Chicago Bears: Full Position Breakdown and Depth Chart Analysis at Running Back
The Chicago Bears will be wrapping up their voluntary OTAs later this week before a mandatory minicamp that will take place June 17-19.
Throughout this offseason, the Bears coaching staff has begun the process of determining what the depth chart is going to look like at each position heading into training camp and eventually the regular season.
While the Bears have one of the best running backs in the league in Matt Forte, the battle for the likely two spots behind him on the depth chart is going to be one of the more intriguing battles this offseason.
The team drafted Ka'Deem Carey in the fourth round last month, and he will compete with veterans Michael Ford and Shaun Draughn for the backup spot behind Forte, while undrafted free agent Jordan Lynch is trying to prove that he can successfully make the transition from college quarterback to NFL running back.
Here is our full position breakdown and depth chart analysis at running back for the Chicago Bears.
5th String: Jordan Lynch
After a collegiate career that saw him become one of the most successful duel-threat quarterbacks in college football history, Northern Illinois' Jordan Lynch went undrafted in last month's draft.
The Bears swept in and signed Lynch as an undrafted free agent and immediately listed him as a running back:
Bears have signed nine undrafted free agents, team says. NIU's Jordan Lynch is listed as a running back, as expected.— Rich Campbell (@Rich_Campbell) May 11, 2014
Despite playing quarterback for the Huskies during his collegiate career, he excelled more as a runner than a thrower. He rushed for 1,815 yards and 19 touchdowns in 2012 and 1,920 yards and 23 TDs in 2013. Lynch also holds the FBS record for rushing yards in a single game by a quarterback with 321.
While he has experience running the football, Lynch still needs to develop as a running back. Head coach Marc Trestman has liked what he's seen from Lynch's transition so far this offseason.
"Jordan's a real football player; there's no doubt about it," said Trestman after rookie minicamp, via Larry Mayer of ChicagoBears.com. "He certainly didn't look out of place by any means today running around out there. It's just the first day, but he didn't seem awkward in any way running and catching the football in space."
Lynch has the potential to develop into a quality backup running back, but he will have to prove he is up to the task of being a consistent pass-blocker and special teams contributor.
If he can show he understands the offense and his responsibilities as a blocker, he could potentially push for the final spot on the team's running back depth chart heading into the 2014 season.
4th String: Shaun Draughn
Instead of spending money on a big-name free agent at the running back position like they have done in the past, the Bears opted to be more frugal this offseason, signing veteran Shaun Draughn to a one-year deal this past April:
#Bears going with some restraint on vet RBs, signing Shaun Draughn for 1 yr - the show-me contract vs Michael Bush/Chester Taylor gaffes— John Mullin (@CSNMoonMullin) April 23, 2014
Draughn is entering his fourth year in the league in 2014 but has only amassed 235 rushing yards on 63 carries with two touchdowns in 20 career games.
Despite limited NFL success, Draughn is the only running back on the roster other than Matt Forte to have logged at least one carry in the NFL.
Draughn understands that to stick around in this league, running backs need to be able to pass protect.
"I definitely like to pass protect," Draughn told Arthur Arkush of ChicagoFootball.com. "Whenever you can get back at a man that hit you the play for – it's a bonus. I think pass blocking is really a mentality: not letting that man across from you beat you."
With the Bears drafting Ka'Deem Carey in the third round last month and already having Michael Ford on the roster, Draughn may have to show off his ability to be a pass-blocker if he wants to keep a spot on this roster.
Draughn has bounced around since going undrafted in 2011, spending time with the Washington Redskins, Kansas City Chiefs, Baltimore Ravens and Indianapolis Colts before signing with the Bears this offseason.
Despite bouncing around, Draughn knows that his hard work has helped keep him in the league.
"My mentality as a player is just try and work hard," he told Arkush. "That's how I've stayed in the league so long after not being drafted; working hard will keep me here."
If he continues to work hard this offseason and can impress with his abilities as a pass-blocker, Draughn has a chance to make this roster if one of the other running backs falters in training camp and the preseason.
3rd String: Michael Ford
Undrafted in 2013, LSU's Michael Ford signed with the Bears following the conclusion of the 2013 NFL draft.
Ford battled with Armando Allen throughout training camp and the preseason last year and ultimately won the team's final running back spot behind Matt Forte and Michael Bush.
Ford played in 12 games last season as a special teams contributor. He has the ability to be a return man, and that may be the best way for him to make this roster for the 2014 season:
Keep an eye on RB Michael Ford. For him to make roster, he'll need to factor in special teams and as a possible kickoff returner.— Brad Biggs (@BradBiggs) June 3, 2014
At LSU, Ford was a patient runner who showed explosiveness through the hole, but he is still a raw player who would have benefited from staying at LSU for his senior season in 2013 instead of declaring for the draft.
He showed flashes of his patience last preseason, but it was hard to get a good gauge on his talent as he was going up against other third- and fourth-string players.
Out of all of the running backs currently on the roster, Ford may be the most intriguing because he still has a lot of untapped potential.
The team obviously liked him enough last season as a special teams contributor, and he should have at least an opportunity to prove he can make an impact in the return game now that Devin Hester has moved on to the Atlanta Falcons.
Prior to the draft, Ford was viewed as the team's No. 2 running back behind Matt Forte, but with the addition of Ka'Deem Carey via the draft, Ford has likely slipped to the No. 3 spot.
While there are no guarantees that Ford keeps his spot on the roster, he does have more experience in this offense than any of the other running backs besides Forte, and he gives the team some much-needed flexibility on special teams.
2nd String: Ka'Deem Carey
After focusing on improving the team's defense in the first three rounds of the NFL draft, general manager Phil Emery opted to give the team depth at the running back position when he drafted Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey with the 117th overall pick.
Carey was a workhorse for the Wildcats during his collegiate career, rushing for 3,814 yards on 652 carries with 42 touchdowns between the 2012 and 2013 seasons.
Much attention was paid to Carey's slow 40-yard dash time at the NFL Scouting Combine, where he registered a 4.70, 27th-best out of 35 running backs, via NFL.com.
Since arriving in Chicago, Carey has downplayed the concerns over his 40-yard dash time and has noted that quickness is more important than running fast in a straight line.
"Football? 40 speed? I think football is about quickness," Carey told the Chicago Tribune's Dan Wiederer. "You never run just 40 yards in a straight line. You have to make a move, then go. That's where I feel best. Stop, then go."
Just as Carey does not seem too concerned about his speed, neither does his new offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer:
#Bears OC Aaron Kromer on rookie RV Ka’Deem Carey: “He makes a cut and gains yards … I don’t see a 4.7 on tape.”— Adam Jahns (@adamjahns) May 17, 2014
One of the biggest challenges facing rookie running backs is pass protection. While guys such as Carey are typically the focal points of their offenses in college, Carey will be more heavily relied upon in the NFL to read and pickup blitzes:
Marc Trestman said his top prerequisite for a No. 2 RB was pass protection ability. Carey should bring that. Major production at AZ as well.— Dan Wiederer (@danwiederer) May 10, 2014
Pass protection was a major emphasis at rookie minicamp, and it will continue to be an area that Carey will need to work on this offseason.
While he will need to sharpen up his protection skills, Carey is expected to claim the No. 2 spot on the depth chart behind Matt Forte in 2014. He will not be receiving the amount of carries that he did the past two seasons at Arizona, and he is OK with that.
"I'm actually excited I don't have to (run the ball) that many times, that I can slowly work into this system," Carey said, via Dan Wiederer. "Working behind Forte and seeing how he does things may be the best thing ever to happen to me."
As long as Carey can prove he can be productive when he gets the opportunities, he will likely spend the 2014 season as Forte's main backup.
Starter: Matt Forte
There is no doubt that Matt Forte will continue to be the team's starting running back in 2014.
Forte has been one of the team's most consistent contributors on offense during his six-year career in Chicago. He had one of his most productive seasons in 2013, finishing second in the league in rushing yards with 1,339. He also had nine rushing touchdowns to go along with his 74 catches for 594 yards and three touchdowns en route to his second career Pro Bowl.
He has been a workhorse for the Bears during his six-year career, registering 537 carries over the past two seasons.
While the team brought in Ka'Deem Carey to help lessen the load for Forte, he knows that it does not change his standing as the team's starter, telling the media after an OTAs practice:
Since I've been here, they've had a lot of running backs come in. Even when I was going through my contract stuff, bringing in Michael (Bush), and the year before that Marion (Barber), and the year before that Chester Taylor; so it's not like I don't care. But it's not like I really care a lot. It's just another guy who's coming in. I can help him out if he wants to be helped. But at the same time, I'm worried about this offense and what I can do in it, and what we can do together.
For the first time in his career, Forte will likely be lining up behind the same five offensive linemen who started all 16 games in 2013 in 2014.
"I think that's the first time that's ever happened in my career, so it's pretty cool to see everybody, the exact same offense come back, the whole starting offense be there," Forte said, according to Arthur Arkush of ChicagoFootball.com. "The camaraderie of it just makes us play that much better together."
The offense as a whole is expected to bring back all 11 starters in 2014, and Forte will once again be a main contributor this season. His ability to be productive as both a runner and a receiver out of the backfield makes him one of the league's most versatile players, and that shouldn't change in 2014.