For 8 consecutive weeks this Spring/Summer I will be going division by division and evaluating the RB corps of each team. I’ll be assessing both the overall talent and depth that each team has at the position, while taking into account whether they use a workhorse back as their primary weapon or if they use a committee of backs to get the job done. This week’s featured division will be the NFC North.
CHICAGO BEARS: Mike Davis, Tarik Cohen, David Montgomery, Taquan Mizzell, Ryan Nall, Kerrith White Jr
Jordan Howard is out; Mike Davis and David Montgomery are in. With the Bears’ former leading rusher traded away to Philadelphia, both Davis and Montgomery will be expected to fill his role. The question is whether one of them will get the majority of snaps or if this will essentially be an even split between the two.
Davis is a player who has really developed well over the past two seasons in Seattle. He has a short, compact build with very good contact balance and strength, making him very tough to bring down. He’s also a good pass protector and receiver out of the backfield. His versatility is definitely an asset that the team will depend on.
At the same time, the Bears wouldn’t have drafted Montgomery in the 3rd round if they didn’t have pretty substantial expectations for him. He might not have the passing down ability that Davis does, but Montgomery is a talented runner with elite contact balance and ability to shed tacklers. I really like his knowledge of attacking angles too. All of that helps offset his lack of great athleticism. He’s got to develop quite a bit before he can be trusted over Davis, but the potential for him to be the lead guy is definitely there.
And then, of course, there is Tarik Cohen. Out of all the running backs that have come through the draft that have been labeled as “The Next Darren Sproles,” Cohen is the one that has lived up to it. He might not be the lead ball-carrier for the offense, but he’s undoubtedly the most dangerous weapon out of all the running backs on the team, and maybe even the whole offense.
With 3 running backs in the mix, how can Matt Nagy spread the action around while doing what is best for the team?
Mike Davis doesn’t seem worried.
— Chicago Sports (@ChicagoSports) June 3, 2019
Taquan Mizzell is an interesting name because he’s a similar type of player to Cohen with a comparable skillset. If the Bears decide to keep 4 running backs, he could be the guy to fill in at Cohen’s role if needed.
Ryan Nall and Kerrith White Jr will also be in competition with Mizzell for the 4th RB spot. Nall, though, could see a switch to fullback because of his size, versatility, and potential as a blocker.
Despite the departure of Howard, the Bears are in a really good situation with their RB position. They have numerous guys with versatility, and there’s no need to rush Montgomery into playing time with Davis and Cohen contributing. This way Montgomery can take his time to improve as a receiver and pass blocker before potentially taking over as the lead RB.
DETROIT LIONS: Kerryon Johnson, Theo Riddick, CJ Anderson, Zach Zenner, Ty Johnson
The LeGarrette Blount experiment didn’t work out as planned in 2018 for the Lions, but luckily they had selected Kerryon Johnson in the 2nd round of the draft. Johnson’s patient running style and burst helped make the most out of poor blocking from the Lions’ offensive line as he was able to average an impressive 5.4 yards per carry on 11.8 carries per game in 10 games. His promising rookie season came to an end though after he suffered a knee injury against the Carolina Panthers. He was eventually placed on IR after missing several consecutive weeks. Johnson will have to prove he can stay healthy, which has been a huge issue for him since high school.
In the case that Johnson can’t stay healthy however, the Lions signed CJ Anderson to be his backup and insurance policy. Anderson showed in last year’s playoffs that he can still be an effective runner, but his success has gotten a little bit overblown. He’s not someone who can carry a full workload like that for an entire season and would be best used in a complimentary role to help keep him relatively fresh. Anderson will likely see a similar amount of touches to what Blount was getting last season.
Theo Riddick returns as the pass-catching specialist of the group, and he remains one of the best in the league in that role. I look at him as more of a receiver than I do a runner.
It’ll be an interesting competition for the 4th RB spot. Zach Zenner figures to be the favorite to win the job but the explosiveness of 6th round pick Ty Johnson could be intriguing enough for the team to give him some consideration. Johnson doesn’t have too much else going for him besides his speed and big play ability, and he’s surprisingly not elusive in space. But if he can be a returner on special teams then that’ll help his case of making the roster.
If Kerryon can stay healthy the Lions’ backfield is a good unit, but that’s a big if. Should he miss some time I’m not sure I have enough faith in the players behind him to produce at a high rate.
GREEN BAY PACKERS: Aaron Jones, Jamaal Williams, Dexter Williams, Tra Carson, Kapri Bibbs, Malcolm Johnson
Aaron Jones is set up to have a career year in 2019. New Head Coach Matt LaFleur is of the Shanahan coaching tree, meaning his offense puts a heavy emphasis on outside zone run schemes. Jones’ explosive one-cut running style is ideally suited for that scheme, and the 3rd year player is ready to take the next step in his development. A great year from Jones will go a long way in easing the load off the rest of the offense as they learn and adapt to the new system.
Jamaal Williams will once again be the backup to Jones and will be used as the power runner in short yardage situations. He’s also still the better pass protector of the two, despite Jones improving in this area last year. You can expect Williams to still be used in a decent amount of passing downs because of this, but in the end I don’t expect the carries to be as closely even between the two of them as they were last season.
6th round selection Dexter Williams provides some interesting competition to the rest of the RB group. I wasn’t very high on Williams as a prospect; he’s not a great athlete who can create for himself or be explosive when getting to the next level, and he’s not a particularly good pass blocker or receiver either. However, he is someone with good vision and is a good decision maker. If the running lane is there, most of the time he can be counted on to hit it. It wouldn’t surprise me if he wins the RB3 spot over Tra Carson, Kapri Bibbs, and Malcolm Johnson.
The Packers’ tandem of Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams are a good 1-2 punch, and Jones has the potential to put up some really good numbers in 2019 if he gets the system down quickly enough. I’m not ecstatic about the depth behind him though. Jones will have to stay healthy if the Packers are to have a quality running attack this season.
MINNESOTA VIKINGS: Dalvin Cook, Alexander Mattison, Michael Boone, Ameer Abdullah, Roc Thomas
Dalvin Cook had such a great start to his career, but ever since his rookie year was cut short due to a torn ACL his game has been plagued by inconsistencies and another injury in 2018, this time to his hamstring which cost him 5 games. Cook is now healthy this offseason, something he wasn’t a year ago, and the Vikings need to hope he stays healthy (similar to the Lions’ situation with Kerryon). You can easily see Cook’s potential and he can be one of the top RBs in the league, but obviously he must stay on the field. If he can, the Vikings’ upgraded offensive line and the addition of Gary Kubiak should set him up for a much-improved season from last year.
The Vikings chose not to put all their eggs into Cook’s basket though, choosing to draft Alexander Mattison in the 3rd round. He has some good potential, especially in the type of offense he’ll be in. I’m not big on comparisons, but Mattison reminds me a bit of Jay Ajayi. Both are extremely tough runners who will create yards for themselves with physicality and impressive footwork for players of their size. Their burst and explosion isn’t bad either. Mattison works best in zone schemes, and that’s what he’ll be running in Minnesota. He could end up being an upgrade from Latavius Murray.
– Break a tackle
– Juke a man
– Hurdle a defender
Alexander Mattison did it ALL on this touchdown. pic.twitter.com/JCyc0VeBRu
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) September 29, 2018
When it comes down to the RB3 spot on the depth chart for the Vikings, I think it’ll ultimately go to Ameer Abdullah. Has his career been a relative disappointment? Yes, it has been. But I still believe he’s more talented than Boone and Thomas. And with his prior experience of being a starting RB, albeit not a very good one, he’s adequate enough to fill in in a complimentary role if Cook, or even Mattison, gets hurt.
The tandem of Cook and Mattison does intrigue me quite a bit. They’ve got potential, but both have things they still need to prove. The team already has one of the best, if not the best, WR duos in the league in Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. Imagine if they end up having a deadly RB duo to match that.