Matt Kartozian/USA TODAY Sports

Chicago Bears Draft Preview: Running Backs (Rounds 1-3)

Previewing the top running backs in the 2016 NFL Draft, with an eye toward players who can best fill the needs of the Chicago Bears.

The Chicago Bears have two young, capable running backs on the current roster in Jeremy Langford and Ka'Deem Carey, who are the team's last two fourth-round picks. 

Yet the Bears are still in the market for another running back. The club offered Broncos running back C.J. Anderson a contract that would have made him the fifth highest paid player at his position and this week hosted Lance Dunbar, who eventually re-signed with the Cowboys. 

So despite the presence of Langford and Carey, it's clear GM Ryan Pace isn't satisfied with the state of Chicago's backfield. 

With that in mind, let's break down the top running backs in this year's draft class. 

Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State (6-0, 225)

Elliott was name a second-team All American and Big Ten Player of the Year his junior year after rushing for 1,821 yards and 23 TDs. He's easily the top running back in the 2016 class due to his elite combination of size, speed (4.47 40-yard dash), power and elusiveness. He has great footwork, outstanding burst and he finishes plays by punishing defenders. He's a decisive ball carrier who reads and reacts to blocks in front of him, with the burst and strength to slip through tiny cracks. He has great change-of-direction ability and he's a competent pass catcher. He's a three-down ball carrier who showed well in pass protection. If Elliott is available when the Bears pick at 11th overall, you can be sure GM Ryan Pace is going to give him strong consideration.
Projected: Top 15

Derrick Henry, Alabama (6-3, 247)

Henry is the reigning Heisman Trophy winner and a unanimous All-American after posting 2,219 rushing yards and 28 TDs last season. He's a monstrous, bruising running back whom many compare favorably to LaGarrette Blount and Brandon Jacobs. He has a vicious downhill running style and he's violent at contact. Once he gets moving, he's an absolute load to bring down - he led the nation in missed tackles (60) in 2015. Yet he's light on his feet and showed good agility and quickness in open space. Henry runs upright, which is concerning, as is his workload (400 touches for the Tide last year). As a between-the-tackles bell cow, Henry is unmatched in this class, or of any class in recent memory.
Projected: 1st-2nd Round

Devontae Booker, Utah (5-11, 219)

In 10 games last year, Booker ran for 1,261 yards and 11 TDs before tearing his meniscus. He's a powerful one-cut runner who finishes with authority. He's also very adept as a pass catcher and caught 80 passes the past two seasons combined. He has very good footwork and vision, and hits holes with great burst. His balance and light feet are NFL-caliber. Concerns with Booker include a lack of top-end speed, his knee injury (which didn't allow him to run at the Scouting Combine) and he's a bit smaller than a typical workhorse NFL running back. His game compares to that of Langford, making it likely the Bears will take a pass on Booker in the 2nd round.
Projected: 2nd Round

Kenneth Dixon, Louisiana Tech (5-10, 215)

Dixon was named first-team All-Conference USA in 2015 after compiling 1,070 rushing yards, 467 receiving yards and 26 total TDs. He's an extremely elusive runner with a great jump cut and top-tier change-of-direction ability. He's elusive in the open field but also plays with a lot of power, and appears to enjoy finishing against corners and safeties. He's also a very dangerous pass catcher out of the backfield. Dixon doesn't have elite size or speed (4.58 40-yard dash) but has all of the other traits of a three-down running back at the next level. 
Projected: 2nd Round

Alex Collins, Arkansas (5-10, 217)

Collins was named second-team All-SEC his junior year after posting 1,577 rushing yards and 20 TDs. He rushed for more than 1,000 yards three straight seasons for the Razorbacks - only the third player in SEC history to do so, joining Herschel Walker and Darren McFadden. He has outstanding vision and footwork, and runs with power between the tackles. He gets to top speed in a hurry and shows patience when blocks are developing in front of him. One of the toughest runners in the nation last year, Collins is also a reliable pass catcher. He's not an overpowering back and lack elusiveness - credited with just 5 broken tackles last year. He also needs to improve his pad level and ball security. 
Projected: 2nd-3rd Round

Jordan Howard, Indiana (6-0, 230)

A UAB transfer, Howard played his senior season with the Hoosiers, racking up 1,213 rushing yards and 11 TDs. In 2015, he averaged 134.8 yards per game. Howard has very good NFL size and excels after contact, using consistent leg drive to pick up extra yards. He's a decisive runner with good vision, who one who can fit through skinny holes in spite of his size. Howard dealt with injuries in college, which is concerning, and took a lot of big hits, which were exacerbated by his upright running style. He also didn't do much as a receiver. In short-yardage, he's a weapon due to his size and power, but the rest of his game needs work. 
Projected: 2nd-3rd Round

Jonathan Williams, Arkansas (5-11, 220)

In 2014, Williams rushed for 1,1190 yards and 12 TDs in a timeshare, which is impressive. Unfortunately, a foot injury cost him his entire 2015. He looked healthy at the Senior Bowl. His light feet, footwork and lateral agility are his strengths. He's an elusive runner who can make defenders miss in space. He shows good balance and instincts and doesn't have the heavy tread on his tires like the other top backs in this draft. A slashing runner with good toughness, Williams' medical exams will play a big role in what round he's drafted. He's talented for sure and could be a steal if healthy.
Projected: 3rd Round

Kenyan Drake, Alabama (6-1, 210)

Drake was a backup at Alabama behind Derrick Henry, yet he still managed 630 total yards (380 rushing, 250 receiving) in 2015. He has very good size, explosiveness and speed (4.45 40-yard dash). He's a dynamic game-breaker who is a serious threat out the backfield. He's not an every-down back but Drake could excel in a 3rd-down role, with added value on special teams. Injuries are a concern - he broke his leg in 2014 and broke his arm in 2015. If Drake checks out medically, he would be a very good fit for the Bears as the club's 3rd-down back, one who can hit the home run every time he touches the ball, especially if he drops to the 4th round. 
Projected: 3rd-4th Round

Paul Perkins, UCLA (5-10, 208)

Perkins was named second-team All-Pac 12 in 2015 after rushing for 1,343 yards and 12 TDs, while catching 30 passes for 242 yards and 1 TD. Perkins is a one-cut runner with outstanding burst. He makes defenders look silly in open space, where he's exceptionally elusive and shifty. He's also a quality pass catcher. Perkins isn't a between-the-tackles runner and isn't going to run anyone over. Arm tackles give him trouble. His skill set is limited, yet his strengths match the Bears' needs. 
Projected: 3rd-4th Round

The Pick

Ezekiel Elliott (early) or Paul Perkins (late): If the Bears want to truly take their rushing attack to the next level, they'll draft Elliott at 11th overall - assuming he drops that far. Elliott has the all-around skill set and three-down ability to be a workhorse for the Bears for the next decade (he doesn't turn 21 until July). He has speed, power and elusiveness, as well as good hands out of the backfield. His workload in college is a slight concern, but Adrian Peterson had a ton of touches in college as well. If Elliott is the next AP, he can carry Chicago's offense, with Langford serving as a top-tier change-of-pace back. 

If the Bears feel Langford can carry the load, then Perkins becomes an ideal option. He's very adept as a pass catcher and he's very elusive in the open field. He can fill in on 3rd downs and would give the Bears another playmaking threat out of the backfield, one who can take it to the house on any given play. 


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