With the draft less than a month away and the free agency frenzy over, the picture of the Bears’ needs has become clearer. Everyone expects them to go defense heavy in the draft, and it should go that way, but there is still the backup running back issue that needs to be addressed.
Last season’s backup, Michael Bush, was released for salary cap relief. Michael Ford is the only other running back on the roster, but he is just a returner. In his rookie season he had just five returns for 37 yards. He is not a backup running back-type player.
To give you an idea how thin the running back corps in the league is right now, the Bears worked out two of them last week, Javon Ringer and Phillip Tanner.
Ringer played four seasons with the Tennessee Titans, but has battled knee injuries. He sat out the entire 2013 season to rehab.
Over three seasons with the Dallas Cowboys, Tanner recorded just 149 yards. The Cowboys have had injury problems with their running backs so him gaining so few yards raises a red flag.
Seeing that those are the two the Bears have been looking at, you can see the state of the running back position, and can figure to see a running back being called by the Bears come draft day.
The Bears worked out De’Anthony Thomas last week. There is no question that Thomas is an exciting, big play back, but at 5’9″ 176 pounds his size could be a problem at the pro level. He missed four games due to an ankle injury last season at Oregon. Also, the Oregon up-tempo spread offense exaggerated his stats.
One possibility for the Bears is Tyler Gaffney. At 6’0″ 220 pounds, Gaffney is a solidly-built back with good strength. He is a tough runner who can slide off tacklers. Has a high motor and can be a workhorse. He is just the hard- working type of player that Chicago fans adore.
Gaffney is not the greatest receiver out of the backfield, but he is productive. He is also a very good blocker, similar to Matt Forte.
Gaffney spent his first three seasons at Stanford as a backup running back, first to Toby Gerhart then to Stepfan Taylor. Last season he became the starter and amassed 1,709 yards and scored 21 touchdowns (both numbers were in the top-10).
One weakness that Gaffney has is his lack of burst. He won’t explode through the line, but with his ability to shed tacklers he will break some long runs, and would be especially effective in short-yardage situations.
Last season, Forte was on the field for 940 snaps to Bush’s 140. He stayed relatively healthy last season, but with the number of hits a back takes over the course of a career, injuries tend to pile up suddenly, and zap his ability out of nowhere. Forte is a huge part of the offense so his health is crucial for the team’s playoff hunt.
Gaffney is projected to be taken in the fourth to fifth round. If he is available there, it would be a mistake for the Bears to pass on him.