Bears NFL Draft preview: Jordan Howard dials running back need way, way down

Bears NFL Draft preview: Jordan Howard dials running back need way, way down Bears Insider John "Moon" Mullin goes position-by-position as the Bears approach the 2017 Draft, taking a look at what the Bears have, what they might need, and what draft day and after could have in store. Third in a series.

Bears pre-draft situation

Drafting running backs in three straight mid rounds gave the Bears Ka’Deem Carey, Jeremy Langford and finally Jordan Howard, who surprised coaches who admitted not fully knowing what they had and started Langford the first three games. Langford went down with a high-ankle injury against Dallas, Howard started and established himself as the featured back of the offense, with 1,313 rushing yards and a 5.2 ypc average, second in the NFL only to Ezekiel Elliott.

Langford, expected to be a speed upgrade from released veteran Matt Forte, failed to take a second-year step up, averaging just 3.2 yards on 62 carries with no run longer than 13 yards over his final nine games and 31 carries. Carey slid virtually out of the rotation and was deactivated for the final two games after getting no more than 2 carries in any of the previous seven games.

The addition of Benny Cunningham added firepower to the return game but also in the backfield. Cunningham has averaged more than 13 yards per pass reception in four seasons, plus 27 yards per kickoff return.

Pre-draft depth-chart’ing starters

RB: Jordan Howard
Third down: Benny Cunningham
Reserves: Bralon Addison, Ka’Deem Carey, David Cobb, Jeremy Langford

Bears draft priority: Low

Ryan Pace has added running backs on the third day of his first two Bears drafts and late-round upgrade from Carey and Langford who can contribute on special teams would interest him. Redrafting a position in multiple years is generally a course heading for problems elsewhere on the roster, so special teams would be a significant consideration even for a mid- or late-round pick.

If the Bears are satisfied that Langford is a viable backup for Howard, plus Cunningham, the Bears are well set at the position with youth as well as quality.

Keep an eye on ...

I'Tavius Mathers, RB, Middle Tennessee: Exploded as a senior with 1,5651 yards and 17 TD’s. Sat out ’15 after transferring from Mississippi.

Elijah McGuire, RB, La.-Lafayette: From the same program that gave the Bears CB Charles Tillman. Set back by a foot injury but showed receiving skills and was three-time 1,000-yard rusher.

Jamaal Williams, RB, Brigham Young: Ideal size (6-0, 212 pounds) and excellent production without top-end speed. Suspended for ’15 for rules violation but worked to finish his degree and return for strong ’16. “You have to abide by the rules,” Williams said. “I learned to be disciplined while I was [at BYU].”

Good or better? Why offseason moves are making 2017 Bears better

Good or better? Why offseason moves are making 2017 Bears better

Improvement typically comes in incremental steps, not leaps. And the Bears of 2017, based on what they have done at a handful of positions, the latest being Thursday’s signing of wide receiver Victor Cruz, fit that template.

The clear organizational commitment is to build through the draft, even if injuries have undermined some otherwise apparent upgrades to starting lineups on both sides of the football. But if there is a “theme” to what GM Ryan Pace is doing to muscle up a sluggish roster, it is that the Bears are willing to take flyers on veteran players – with additions like four veteran wide receivers with injury and issue histories – that arguably point to a win-now mindset while draft picks develop and contribute.

Jaye Howard and John Jenkins. Make the defensive line “better?” Than Jonathan Bullard and Will Sutton, probably. But “good?” Mmmmm…..

The game-one tight ends last year were Zach Miller-Logan Paulsen-Gregg Scruggs. Now they’re Miller-Dion Sims-Adam Shaheen (based on a second-round draft choice). “Good?” Maybe, maybe not. “Better?” Obviously, based on Sims alone.

Mike Glennon-Mark Sanchez-Mitch Trubisky. Bears “better” at quarterback? Than Jay Cutler-Brian Hoyer-Matt Barkley, probably. “Good?” Mmmmmm…..

The decisions to sign Glennon and Sanchez to the quarterback depth chart have sparked their shares of understandable cynical skepticism. But Kirk Cousins and Jimmy Garoppolo were not available in trade, so the Pace decision was to gamble on upside with Glennon over the known quantity of Brian Hoyer (the preference of some coaches) and certainly Jay Cutler, for whom “potential” and “upside” no longer applied.

Add in the aggressive draft of Trubisky and the result was three possibilities of hits on a quarterback (Sanchez and Connor Shaw being combined here as a pair entry in the hit-possibility scenarios). All three were deemed an improvement over Cutler and/or Barkley.

The results may not vault the Bears all the way up to “good” at the pivotal position for any franchise. But “better” is sometimes all you can realistically manage.

Taking a wider-screen look at wide receiver in this context… .

Coach John Fox has cited the need for the Bears to establish the ability to get yardage in bigger chunks. Accordingly, all four of the veteran wideout signings this offseason – Cruz, Rueben Randle, Markus Wheaton, Kendall Wright –  have posted yards-per-catch seasons of 14 or longer.

All four won’t be on the opening-day roster, but all four offer the promise of major impact. Cruz, Randle and Wright have had seasons of 70 or more receptions, and Wheaton topped out at 53 in 2015 with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Randy Moss, Terrell Owens and Jerry Rice weren’t available, so “good” was hard to achieve in an offseason in which Alshon Jeffery and Eddie Royal were expected departures long before their exits. But are Cruz, Randle, Wheaton and Wright, with Kevin White and Cameron Meredith, a “better” starting point than Jeffery, Royal, White, Bellamy, etc. of a year ago?

Obviously. But players with even moderately established NFL “names” (like Cruz, Randle, etal.) are typically available for a reason; teams do not routinely give up on talent. And none of the four come without significant shadows on their NFL resumes, whether for injury or other questions.

Cruz missed most of 2014 and all of the 2015 season, and hasn’t played a full season since his Pro Bowl year of 2012.

Randle was described as a head case by scouts and was so bad that he was let go in the Eagles’ cutdown to 75 last year, followed by disparaging comments from those in and around the organization.

Wheaton flashed promise in his 2014-15 opportunities as a part-time starter but played just three games before a shoulder injury landed him on IR last season.

The Tennessee Titans thought enough of Wright, their 2012 first-round draft choice, to pick up his fifth-year option going into las season. But by week 14 he was benched for tardiness and was a healthy DNP in game 16, announcing after the game that he already knew he was not in the Titans’ plans for 2017.

The prospect of the Bears going from 3-13 to “good” borders on fantasy. But if being among the NFL’s busiest this offseason hasn’t propelled the Bears to that level, the results point to “better.” At this point, that’s something,.

How big of an impact will Victor Cruz have on the Bears?

How big of an impact will Victor Cruz have on the Bears?

The Bears inked Victor Cruz to a one-year deal on Thursday, adding another receiver to an already crowded corps.

But it never hurts to add a veteran one to a young group, especially with a new starting quarterback.

Cruz is 30 years old and isn't the same Pro Bowl-caliber player he was before missing the entire 2015 season with a calf injury, but he surely has a lot left in the tank and can serve as a great mentor for the Bears receivers.

Just how big of an impact will he have on his new team? See what the SportsTalk Live panel had to say in the video above.