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Bears draft preview: RB Ezekiel Elliott might be hard to pass on

Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott. (AP)

Part 10 of a 10-part series previewing the NFL draft, which begins April 28 at the Auditorium Theatre.

After the blockbuster trades by the Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles to acquire the first and second overall picks, respectively, there’s a better chance that three quarterbacks could be selected among the first 10 picks.

And for the Bears, that means there’s a better chance that Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott, the best running back in the draft, could be there at No. 11.

But would they take him?

NFL Network draft analyst and former scout Daniel Jeremiah and many others had the Eagles taking Elliott with the eighth selection before they acquired the Cleveland Browns’ No. 2 pick.

Jeremiah said during a conference call that he considered Elliott a good fit because historically the Eagles excelled with a versatile running back like him who has “dynamic traits that could help you on all three downs and could take a lot of pressure off your quarterback.”

Elliott, of course, could do that for any team.

So why not the Bears, who did look at running backs in free agency?

Elliott is squarely on the Bears’ radar. He visited Halas Hall earlier this week and has said in several interviews that he’d love to play for the Bears because of running backs coach Stan Drayton, who recruited him to Ohio State and coached him.

The Bears, though, have plenty of areas to address, and running backs, as a whole, have been devalued across the league for a variety of reasons, including longevity. Bears second-year back Jeremy Langford, a fourth-round pick last year, is proof that good ones can be found later.

“[Elliott is] a very good player, and he’s talented enough that someone could take him in the top 10,” said SiriusXM NFL analyst Phil Savage, the Browns’ former general manager. “Personally, I think you can find running backs throughout the draft. It’s been proven over time. It’s been really hard to find these other positions outside of the top 10 or outside of the first round.”

But other analysts, including many former scouts and executives, consider Elliott a transcendent talent, even if he’s not as good as Rams running back Todd Gurley, the 10th overall pick last year.

ESPN analyst Louis Riddick, the Eagles’ former personnel director, thinks Elliott could be drafted by the Dallas Cowboys at No. 4

Pro Football Focus also is a big believer in Elliott because of his skills as a runner, receiver and blocker. PFF analyst Sam Monson described him as “maybe the best and most complete running-back prospect to come out of college since Adrian Peterson.”

In other words, he’s a player the Bears could regret passing on. If he’s the best player on their board and available at No. 11, they should take him.

“I know what people say about the devaluing in the running-back position and all that,” Jeremiah said. “This guy is not Todd Gurley, he’s not at that level, but this guy’s got a chance to be a Pro Bowl running back for a long period of time.”


Rating Bears’ need: High

The Bears like what they have in Jeremy Langford and Ka’Deem Carey. Langford, in particular, is viewed as a three-down player after totaling 816 yards and scoring seven touchdowns last season.

But the Bears’ attempt to sign Broncos running back C.J. Anderson in free agency — which included the most lucrative offer sheet — said plenty. They want more.

It was a peculiar move because it came after Matt Forte was informed that he would not be re-signed. But general manager Ryan Pace said the Bears were surprised that Anderson became available.

In March, the Broncos applied the lowest restricted-free-agency tender to Anderson, which prompted the Bears and Dolphins to make offers. The Bears met with Forte weeks earlier in February.

The Bears re-signed Jacquizz Rodgers to a one-year deal, and Senorise Perry is healthy after missing last season with a foot injury. But both are valued more on special teams.

Best of the best

Ohio State star Ezekiel Elliott, the 2015 Big Ten offensive player of the year, is the only back expected to go in the first round. He’s a game-changer who might be taken among the first 10 picks.

Other options

Louisiana Tech’s Kenneth Dixon, Alabama’s Derrick Henry, Utah’s Devontae Booker, Indiana’s Jordan Howard and Notre Dame’s C.J. Prosise are the next backs in line.

Dixon and Henry, though, might not be available after Day 2 of the draft. They are different players. Henry is a 6-3, 247-pound bruiser. Dixon is a shifty, versatile back who has been compared to Forte because of his receiving skills.