INDIANAPOLIS — Whether he meant to or not, Penn State’s Miles Sanders successfully summarized the Bears’ running back debate Thursday at the NFL Scouting Combine.
Sanders, who met with the Bears late Tuesday, was asked about the team not drafting until No. 87 overall.
‘‘They told me, maybe if I’m available, they might take a . . . they’re going to take a . . . they might take a running back,’’ he said. ‘‘Because I don’t know the situation with Jordan Howard.’’
That’s it right there. The Bears have made no secret of their desire for a versatile young running back to plug into coach Matt Nagy’s system. Whether that player serves as a complement to Howard next season — the last of Howard’s rookie deal — or replaces him altogether is another question.
The Bears don’t begin drafting until the third round, but they will have options there. Howard was a fifth-round pick, and do-everything running back Tarik Cohen went in the fourth round.
Here are the draftees at the combine that might be a good fit:
No FBS running back caught more passes last season than Washington State’s James Williams, who had 83 receptions. None caught 73 or 63, either. The next-closest player, with 53 catches, was Washington State teammate Max Borghi.
The Bears met with Williams on Thursday.
‘‘I made that, like, a priority to catch everything,’’ he said. ‘‘In practice, I’m thinking like a receiver, too. If I drop a ball, I’m going to start doing push-ups and I’m going to get mad.’’
When have you ever heard of running backs doing push-ups for drops?
‘‘I made our running backs do it,’’ he said.
Williams must improve his pass protection, but his pass-catching résumé dwarfs that of every other running back at the combine.
Williams patterns his game after two other standout pass-catchers: the Saints’ Alvin Kamara, who was drafted No. 67 in 2017, and the Patriots’ James White, who went No. 130 in 2014.
‘‘Everybody called me a third-down back, but I can play every down,’’ Williams said.
The Bears wouldn’t need him to.
The injured star
Bryce Love claims he has no regrets. He might have been a first-round pick had he left Stanford
after the 2017 season, when he ran for 2,118 yards — the 16th-most in college football history — on 263 carries.
Instead, he returned for his senior season, gained 739 yards on 166 carries and tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the Cardinal’s final game of the regular season.
After having surgery in December, Love hopes to be fully healthy by the middle of training camp. The injury, though, will mean he’ll come at a discount.
When he decided to return to school, Love wanted to prove his versatility. He caught a career-high 20 passes last season.
‘‘That’s just today’s game: You have to be able to catch the ball out of the backfield,’’ Love said. ‘‘You have to be versatile and put the defensive coordinator in different situations like that. That’s a big thing.’’
Injury or not, Love — who had an informal interview with the Bears — can boast something his contemporaries can’t.
‘‘Not really many people, if anybody, have done the things I was able to do on the college level,’’ he said.
Kentucky’s Benny Snell, who ranked fourth in FBS in carries and sixth in rushing yards last season, knew the Bears’ running back situation before he sat down with the team this week. He has befriended Howard, who trains at Kentucky with his former Indiana strength coach.
‘‘I’ve been learning from Jordan,’’ Snell said.
Texas A&M’s Trayveon Williams, another Southeastern Conference star, ranked sixth in carries and third in rushing yards last season. He spoke with the Bears this week and knows that he’ll have to be versatile, wherever he lands.
‘‘The game is changing as a whole, man,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s becoming more fast and really becoming — it’s more spread out now. Flexing out guys and getting out on the perimeter a lot.’’
The low-mileage back
Despite his star high school status, Sanders averaged less than 2.5 carries per game in his first two college seasons. The reason: He was playing behind star Saquon Barkley.
He decided to enter the draft early after rushing 220 times for 1,274 yards and catching 24 passes for 139 yards as a junior.
Compared to Snell, Williams and other mid-round possibilities, Sanders has low mileage that belies his strong production.
Sanders said his interview with the Bears went well, from the conversation to his work on the whiteboard. He sees where he can fit in their offense.
‘‘I think it’s very important . . . to have an ‘everything’ running back and then to complement Tarik Cohen,’’ he said. ‘‘Tarik Cohen is very versatile, too. Having two backs back there that are like that, I think that would be very effective.
‘‘Because [the Bears] have the defense to go all the way but probably just need more offensive players, I guess.’’