ATM: Out of the Hunt. So Now What?

| February 13th, 2019

The Chicago Bears won’t be signing Kareem Hunt. The great debate ended before the offseason officially began, as the former Kansas City Chiefs running back, facing disciplinary action from the league for a history of violent behavior, signed with the Browns. Time will tell if he’s worth the trouble for Cleveland, but the Bears still need to add some explosiveness to their backfield if they hope to improve their run game.

Because while Jordan Howard is a good player, the Bears simply need more. Forget for a second his sub-4.0 yards per carry number. The Bears offense just didn’t function well with him on the field.

  • According to NFGSIS, the team averaged 4.78 yards per play in the five most frequently used lineups in which Howard was used.
  • In the five most-used lineups that didn’t include Howard, they averaged 6.8 yards per play.
  • The big difference came in the passing game, where they averaged 7 yards per pass play without Howard and 4.92 with him.

Matt Nagy seems to know it too. In the playoff game he used a formation with three wide receivers, one tight end and Cohen over Howard 21 times. Their next most-used formation was used five times, that also didn’t have Howard in it. Howard played just 22 snaps — 34% of the team’s total — against the Eagles. From a football perspective, signing Hunt would’ve been the easy move, but not one the Bears could make without knowing his availability. Now, they have to figure out something else.

The free agent running back market is always tough to figure out. Who saw Jerick McKinnon getting $30 million last year? That same kind of deal could be in play for Atlanta’s Tevin Coleman and it seems unlikely that the Bears would be willing to dig that deep for a player who is sure to split time with Tarik Cohen.

Spencer Ware is an interesting option. He was Kansas City’s starting running back in 2016, rushing for 921 yards (4.3 per carry) and catching 33 passes. He was poised to go into 2017 as the lead back, but a preseason injury paved the way for Hunt. The Chiefs brought Ware back last year and he averaged 4.8 yards per carry, appearing in 13 games with two starts after Hunt was released. Of course, KC didn’t trust Ware to be the lead back last year as he played more than 40% of their snaps just twice and slipped behind Damien Williams at the end of the season.

Some have said this is a strong running back draft, but who really knows? It has proven to be a position NFL scouts struggle to evaluate. The Bears don’t pick until the back half of the third round, so the premier prospects will likely be gone. Yes, the Bears could still get a good player if they draft one right away, but they could also get Jeremy Langford Part II.

Because college offenses are often so simple and don’t ask running backs to do much in the passing game, the Bears will have to decipher what prospects know in regards to pass blocking, route running and, in some cases, figure out if they can even catch. Watch for guys like Miles Sanders of Penn State, Elijah Holyfield of Georgia, Rodney Anderson of Oklahoma or Darrell Henderson of Memphis.

Going into next season with a rookie as the top option isn’t ideal. We could see the Bears keep Howard — a trade likely wouldn’t net much in return — or sign Ware and another veteran to compete until the rookie is ready. Whether or not to replace Howard isn’t the issue. How to do it is a bit more complicated.

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