backup his first two years at Penn State, but exploded for 1,274 yards on 220 carries (5.8 yards/rush) with nine touchdowns as a junior in 2018. He doesn’t have the pass-catching profile, though, the Bears may want — he only had 24 receptions for 139 yards last year.
Two other names mentioned by Kiper as potential mid-round options: Kentucky’s Benny Snell and Stanford’s Bryce Love. Snell is a powerful, bruising back who rushed for over 1,000 yards in each of his three years in Lexington, while Love is a former Heisman Trophy contender who tore his ACL in December and could miss his rookie season. Neither have much pass-catching experience in college.
Still, just because a player didn’t do something in college doesn’t mean he can’t do it in the pros. Different offenses ask different things of running backs, and in-person interviews and raw testing data can reveal someone with the potential to do more than they put on tape in college.
Trying to project who the Bears may be interested in with picks in the third through seventh rounds may feel like blindly throwing darts at a board right now. The picture may become clearer after the combine and then into various schools’ pro days in March. The good news is the Bears will have options — they’ll just have to work hard to identify the right one.