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Draft analysis: Bears not in the market for a running back

David Montgomery, a third-round pick last year, was no better than Jordan Howard. But that’s considered an indictment of the Bears’ woeful offense than a misjudgment of Montgomery.

SEC Championship - Georgia v LSU
Georgia’s D’Andre Swift (7, vs. LSU in the SEC Championship game last season) ranks with Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor and Ohio State’s J.K. Dobbins as the best running back prospects in this year’s NFL Draft. But all three might not be drafted until the second round.
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Part 9 of a 10-part series previewing the NFL Draft and analyzing the Bears’ needs.

On paper, the front end of last year’s draft could not have worked out much better for the Bears, considering their circumstances. Eyeing a running back after trading Jordan Howard — but without a first- or second-round pick — they only had to move up 14 spots in the third round to get exactly who they were looking for.

The Bears, in fact, hardly could contain their excitement that Iowa State’s David Montgomery was the better fit for coach Matt Nagy’s offense when they drafted him with the 73rd overall pick.

“Montgomery is the quintessential Chicago Bear running back,” said Mark Sadowski, the Bears’ director of college scouting. “We think he’s a perfect fit for what we’re looking for. His vision. His ability to make you miss. His ability to break tackles — he’s a perfect fit to have him on the field the whole time.”

With Nagy coming from an offense in Kansas City that turned third-round pick Kareem Hunt into the NFL’s leading rusher as a rookie in 2017, the idea that Montgomery was the perfect back wasn’t far-fetched. But as it turned out, Montgomery was no more productive in Nagy’s offense in 2019 than Howard was in 2018.

Montgomery had 242 carries for 889 yards (3.7 average) and six touchdowns. He added 25 receptions for 185 yards and one touchdown. A year earlier, Howard rushed 250 times for 935 yards (3.7 average) and nine touchdowns; he caught 20 passes for 145 yards and no touchdowns.

For now, those numbers are seen as an indictment of Nagy’s offense and the Bears’ offensive line rather than a misjudgment of Montgomery. The Bears still like what they have in Montgomery and Tarik Cohen. What they’re looking for is depth. Montgomery, Cohen and unproven third-year back Ryan Nall are the only running backs on the roster after 2019 free-agent signee Mike Davis was cut and seventh-round draft pick Kerrith Whyte was signed off the practice squad by the Steelers last season.

And with wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson possibly playing a bigger role in the backfield in 2020 than he did in 2019 (17 carries, 103 yards, 6.1 average), even depth heading into training camp is hardly the Bears’ biggest issue heading into the draft.

DRAFT SPOTLIGHT

Running backs

Grading the Bears’ need: Low. The Bears are unlikely to draft a back who will get in the way of Montgomery and Cohen developing in Nagy’s offense. Last year, the promising Whyte couldn’t make the 53-man roster — though he averaged 5.1 yards per carry (24 rushes, 122 yards) with the Steelers. The right back might entice general manager Ryan Pace, but it’s likely the Bears have their eyes on the undrafted market at this position.

On the roster: David Montgomery, Tarik Cohen, Ryan Nall.

The five best prospects: Georgia’s D’Andre Swift; Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor; Ohio State’s J.K. Dobbins; LSU’s Clyde Edwards-Helaire; Utah’s Zack Moss.

Keep an eye on: Appalachian State’s Darrynton Evans. The 5-10, 203-pound Evans has the quickness, vision, elusiveness and versatility to develop into a productive weapon in a well-designed NFL offense. He scored 23 touchdowns (18 rushing, five passing) in 2019 after scoring eight (seven rushing, one passing) in 2018.

Close to home: Illinois State’s James Robinson, who set the Illinois prep career rushing record at Rockford Lutheran (9,045 yards, 158 rushing touchdowns), is a heavy-workload back (364 carries, 1,899 yards, 18 touchdowns in 2019) who is considered a mid-round draft pick.