The Chicago Bears could boast one of the best one-two punches at running back in the NFL. Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen make up the perfect thunder-and-lightning combination, balancing each other out seamlessly.
Howard is a bruiser with excellent vision back while Cohen is explosive and agile. Howard is a workhorse capable of carrying the ball 25-30 times a game, and Cohen is best served as a change-of-pace scat back. While Howard is more of a pure runner, Cohen is much more versatile as a pass-catcher.
After those guys? The depth chart is up for grabs.
Head coach Matt Nagy could carry four or five backs on the roster. With other areas more pressed for depth, let’s assume that the Bears only carry four heading into week one. That would leave Benny Cunningham, Taquan Mizzell, Knile Davie, Ryan Nall and Michael Burton competing for just two spots behind Howard and Cohen.
Here’s our prediction for who makes and misses the cut at running back on the 53-man roster.
The magic number: 5
1. Benny Cunningham
Cunningham was brought back on a one-year deal this offseason because of his versatility. He can pick up short yardage between the tackles, make plays in space and catch the ball out of the backfield. He also has been a solid return man throughout his career. With Cunningham checking a lot of boxes, it would be hard to say goodbye to someone who not only is flexible but also serves as valuable insurance policy.
2. Michael Burton
Casual fans probably never noticed that Burton was on the team as a fullback last year. While the position continues to fade around the league, Nagy’s offense still relies on one. So you can expect to see him more frequently this season. Burton not only is a proficient blocker, but he also has decent hands as a receiver.
However, there’s one question that has yet to be answered: Can any of the tight ends slide into a pseudo fullback role? If Nagy and his staff think so, then the Bears might consider using Burton’s spot to add depth at another position.
1. Taquan Mizzell
Mizzell was claimed off waivers by the Bears before week one last season and he suited up for three regular season games. Prior to Thursday’s final preseason game against the Buffalo Bills, the 24-year-old has seen meaningful action throughout the preseason. While he racked up two touchdowns and 11 receptions, he only averaged 2.3 yards per carry on 25 attempts.
It seemed like almost every time Mizzell touched the ball, he was either being swarmed by defenders or running into lineman. He’s likely off the 53-man roster given the solid depth at running back, and his chances of being on the practice squad might be slim as well given the emergence of another back (we’ll get there soon).
2. Knile Davis
After missing a full season of football in 2017, Davis signed a deal with the Bears after the second preseason game. The former Chief is familiar with Nagy’s offense and has been a solid return man in his career. However, as Parker Hurley from BearGooglesOn noted, he might have only been a short-term fix while Cunningham dealt with a shoulder issue earlier in the preseason. With Cunningham back and expected to fill the roles of primary backup and returner, Davis’ time with the Bears is likely an audition for the other 31 teams around the league.
3. Ryan Nall
Nall’s 69-yard touchdown run in the second preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals got fans thinking that GM Ryan Pace found an undrafted gem. However, the rookie running back hasn’t done much since, averaging just 2.5 yards on four carries and 3.3 yards on eight carries in the last two outings. Still, there are some skills to like. Aside from his solid burst, he also has decent hands and can play the fullback position in a pinch.
Unless he turns in a big Thursday night against the Bills, Nall likely will be victim to a numbers’ games. But while he might not make the 53-man roster, don’t be surprised if the Bears try to stash him on the practice squad.