Bears Draft Targets – RB

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With the Chicago Bears 2-8 and no chance at the 2016 playoffs, I’ve decided to start my NFL draft preview a little early. That way readers have a chance to watch some of these players before the college football season is over.

I’ll be breaking down possible draft targets at every position, since the Bears pretty much have holes everywhere. Check out my links below to see other positions.

Bears Draft Targets:

QB (Part 1) | QB (Part 2)

Bears Position Overview:

On paper, the Bears have three young running backs, each drafted early on day three of the last three drafts (2014-2016). Jordan Howard stands out among the group talent and production wise, with four 100 yard games and a 5.3 yards per carry average. Howard looks like the long-term future at running back for the Bears.

The other two backs have shown flashes of talent, but neither has proven much. Jeremy Langford, a 4th round pick in 2015, has the best speed of the three and is the only big play threat but has plenty of flaws as well. Langford hasn’t shown the ability to gain yards after contact or make people miss in traffic. Despite being a wide receiver in college, Langford has also dropped way too many passes.

Ka’Deem Carey has flashed impressive power with the ball in his hands and runs with a visible anger. The problem with Carey is that he hasn’t been able to stay healthy for extended periods since the Bears selected him in the 4th round of the 2014 draft.

With Howard the probable starter in 2016 and two capable backups, the Bears could stand pat at the position in the 2017 draft. They could also look for an upgrade over Langford as a 3rd down back, or Carey, as a short-yardage back.

HC John Fox has preferred a committee approach to the position and the Bears could be looking for a more reliable backfield partner for Howard. Possibly a speed back to complement Howard’s power, like Fox had in Denver with C.J. Anderson (power) and Ronnie Hillman (speed).

Or they may not be satisfied with Howard as the main back, Fox certainly benches him often enough, and look for a new primary ball carrier. This would be the year to do it, as the draft is stocked with quality running backs to a historic degree.

Draft Position Overview:

The running back class in 2017 is absolutely loaded with top-tier talent. There are as many as twelve backs with a grade in the top three rounds (depending on which draft site you prefer). I’ve broken down a few players in each of the first three rounds and a couple late round players who could be targets for the Bears in next year’s draft.

Bears Draft Targets – Running Back

First Round:

With the Bears likely picking in the top ten, they could have their choice of running back in this draft. That may seem early for the position, but with the success that Ezekiel Elliot, last years #4 overall pick,  is having with the Cowboys teams could take a running back earlier than usual this year. It is a copycat league after all.

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1.) Leonard Fournette, LSU (6’1, 230) – The best RB prospect since Adrian Peterson. Fournette has an insane power / speed combination. He can break away from defensive backs with speed timed as low as 4.36 and has the power to run through arm tackles from defensive linemen, run over linebackers, and absolutely destroy defensive backs.

For a big man, Fournette has great feet which allow him to evade defenders and avoid straight-on hits. At times he’ll decide to take a hit straight on and he usually gets the best of it when he does. I haven’t seen a running back inflict as much pain on defenders since Bears legend Walter Payton.

I’m not comparing Fournette (or anyone) to Payton, but he does have a similar punishing running style that brings back memories of Sweetness. Fournette also plays in an offense so inept that it’s reminiscent of Payton’s early years on the Bears. He faces eight men in the box on almost every play and still has managed to average 6.9 yards per carry this season.

Fournette is a freak of nature and has all the skills that teams would look for if they were creating a player in Madden. He’s not used much in the passing game (41 career catches) or in pass pro, but has looked like a natural in both when given a chance. He’s also a dynamic kick returner with a 100-yard return against Notre Dame in his freshman season.

He has all the tools to step into the NFL and be a dominant, franchise back. There is a chance Fournette could go #1 overall to the Browns but if he slips to the back half of the top ten, the Bears need to at least think about drafting him.

If the Bears were to select Fournette in the first round, it would make things easier on whatever QB they selected in the second. The Bears have the makings of an above-average offensive line for the 2017 season and a strong running game would lessen the pressure on a rookie QB. The Cowboys have shown the blueprint of how that combo works out and the Bears have enough pieces to make a similar strategy work in 2017.

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2.) Dalvin Cook, Florida St (6’0, 206) – Has a legit argument to be the top back drafted this year. Cook doesn’t have the ideal size/power combo that Fournette does, but he’s more explosive and is a threat to score everytime he touches the ball.

Cook has sprinter speed (4.35) and a powerful lower half that gives him a low center of gravity, great balance, and the ability to run through arm tackles without slowing down. Despite lacking ideal bulk, Cook averaged a ridiculous 4.0 yards after contact in 2015. He’s also been a prolific receiver with 73 catches already in his career with the Seminoles.

A few things that stand out on tape to me besides his elite balance and speed are Cook’s ability to vary his speed to throw off pursuit angles, great vision to see where the hole is going to be on the second level, and the economy of moves he needs to make people miss. On many of his long runs, Cook only makes one or two subtle moves. He’s a one of a kind back.

Cook isn’t a perfect prospect though, he does have some injury concerns after two shoulder surgeries and a few other minor injuries. He’s also had a couple of red flag legal issues off the field. He flashes the ability to block, but doesn’t always give it a full effort.

Overall, he’s one of the best running backs to enter the draft in the last ten years and has drawn comparisons to Marshall Faulk for his running style and receiving skills.

Second Round:

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3.) Christian McCaffery, Stanford (6’1, 202) – It’s unlikely that McCaffrey falls out of the first round as he’s currently projected in the mid-20s, which will likely be about halfway between the Bears first and second round picks. The Bears probably won’t be in position to draft him, but McCaffrey is too good of a fit not to include on this list.

The Bears badly need an explosive playmaker both in the backfield and in the slot. McCaffrey could fill both roles. He’s one of the most exciting runners I’ve watched in years with a smooth gait and deceptive speed. Defenses have keyed on McCaffrey since early last season, but he keeps putting up huge numbers.

He’s not likely to match the ridiculous numbers from his sophomore campaign (2,664 yards from scrimmage), but McCaffrey is still on pace to eclipse 2,000 total yards again this season. If his sophomore year yardage total isn’t impressive enough, he returned both a kick and punt for touchdowns and also threw two TD passes (he was robbed of the Heisman).

While the yardage total isn’t as prolific, McCaffrey is still averaging 6.2 yards per touch and has scored 11 TDs in nine games so far in 2016. With 4.37 speed, elite acceleration, the vision to find the right holes, and the feet to change direction without losing speed, McCaffrey is a threat to score every time he has the ball. He’s versatile enough to play any skill position and can help the Bears in multiple ways.

McCaffrey has the skill to impact the game as a running back, receiver, or returner and the Bears happen to have needs at all three positions. His breakaway speed and home run ability are things the team has been missing since Devin Hester left. The Bears may have to reach a little or maneuver to the back-half of the first round to get McCaffrey, but he would be worth it.

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4.) Alvin Kamara, Tennessee (5’10, 215) – His shifty style and versatility has drawn comparisons to Jamal Charles. Kamara is a smooth receiver out of the backfield with good enough skills to line up in the slot at the next level.

He’s not a big back, but runs hard and with the grit to break tackles and balance to gain yards after contact. Kamara is a well-rounded back who is adept at blocking in pass pro, can run effectively inside or out, already has 56 catches in just 21 games, and can return kicks or punts.

Kamara might not have the bulk to hold up with a heavy NFL workload, but will be a dangerous weapon who can line up in the slot on early downs and move into the backfield in passing situations.

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5.) Curtis Samuel, Ohio St (5’11, 200) – One of the most explosive players in college football. The junior back is averaging eight yards per carry and 13.2 yards per catch. Samuel is versatile enough to use all over the field and the Buckeyes have taken advantage of it, lining him up in the backfield, split out wide, in the slot, and occasionally taking direct snaps as the QB.

He has breakaway speed (4.37), an extra gear in the open field, and is already an accomplished receiver (90 career catches) with soft hands and sharp route running ability. Samuel may not be sturdy enough to be an every-down back, but can be a versatile weapon from day 1. He’s really a RB/WR hybrid and would be an ideal complement to a power back like Jordan Howard.

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Third Round:

5.) Jeremy McNichols, Boise St (5’9, 207) – The 5th leading rusher in FBS right now, McNichols already has 1,369 yards and 22 total touchdowns. His elite balance and hard-nosed running style make up for a lack of size and his shifty moves on the second level give McNichols plenty of big-play potential.

While he lacks ideal size for an NFL workhorse, McNichols gains plenty of yards after contact. He has excellent hands as a receiver with 97 career catches for 1,043 yards and 11 TDs. McNichols running style reminds me a bit of Maurice Jones-Drew and he should excel in the zone-blocking scheme that the Bears use often. He would be a good fit as a 3rd down back but is tough enough to be an every-down back if needed.

6.) Sony Michel, Georgia (5’11, 212) – At most schools Michel would have been a featured back two seasons ago, but Michel has shared a backfield with Todd Gurley and Nick Chubb. He’s been the backup his whole career, but has flashed legit NFL talent when given a chance to play.

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Michel has great speed (4.46) but looks even faster than that on the field. The junior back has averaged 5.4 yards per carry for his career and almost 10 yards per catch as a receiver. Michel is a smooth runner with deceptive speed, great change of direction ability, an extra gear in the open field, and enough strength to run through arm tackles.

A lack of ideal size and his soft hands out of the backfield will likely relegate Michel to 3rd down back duties at the next level, but he could be one of the better ones right away. His open field moves are a constant highlight reel and Michel has enough bulk to hold up at the next level. Like most players on the list from this point on, Michel would be an ideal complement to Jordan Howard.

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