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Draft analysis: After moving Jordan Howard, the Bears must replace him

Penn State running back Miles Sanders runs a drill during the NFL Scouting Combine last month. | Darron Cummings/AP photo

Part 6 of an 11-part series previewing the NFL draft and analyzing the Bears’ needs.

Jordan Howard had a feeling where he would be traded.

Tipped off by his agent, the former Bears running back scoured the Eagles’ website before being dealt March 28.

“I was looking at the roster,” he said in a news conference earlier this month, “to see if they were gonna have 24 open.”

Howard will get to keep his jersey number, albeit in midnight green, for the final season of his rookie deal. The $2.025 million due to him this year is because of a performance bonus that limited what the Bears were able to receive in return: a sixth-round pick in 2020 that could bump up to a fifth-rounder if he plays well.

By trading Howard, who was a poor fit in Matt Nagy’s offense, the Bears created their biggest draft need. It would be a shock if they didn’t take a running back with one of their first two selections — either in the third or fifth rounds.

The Bears are intrigued by Penn State’s Miles Sanders, who had 220 carries for 1,274 yards in replacing Saquon Barkley last year, if he’s still available. Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace put Mike Weber through a workout at Ohio State last month and hosted Notre Dame’s Dexter Williams at their local pro day Friday at Halas Hall.

Iowa State’s David Montgomery, Texas A&M’s Trayveon Williams and FAU’s Dexter Singletary highlight the top of the second tier of draftees. Stanford’s Bryce Love or Oklahoma’s Rodney Anderson, who are recovering from knee injuries, could be solid value plays on Day 3.

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Whoever the Bears bring in will have a chance to prove his worth. There are still 10-15 carries per game unaccounted for in 2019.

The Bears gave Seahawks running back Mike Davis a two-year, $6 million contract last month, but he has carried more than 15 times in a game only twice in his career. Despite his struggles, Howard had more than 15 carries in seven games last year alone.

“With Mike, we saw somebody that . . . was in a position in Seattle where he didn’t have a lot of tread on his tires — not a lot of carries, shared some carries,” Nagy said last month. “I liked his vision. . . . From all the research we did on him, we thought it was a great fit.”

Newly signed receiver/returner Cordarrelle Patterson, who played a limited role at running back for the Patriots, figures to get a few carries on gadget plays.

Tarik Cohen, the Bears’ do-everything sparkplug, averaged 6.2 carries last season. To keep him as a dynamic receiver and returner, the Bears won’t increase that average. The only other returning running back with a carry last year, Taquan Mizzell, had only 16 yards on nine carries.

By trading Howard, the Bears have put themselves in a position to draft a running back.

RUNNING BACKS

Grading the Bears’ need: High. The four running backs on the Bears roster combined for 220 carries last year. Jordan Howard, whom the team traded last month, had 250 by himself. The Bears need to replace Howard, and to a lesser extent, the special teams contributions of Benny Cunningham, who signed with the Jaguars.

On the roster: Mike Davis, Tarik Cohen, Taquan Mizzell and Ryan Nall.

The five best draftees: Alabama’s Josh Jacobs; Alabama’s Damien Harris; Penn State’s Miles Sanders; Iowa State’s David Montgomery; and FAU’s Devin Singletary.

Keep an eye on: The Big Ten guys. The Bears are researching Penn State’s Miles Sanders and Ohio State’s Mike Weber, both of whom fit their need for between-the-tackles rushers who can develop into pass catchers. A video of Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace working Weber out showed the running back catching a pass on a wheel route.

“I didn’t get thrown to too much at Ohio State,” Weber, who caught 54 passes over three years at OSU, said at the NFL Scouting Combine. “I can show that.”

Close to home: Notre Dame’s Dexter “Juice” Williams missed the first month of his senior season because of a suspension before returning to gain 995 yards on 158 carries. The Bears hosted him at their local pro day Friday.

The Irish haven’t had a running back taken in the top 89 since Julius Jones went No 43 in 2006.

“I had to be that playmaker,” he said at the NFL Scouting Combine. “And also being able to change that phase that Notre Dame is in of not being able to put out an elite running back.”