As the annual draft creeps ever closer, it seems to be in agreement that the Bears would be wise to nab a runningback, considering the sudden gaping hole post-Jordan Howard trade. Despite the whispers, Tarik Cohen can’t handle a three-down role and the freshly signed Mike Davis hasn’t displayed much in his career, so introducing a playmaking rookie would be a nice boost for the Matt Nagy offense. Solid halfbacks generally can be found in essentially every round in the draft, so the Bears’ starting-in-the-third-round draft bodes well for this goal. Here are some names to keep track of on Day Two and Three.
Miles Sanders, Penn State
Already has Sanders drawn comparisons to the Bears’ own Cohen, and for good reason. A very skilled back, his footwork and vision allow him to shave off would-be tacklers. Though not overly speedy or explosive, he has fantastic cutting ability and moves with great fluidity. He also can serve in the pass-catching department, a huge plus for a Nagy-ran offense.
Sometimes, he does get overly cute with the cutting, which inadvertantly gets himself in trouble. He stops way too often and sometimes makes himself a target for defenders. His lack of explosion leaves him relying heavily on his footwork to dodge defenders instead of violently blasting through holes that may be present. Luckily, his footwork is pretty darn good and it usually allows him to shake and bake his way to yardage but in the pros, he will need to further develop his cut-and-go ability to fully realize this.
A running backs coach for an AFC team described him as “(Sanders) sees (the hole) well, but it looks like he’s imitating Saquon (Barkley) with all the stop-start stuff he does. He doesn’t have Saquon’s go-go juice so he needs to be careful with all that stuff. Just trust your eyes and go. That’s what I would tell him.”
If he remains in the fourth round, a back who learned under Giants runner and fellow Penn State superstar Saquon Barkley’s wing could add an entirely new dynamic to the Bears offense, so long as the explosiveness can develop.
Darrell Henderson, Memphis
With as much hype generated around his sheer numbers, Henderson may very well go as high as the first. Rushing for nearly 2,000 yards (on only 214 carries, resulting in an average per carry nearing double digits) and twenty-two touchdowns, he is a wildly volatile and playmaking back, the kind of player teams can rev up, drop in space, and expect big yardage. His acceleration might be his greatest gift, opening running space that usually wouldn’t be there for slower backs.
Coming into the pros, only his stiff running form could possibly hold him back. Henderson runs with a dangerously narrow base (but, at least in college, has shown to handle contact in spite of it), which combined with his undersized build, allows for defenders to throw him off-balance much easier. He also doesn’t bring his knees up enough when running through a hole, causing him to get tripped up on stupid snags that just shouldn’t be a problem.
Curiously enough, this also plagued former Bear Jordan Howard and it never really opened the possibility of big runs from him, no matter how large of a hole since he would always bumblingly trip. But unlike Howard, Henderson’s pure ferociousness gives teams far more to work with. If he (somehow) falls to the third, the Bears need to be adding another home-run playmaker alongside Cohen.
Bryce Love, Stanford
An ACL tear and various other ailments over his career have caused the former Heisman finalist to tumble down draft boards, with some almost writing him off entirely. But if he can recover fully and find a way to stay on the field, he will be the steal of the entire draft. Considering the successes of modern medicine, an ACL tear can no longer be seen as a career ender. And pre-injury Love was one of the most electrifying players in college, a surefire first rounder.
His most obvious gift is speed and frantic running style. As a former track megastar, Love can get on his horse and go at the drop of a hat. His style, admittedly, can be a lot of fun once he gets himself going. His tweener size restricts his potential as a three-down back but his acceleration and zoom offer plenty for coaches to toy around with.
Sometimes, the franticness does get the better of him and he turns almost blind or confused. Love can burst through an open hole just fine, but if nothing presents itself immediately, he won’t wait for anything nor look for cutbacks. Almost as if he is running on cracking ice ready to break, he lacks the patience or awareness to handle one-cut offenses. Once he gets that ball, he’s darting upfield like a starving horse with eyes on a carrot.
Understanding his injury history, teams will be much warier of him in spite of the clear talent and justifiably so. Once Day Three rolls around and if Love remains, plus so long as the Bears haven’t already taken a runningback, Love could be a fantastic shiny new weapon for Nagy and the offense.
Alexander Mattison, Boise State
Entering the home stretch of draft analysis, Mattison has been heavily tied to the Bears due to his potentially perfect fit. A tough mudder, he runs with intention and can handle heavy carry totals all while being a factor in the passing game, both in catching the ball and in blocking. He has all the tools to become a prototypical three-down back and can immediately take on a sizable role in the offense.
Unlike the three other backs on this list, Mattison will be a high-floor, low-ceiling type player. With his willingness and overall strength as a runner, he will be a near-guarantee for a long and serviceable career. Mattison has very few question marks and simply put, is a complete package. He can catch, he can run, he can block, all of the talents are present, just none in the elite levels.
He will more than likely be available deep into the fourth round and will easily fall into the Bears lap if so they decide to take him. But really, he should be a break-in-case-of-fire pick, only grabbing him in the event the other three are off the board or the Bears decide to go with the offensive line, tight end, or defensive end in the earlier rounds. It’s a safe pick, and maybe that’s what the Bears need.