Mullin's 2011 draft capsules: Running back

Mullin's 2011 draft capsules: Running back
April 26, 2011, 3:50 am
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Monday, April 25, 2011
Posted: 10:58 p.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

Second in a series

The Bears rededicated themselves to running the ball around mid-2010, with the effect of aiding their offensive line and forcing defensive lines to pay attention to someone other than Jay Cutler. That commitment is expected to remain in place.

The Bears

Over the past decade the Bears scored with second-round picks at running back. Anthony Thomas (2001) was the offensive rookie of the year; Matt Forte (2007) was arguably the Bears offensive player of the year last season, accounting for nine touchdowns and more than 1,600 yards, tying for team high with 51 receptions.

Forte is entering a contract year but as one of the franchise-position players (along with quarterback and a pass-rushing defensive lineman) chances of Forte finishing 2011 without a new contract are slim at best.

The variable, however, is behind Forte on the depth chart. A source told CSNChicago.com that the Bears were expected to release Chester Taylor closer to the season.

However, loss of training camp and preseason due to labor troubles would dramatically reduce the opportunity for Harvey Unga to establish himself as a replacement for Taylor, whose production dropped for a third straight season to a career-low 2.4 yards per carry. And the Bears paid Taylor the majority of his money in year one of his four-year deal, so there is no economic pressure to make a move.

Need: Marginal; the depth chart may do some shuffling, and Taylor, Unga and Garrett Wolfe will not all make a roster that does not hold a spot open for a fullback anyway.

The 2011 draft

Gems can be uncovered in any draft, even the drafts lacking in apparent elite talent. That would be the situation in this years draft, in which Alabama Heisman Trophy winner (2009) Mark Ingram is rated far, far above most other prospects at the position.

Despite 11 underclassmen declaring for the draft, there is only one bona fide first-round talent among the group, says Pro Football Weeklys Nolan Nawrocki. Although its a smaller class of backs this year, there are some mid-round talents worth considering.

Indeed, rounds 2 and 3 are expected to see as many as a half-dozen backs drafted. Illinois Mikel LeShoure is viewed as a potential second-to-third rounder but too few of the backs, including LeShoure, have displayed the kind of size-speed mix coveted by the NFL, at least in early rounds.

Of course, Arian Foster was a free-agent pickup in 2009 and he led the NFL in rushing and total yards in 2010.

The Best Bets:

1. Mark Ingram, Alabama With 30 rushing touchdowns over the past two seasons playing in the SEC, Hes one guy that really belongs in the first round, said ESPNs Todd McShay. He is so instinctive. And the three things that really jump out, the instincts, the lateral quickness -- he just feels a hole opening and is able to get in and out of it so quickly. And then, finally, the yards after contact, just the way he runs with his pad level and anticipating contact, he is so good in that area.

2. Mikel LeShoure, Illinois Could even slip into the first round, being the kind of productive player that quality franchises like Indianapolis and New England gravitate toward.

3. Daniel Thomas, Kansas State Did not run with the speed of Oklahoma States Kendall Hunter or Va. Techs Ryan Williams but this former QB got progressively better every year and is 6-0, 225 pounds, which the others arent.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.