Position preview: With renewed depth, Bears seem set at RB

Two years and two weeks ago, the Bears’ running backs made up their worst offensive position group. Now, the running back room might be the best.

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Bears running back David Montgomery eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards last year.

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Part 2 of a 10-part series previewing the NFL Draft and analyzing the Bears’ needs.

Two years and two weeks ago, running backs were the Bears’ worst offensive position group. General manager Ryan Pace had just traded Jordan Howard to the Eagles rather than pay him for the inflated final year of his rookie deal. That left the newly signed Mike Davis — who had started just nine games in four seasons with the Seahawks and would finish with 11 whole carries in his Bears career — to join Tarik Cohen in the backfield. 

Now, running back is the Bears’ best offensive group. 

David Montgomery is coming off a breakout second season in which his 1,070 rushing yards trailed only Derrick Henry, Dal-vin Cook, Jonathan Taylor and Aaron Jones. More than half that total — 598 yards — came during Montgomery’s final six regular-season games, when he reaped the dual benefits of a solidified offensive line and inferior oppo-sing defenses.

Cohen is expected to be healthy after having surgery in October to repair a torn right anterior cruciate ligament. In two healthy seasons under coach Matt Nagy, he has caught 150 passes.

Damien Williams, who signed a one-year free-agent deal last month, will be the Bears’ third running back. The last time he stepped on a field in February 2020, he became the first player to run for at least 100 yards and score both a rushing and receiving touchdown in the Super Bowl. He sat out last season because of coronavirus concerns and to help care for his mother, who is battling Stage 4 cancer. The Chiefs cut him in March.

It was much easier for Williams to shine in the Chiefs’ revolutionary offense than it will be under Nagy, who has struggled for three years to establish a consistent rushing threat. But Williams’ elite speed as a runner and receiver will give the Bears a different dimension — and provide new running backs coach Michael Pitre with an every-down rushing option in the event Montgomery gets hurt. That’s an upgrade over Cordarrelle Patterson, the return ace who never quite fit as an offensive piece. In the one game Montgomery missed because of a concussion last season, Patterson averaged 2½ yards on 12 rushes in a loss to the Vikings.

Throw in special-teamer Ryan Nall and second-year rusher Artavis Pierce, and the Bears have no reason to pursue a running back in the draft. That’s good, because this year’s crop isn’t particularly deep. Alabama’s Najee Harris and Clemson’s Travis Etienne are the only running backs with a chance of being picked in the first round. They’ve combined for 1,324 rushes over the last four years in college football’s most decorated -programs.

The Bears won’t do their shopping at the high end of the draft. In fact, they probably won’t shop for a running back at all.


Grading the Bears’ need: Low. Two years ago, the Bears drafted David Montgomery. In the last nine months, they’ve given Tarik Cohen a three-year contract extension and signed Damien Williams to a one-year deal.

On the roster: David Montgomery, Tarik Cohen, Damien Williams, Artavis Pierce, Ryan Nall

The five best prospects: Clemson’s Travis Etienne, Alabama’s Najee Harris, North Carolina’s Javonte Williams, Memphis’ Kenneth Gainwell and Ohio State’s Trey Sermon.

Keep an eye on: Whether history repeats itself. Last year, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, an undersized lightning bolt from LSU, became the first running back selected when the Chiefs used the last pick of the first round on him. At 5-10, Etienne is three inches taller than Edwards-Helaire, but just as quick. He’d fit nicely in the Buccaneers’ running back room when they make pick No. 32.

Close to home: Michael Pitre, the Bears’ new running backs coach, has a pupil who figures to be taken on Day 3: Oregon State’s Jermar Jefferson. Pitre served in the same role for the last three years with the Beavers, who boast alums Artavis Pierce and Ryan Nall in the Bears’ running backs room. Jefferson was the Pac-12 Freshman Offensive Player of the Year after Pierce got hurt in 2018. Despite playing in only 27 games, he left Corvallis, Oregon, ranked fifth in program history in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns and 100-yard-plus performances.

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