Despite all the changes that have taken place at Halas Hall over the past few months, the biggest factor in their success moving forward remains the same: the development of Justin Fields. Earlier this week, Matt Eberflus appeared on the Peter King Podcast and said not only is he confident Fields has what it takes to lead both the offense and the locker room. He also said the onus for his growth is not Fields. He has the tools already. Instead, the onus is on the Bears to surround Fields with playmakers to help him succeed, and to design an offense to his strengths.
When enumerating the steps in his vision for the offense, Eberflus mentioned the typical keys. The Bears will need the offensive line to better protect Fields. They’ll need to add playmaking wide receivers, and create mismatches so they can exploit opposing defenses’ deficiencies. But one note from Eberflus stood out from the rest.
“We have to have runners, you know, different pace runners,” Eberflus said. “We have a good runner now. We’re going to add some other pieces in there, potentially.”
The Bears already have a strong running back room with both David Montgomery and Khalil Herbert. Presumably, Eberflus was talking about Montgomery when he said, “We have a good runner now,” but Herbert showed he was more than capable shouldering the load when Montgomery missed time with a knee injury, too. But if Montgomery and Herbert combined to bring the thunder, one could say they’re missing the lightning. That was Tarik Cohen’s role in the offense, and more recently Jakeem Grant’s. But Ryan Poles cut Cohen with an injury designation, and Grant left for Cleveland in free agency.
This interview with King was recorded during the NFL Combine, and since then the Bears have claimed Darrynton Evans off waivers. He provides a different burst from Montgomery and Herbert, and has shown elusiveness in the open field. But Evans has been largely limited by injuries in his short NFL career. He’s only played in six games since being selected by the Titans in the third round of the 2020 draft. In that small sample size, it’s hard to project Evans’ floor, or ceiling, as a pro.
There are still free agent running backs available who could provide the Bears a different look at running back, too. Jerick McKinnon has dealt with injury issues of his own, but when he’s healthy he adds a wrinkle to any team’s passing game out of the backfield and was particularly effective in the Chiefs’ postseason run last season. Ronald Jones lost his lead-back job when the Buccaneers brought in Leonard Fournette, but Jones still has the top-end speed to break off long runs. Then there’s the draft. With so many needs across the roster, it feels unlikely that the team would spend a draft pick adding to a relative strength of the team. But if Poles and Eberflus have the opportunity to select a player they’ve identified as a valuable playmaker, don’t rule it out entirely.
No matter how it shakes out, the Bears may not be done adding to their running backs room.