Bears NFL Draft Preview: Is running back a priority?

Bears NFL Draft Preview: Is running back a priority? Bears Insider John "Moon" Mullin goes position by position as the Bears approach the 2016 Draft, taking a look at what the Bears have, what they might need and what draft days and after could have in store.

Bears pre-draft situation

Matt Forte approached the Bears last offseason with an offer to rework the final year of his contract and its $9.2 million cap hit. The Bears passed, not only then, but also after the 2016 season when Forte made no secret of his desire to re-sign in Chicago after. The Bears instead informed the veteran running back that they wouldn’t be offering him a new contract.

Forte went on the open market and settled with the New York Jets on a three-year deal calling for $9 million guaranteed. The Bears were not going to be thinking anywhere in that range for a 30-year-old running back, even with his distinguished history with the franchise.

That left Jeremy Langford the presumptive starter and Ka’Deem Carey as first-alternate, representing a total of three NFL starts, plus Jacquizz Rodgers, re-signed after a season-ending elbow injury in Game 5.

Langford was the Bears’ fourth-round pick last draft, rushed for six touchdowns plus one on an 83-yard catch-and-run at St. Louis, and totaled 142 and 182 combined yards in the consecutive San Diego and St. Louis games.

“I saw great maturity and then I thought he had good production for us at a young age,” coach John Fox said.

“As you piece together your roster for the next season, we feel good about him. We feel good about him taking the next step next year.”

The obvious problem: pure production.

Langford, Carey and Rodgers rushed for a combined 737 yards; Forte gained 898 in his 13 starts. The three backups totaled 205 carries; Forte, 218. Pass receptions by the three: 26; Forte, 44.

More concerning, the three residents on the depth chart averaged 3.6 yards per carry; Forte, 4.1.

Fox and GM Ryan Pace have made “competition” akin to a mantra. The Bears don’t have enough at the proven level, a statement they made with the offer to C.J. Anderson last month.

Insiders tell that the Bears under new coordinator Dowell Loggains will run the ball even more than the 45.7 percent they did last year. Carey and Langford have a combined total of 227 NFL carries. Forte averaged 254 carries per season for eight years.

Bears draft priority: Moderate

That the Bears made a concerted run at Denver tailback Anderson - making an offer to the restricted free agent who’d played for Fox in Denver - was a succinct statement that the Bears may like what they have in Carey, Langford and Rodgers, but they are not satisfied enough to take down the Help Wanted sign from the position group.

Pace in New Orleans (Reggie Bush, Mark Ingram No. 1’s) and Fox in Carolina (DeShaun Foster, Eric Shelton, No. 2’s; DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, No. 1’s) were parts of organizations aggressive in drafting running backs. Denver with Fox used a 2012 No. 3 on Ronnie Hillman and 2013 No. 2 on Montee Ball.

Their histories point to the Pace procuring another running back for Fox and new O-coordinator Dowell Loggains. The Bears hold nine picks in this draft, including two each in the fourth and sixth rounds. Those are prime locales for finding backs: of the 23 running backs selected in the 2015 draft, 15 were picked in the fourth round or later.

Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott is the consensus top-rated running back in this draft, the only lock-first-rounder per Pro Football Weekly’s Draft Guide. The Bears had meetings with Elliott at the Combine in addition a private get-together, but Elliott is a very, very long-shot to be the name on the card sent to the Commissioner at No. 11 on the 28th. Expect at least one pick and some undrafted free agents (which Anderson was in 2013) to be Bears by Sunday night that weekend.

Keep an eye on ...

Marshaun Coprich, Illinois State: Undersized but ultra-productive in a smaller program and is on probation from marijuana incident, but ran 4.38 at the Combine and put up 5,201 yards and 60 rushing TDs.

Paul Perkins, UCLA: Had 28 starts for a top PAC-12 program with good production rushing and receiving (621 carries, 80 receptions over past 3 seasons).

Dan Vitale, Northwestern: Bears don’t roster a true fullback but two-back team may grab freakish Vitale, who ran 4.6 and bench’ed 225 lbs 30 times at Combine; can catch and play special teams.

Is Bears “D” in “football shape?” Lacking ability to finish? Fourth-quarter fades raise questions

USA Today

Is Bears “D” in “football shape?” Lacking ability to finish? Fourth-quarter fades raise questions

During the critical fourth-quarter Oakland Raiders drive for a game-winning touchdown, one former Pro Bowl’er and NFL observer remarked to this writer that he was surprised to see a lot of hands on hips and mouth-breathing by members of the Bears defense – two common signs of being gassed.

Critiquing conditioning – or lack of – is problematic the way judging pain tolerance is. And if the Raiders score were an isolated incident, the question likely doesn’t come up.

But something is amiss. While the Bears defense remains among the NFL’s best, at least statistically, a shadow of concern is falling over the defense and its ability to close out games that it has within its reach.

The Bears held fourth-quarter leads over Denver and Oakland and allowed go-ahead touchdowns. They were rescued by Eddy Piñeiro’s 53-yard field goal in the final second. No such rescue in London.

Fully half of the eight touchdowns scored by Bears opponents in 2019 have come in fourth quarters. (The Bears themselves have not scored a single TD in any fourth quarter this season, but that’s a separate discussion.) By contrast, last season the defense did not allow a fourth-quarter touchdown in any of the final five regular-season games.

The temptation is to look only at the numbers, which are in fact positive. Even with the 24 points the Raiders scored against them in London, the Bears ranked second only to New England in scoring stinginess (13.8 ppg.) and fifth in yardage allowed (312 ypg.).

But the Bears have 17 sacks as a team; only three of those have come in fourth quarters.

Opposing quarterbacks have passed at an 81.3 rating in first halves; they are throwing at a 91.4 clip in second halves.

The defense has allowed 16 first downs in first quarters; 21 in seconds; 20 in thirds.

In 2019 fourth quarters, 34 first downs allowed.

Pulling the camera back for a wider view, extending back to include the disturbing 2018 playoff loss:

Vs. Philadelphia
Eagles drive 60 yards in 12 plays and nearly 4 minutes to score game-winning TD with :56 remaining. Cody Parkey’s double-doink overshadows fact that Bears defense forces Eagles into only two third downs and allows winning score on a fourth down.

Vs. Green Bay
With the Chicago offense sputtering all game and in need of a short field, Packers go on a 10-play, 73-yard drive that consumed 6:33 to set up a field goal to go up 10-3 deep in the fourth quarter.

At Denver
Inept Broncos offense scores 11 points in the fourth quarter to overcome a 13-3 Bears lead, driving 62 yards in 12 plays, converting two fourth downs and a two-point conversion. Denver’s second-half drives: 41 yards, 56 yards, 84 yards, 62 yards.

Vs. Washington
Bears build 28-0 lead before one of NFL’s worst offenses scores a pair of largely meaningless second-half TD’s.

Vs. Minnesota Vikings
Drive 92 yards in 13 plays for TD before Bears stiffen to stop two-point PAT and next Minnesota possession.

Vs. Oakland (London)
Raiders win game with 92-yard drive that includes fourth-down conversion on punt fake run despite Bears leaving No. 1 defensive unit in, anticipating fake.

Guess which highly-paid NFL kicker is only making 58% of his field goals?

USA Today

Guess which highly-paid NFL kicker is only making 58% of his field goals?

Remember that time when the Bears tried out like 47 kickers and put them through a wide variety of arbitrary tests all while fan favorite Robby Gould was using the team's desperation as leverage to become the NFL's highest-paid kicker? Classic! 

It's been like three months since those totally-sane summer days, and reader, things have not gone so hot for Gould: 

Meanwhile, Eddy P is not only 8/9 on the season, but is already well on his way to becomming a fan favorite. We're already calling him Eddy P! After 5 games! 

That said, we won't truly know if the Bears made the right decision until Piñeiro beats out several Hall of Famers -- including someone credited for literally starting the NFL -- on the path to winning an offseason bracket-style fan vote.