With training camp right around the corner I am going to focus on the position battles to watch over the next two months. I started with the backup QB battle yesterday and am moving on to the backup RB job with today. Matt Forte is the clear-cut #1, but the backup job is wide open after the release of “power-back” Michael Bush. The Bears overpaid for Bush (4-yr, $14M) and didn’t get the results they expected, so they are going with a more fiscally responsible approach this year. It would be hard to get less production than what Bush provided (3.1 ypc), so at least one of the group below should be an upgrade. Forte was 3rd in the NFL in carries last season (289) and I think the Bears would like to get that number to around 250 to keep Forte fresh late in the season and possibly extend his career a little, but for that they will need a reliable RB. Here are the candidates currently on the roster:
Carey is the most well-rounded running back on the roster besides Forte and they are actually fairly similar in that vision is their best trait, they are both smooth receivers out of the backfield, both have underrated elusiveness in the open field, and neither guy is a track star. Carey was an aggressive pass blocker in college which is one trait that endeared him to Emery during the draft process, but it has yet to be seen if he will be able to block NFL pass rushers. If he can, then I think he has the backup role locked up, but it is easier said than done. Another concern is his lack of straight line speed, Carey’s 4.7 speed didn’t slow him down in college on his way to 3,814 yards over his last two seasons, but NFL defenses are much faster and he may not have the jets to turn the corner or get to the 2nd level.
As an athlete, Ford is on the opposite end of the spectrum from Carey. Carey struggled at the combine posting results near the bottom of his position group in most categories, while Ford was near the top in everything with a 4.38 40-time, a 10.10″ broad jump (1st), 25 reps of 225 (4th), a vertical of 39.5 (3rd), the 4th best 60-yard shuttle and the 5th best 3-cone time. It’s really surprising that Ford wasn’t drafted. His stats at LSU weren’t overwhelming, but he averaged 5.7 ypc and was a dangerous kick returner with 27.5 ypr.
The only time we saw Ford last year was in the preseason, but he was solid when given a chance averaging 4.5 yards per touch, scoring two TDs and averaging 33.5 yards per kick return. The issue with Ford is his pass blocking which was considered a weakness coming out college and his receiving skills which he wasn’t asked to utilize at LSU. I’ve liked what I’ve seen from Ford so far and think he is a legitimate contender for the backup RB role and the primary kick returner job, but he will need another strong preseason performance if he’s going to beat out Carey.
A free agent signing this offseason, Draughn is like a less exciting version of Carey. Coming out of college the scouting report on Draughn was that he had good vision, an explosive burst through the hole, and soft hands out of the backfield but he lacked the speed to run away from defenders (4.7 40-time at combine) and wasn’t an elusive runner in the open field. Draughn has a little more experience than the other options at running back but he hasn’t done much when given a chance (3.9 ypc). I think Draughn is insurance should someone get hurt or if none of the rookies are ready to play.
Local kid (Mt. Carmel, NIU) who played QB in college but is making the transition to running back. Lynch led all QB in rushing yards the last two seasons, so he wasn’t a typical pass-first QB. Lynch has a very similar skill-set as Carey; He’s not a burner (4.6) but has excellent vision, good agility, and is tough to bring down. I think it will take Lynch a bit longer to adapt to the position since he hasn’t had to pass block or catch passes out of the backfield in college, but he has enough talent to stick around on the practice squad at least. If Lynch excels at special teams, which I think he will, he could earn a roster spot this season and maybe earn some carries as the 3rd running back.
The Bears were lucky to sign Perry after the priority UDFA period; I had him graded as a 7th round pick / priority UDFA. He was part of a committee at RB in Louisville, so his stats aren’t impressive but his highlights are. Perry has the best pure speed of any RB on the Bears roster and if they are looking for a home run hitter, Perry is the guy. He has legit breakaway speed (4.36) and enough size to take a hit or two (6’0, 206). He’s not an established pass blocker, so that is part of his game Perry will need to improve if he is going to stick on the roster, but his big play potential is something the other RB candidates don’t have which could be enough to earn him at least the 3rd RB gig.
Projected winner: Ka’Deem Carey
It’s no surprise that Carey is projected to win the job. He’s the only guy on this list that the Bears actually spent a draft pick on (4th round) and he also has the best college track record at running back (sorry Lynch). Carey is also the most balanced of the running backs and the closest thing to Forte the Bears have on the roster. The ability to bring in a backup and not limit the playbook is important and I think Carey has the best chance to do that. There is still a lot of time left for Ford or one of the other backs to take the job away, but going into training camp it is Carey’s to lose.