2019 training camp roster analysis
It's not often the Chicago Bears come into a season with more uncertainty at running back than every other team in the NFC North.
Welcome to 2019.
The franchise of Walter Payton, Matt Forte, Neal Anderson and Anthony Thomas has a tougher call to make at this position than any time since Jeremy Langford was the expected starter at running back in 2016 ... and then along came Jordan Howard.
There is great optimism over David Montgomery, their top draft choice. His attitude, courage and work ethic are legendary at Iowa State.
Montgomery wasn't chosen until Round 3, and it was after running the 40-yard dash in a sluggish 4.63 seconds, barely topping gravity with a 28-inch vertical leap and bench-pressing only 15 times at 225 pounds at the combine. He beat only six of the 22 other backs to run the 40, had the worst vertical leap of the 24 backs who jumped and bench-pressed more times than only Memphis backup Tony Pollard among 26 backs who lifted.
Then again, the Bears traded up in Round 3 to hand him the football and watch him gain yards, not work out in his shorts.
There was no doubt at Iowa State about Montgomery's skills. Montgomery fits the description of what coach Matt Nagy wants in a back to a T – he starts and stops on a dime with moves to make tacklers miss in the hole, and seems to have ability as a receiver, although he didn't really get a ton of chances in college to prove it.
It's safe to say Montgomery is promising but no can't-miss prospect.
Much the same can be said for Candidate No. 2, Mike Davis. Already rejected by the 49ers and allowed to leave by the Seahawks in free agency, the Bears essentially are taking a flyer on a back who has proven little in four seasons.
There has been promise. He caught 34 passes last year when Seattle needed a multipurpose runner due to injuries, although he only averaged 6.3 yards a catch. He averaged 4.6 yards per rush last year on 112 carries. Yet, that was his career high for attempts by a long shot. Before that, he had 68 carries in 2017 and didn't have that many combined in two 49ers seasons.
Davis runs with power, knows how to lower his shoulder, yet has quick feet and can make tacklers miss.
Obviously, neither Davis nor Montgomery will be candidates to become complacent. Both have a lot to prove.
Fortunately for the Bears, there is spectacular certainty when they turn to Tarik Cohen. He led the team in receptions last year, was 13th in the NFL in yardage after the catch and averaged 4.5 yards per 99 rushes.
The Bears can't really use him much between the tackles because of his siz (5-6, 181) but occasionally will brave it. They're hoping the first two backs can make it so they don't have to brave it when defenses expect it.
Former Florida-Atlantic back Kerrith Whyte stunned players at rookie camp this spring with speed like a wide receiver, but is a project as a seventh-round pick. He wasn't even the starter on his college team, so his value this season appears uncertain.
Practice squad player Ryan Nall is the only other back on the roster, so it wouldn't be surprising to see the Bears looking at players cut during camp.
Or perhaps they'd like to trade for a back. There's one who fits their needs and is trying to make himself available to those interested.
Taquan Mizzell is still around, too, after averaging 1.8 yards a rush last year. Mizzell was converted to wide receiver during the offseason and appears to be done as a running back.
Nall has quick feet for a big man and isn't a real bruising runner, but does have good hands and skills. He finished second in the NFL in preseason rushing yards last year.
Key questions about this group
- -Can either Montgomery or Davis or both make everyone forget about Howard? If they can't Ryan Pace and Nagy will have some explaining to do.
- Does Montgomery have speed that translates to the NFL? He was slow at the combine, and in college was juking tacklers, and then beating slower defenders than he'll see in this league.
- Can either Montgomery or Davis contribute in the passing game the way Nagy would like. Davis has 36 total receptions before last season. He does have a 75.6% reception/targets figure, which is respectable. Howard's was 66.7%.
- Can either Montgomery or Davis pass block. It's said this is a strength for Davis. It was suggested it's true of Montgomery, but college backs rarely have the skill or experience needed to do this well at the NFL level.
- Can Nall be a fullback? He's never done it. The Bears have no fullbacks on the roster and rarely use one, but did have Michael Burton active eight games last year for that role. Nall might find his way onto the 53-man roster if he can prove he can do this at 6-foot-2, 232 pounds.
- Is Whyte going to be groomed as a Cohen replacement? Cohen's contract expires after 2020 and scatback-types usually aren't valued to a great extent. Then again, neither are any running backs these days.
The bubble boys
Nall and Whyte both could be on the bubble, but Whyte did get drafted and the Bears tend to keep all their picks for at least a year if possible. Nall can go on the practice squad another year.
A player who could surprise
Davis. He appears to be one of those players with some talent who just hasn't received a real opportunity.
Many preseason forecasts completely discount Davis and call Montgomery or Cohen the Bears' top back. A powerful back with some quickness, Davis could really surprise those who paid him short shrift.