Throughout the summer we will be running a 12-part series grading each Bears position group on a standard A-F scale, including pluses and minuses based on a bell curve comparing all 32 NFL teams.
After a breakout final third of the 2020 season, we will find out if David Montgomery is an elite back or just one of a number of very good ones around the league.
The free agency addition of Damien Williams gives the Bears the legitimate three-down No. 2 back they lacked all last season. And if Tarik Cohen is back at 100%, they also potentially add one of the best third-down backs in the game.
Khalil Herbert is an intriguing day-three pick at a position where day-three picks become All Pros more than occasionally.
If new Bears running backs coach Michael Pitre – a veteran college coach, but a rookie at this level – is up to the task, there is a lot to work with here.
Only three NFL backs – Derrick Henry, Dalvin Cook and Alvin Kamara – produced more yards from scrimmage last season than Montgomery in spite of missing one game. An eye-popping 824 yards, or 55%, of his total 1,508 came in the final six games behind a completely rebuilt offensive line. He runs with great vision, power and balance. He rarely goes down on first contact. Montgomery was as good as anyone in the league last year in yards after contact, and he’s a very good receiver and runner after the catch. All Montgomery lacks is unique speed, yet he still managed runs of 38, 57 and 80 yards last season. Grade: A-
In six seasons in the league – four with the Dolphins and then two with the Chiefs before opting out last year – Williams has never been the principal starter. But he did become the lead back for the Chiefs late in 2019 and in the playoffs. He was a key to their Super Bowl run. He is bigger than Montgomery at 5-foot-11, 224 pounds. He also has sub-4.4 40-yard dash speed, elite for a back. Like Montgomery, he’s solid catching the ball out of the backfield and should provide solid backup and change of pace. Grade: B-
Few players in the league are more explosive or elusive than Cohen when he is running north and south. He tore his ACL early enough last season that he will have had time to get to 100% by early in the upcoming season. He already is an All-Pro and two-time Pro Bowler as a punt returner. If used properly, he offers everything you want in a third-down back. Grade: B+
After making the team as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2019, we still know little about Nall as a running back, because in spite of being the team’s leading rusher in 2019 exhibition games, they just haven’t given him the ball in real games. He has become an important special-teams contributor, which could be key with the departures of Cordarrelle Patterson and Sherrick McManis. Grade: C
Pierce is another undrafted rookie free agent from last season’s crop. He notched a 23-yard run and scored his first NFL touchdown, but he only touched the ball six times all season. He looks comfortable in his pads and on the field, but there are no special traits that stick out. Grade: C
KHALIL HERBERT, C.J. MARABLE
Herbert is a sixth-round pick this year who, after four nondescript seasons at Kansas, exploded last year at Virginia Tech. putting up 1,183 yards and 10 touchdowns on 155 caries with 179 yards and another score on 10 catches. He’s not big (5-10, 208) and he is not a burner, but last year’s monster numbers demand attention.
Marable is an undrafted rookie free agent and was highly productive as a runner and receiver at Coastal Carolina, but he is undersized at 5-10, 200. Grade: Incomplete
If the offensive line takes another step forward and Montgomery, Williams and Cohen all stay healthy, the trio can be very dangerous. Montgomery could be looking at his first Pro Bowl. Herbert, Nall and Pierce could all be competing for one roster spot behind them with the logjam the team has at receiver. Overall grade: B