After four consecutive drafts containing at least one generational RB talent, suffice to say the 2019 crop leaves a bit to be desired. Sure, Josh Jacobs of Bama could sneak into the back end of the first round to mark a fifth straight draft including a Round 1 runner.
Although this class might lack sizzle at the top without the likes of a Saquon Barkley or Ezekiel Elliott, the more important question is: How’s its substance? Remember, some of the best backs hailing from the past four drafts weren’t premium-round picks. Seemingly for every Barkley, Elliott or Gurley, there’s been an Alvin Kamara, Kareem Hunt or Phillip Lindsay.
Which brings us to today’s topic du jour — how the Bears can mine the draft’s next RB gem, something GM Ryan Pace already has accomplished twice in his four-year tenure. Jordan Howard was the 150th overall pick three years ago and Tarik Cohen went No. 116 the following year in part because of their perceived limitations: Howard’s speed and wiggle shortcomings and Cohen’s size deficiency.
It should be clear by now that Matt Nagy covets speed, suddenness and versatility in his backfield, a blend every team is seeking but even he admitted at the combine might be akin to chasing a unicorn in this crop, especially with precious few picks.
So for the purposes of this conversation, let’s whittle down Nagy’s sought-after qualities and see if we can’t identify the back that fits best within the Bears’ constraints.
The total packages
Darrell Henderson of Memphis might be the Bears’ best-case pick at the position at No. 87 overall. He’s “one of the more exciting runners in this draft,” PFW lead evaluator Greg Gabriel writes in the Draft Mag. “… He is excellent in the open field, with a number of long runs to prove it. He has soft hands, adjusts to the ball very well and knows how to get open after being used extensively as a receiver.”
We’re not sure why he isn’t getting more love nationally, but Texas A&M’s Trayveon Williams has already met with the Bears. He “consistently creates yards after contact, Gabriel writes, “and threatens defenses with home-run ability. … There’s little he can’t do, and he would help most offenses immediately.” Williams is on the short side but a force after contact and a “surprisingly good blocker” and “reliable receiver.”
Few backs in this class boast a more tantalizing blend of size (5-11, 220) and speed (4.45) than Temple’s Ryquell Armstead, who recently visited Halas Hall and seems to be a pre-draft riser after producing only modest tape with the Owls. “Big, strong, tough and durable. … His production largely comes after first contact. … But he is a straight-line runner who lacks creativity at the line of scrimmage.”
One of the Combine’s more egregious snubs, Nebraska’s Devine Ozigbo has similar size to Armstead, not quite the same timed speed and even better tape at a higher level of competition. “It says here Ozigbo will be a much better NFL back than he was in college,” where he wasn’t fully unleashed until Scott Frost’s arrival last season, when the 5-11, 222-pounder averaged seven yards per carry with “required burst to turn the corner,” “good run instincts” and open-field elusiveness.
Mike Weber of Ohio State turned heads at the Combine with a 4.47 40 at 5-foot-10 and 211 pounds and has already worked out privately for the Bears. Although he only displays “average long speed” on film, the compact Weber is a “good receiver with a quick burst.” Like free-agent signee Mike Davis, Weber could be a late bloomer with minimal wear and tear after departing Columbus with only 509 career touches.
You like the juice?
Notre Dame product Dexter “Juice” Williams was among the more explosive backs in Indy with a 36” vertical, 130" broad jump, 7-second three-cone and 4.16-second short shuttle. Though he underachieved in South Bend, the Bears could have a distinct advantage in gaining knowledge of “one of the more talented running backs to come through Notre Dame in years,” thanks to O-line coach Harry Hiestand, who spent three seasons with Williams. He made big improvements as a receiver last season — easily his best with the Irish — and possesses a feature back combo.
Pace price tag special
Like Williams, Bryce Love of Stanford could come at a discount — but for very different reasons. Love has impeccable football character, which isn’t Williams’ strong suit, but is rehabbing a December ACL tear that halted the disappointing final season for a likely Day 2 prospect … had he declared early for last year’s draft following a fantastic 2017 season. “A big back in a small body” with speed and north-south ability, Love fits Pace’s affinity for potential injury bargains, resulting in the acquisitions of Eddie Jackson and Allen Robinson, among others.