While the draft is still more than two months away, it’s only two weeks until the start of the scouting combine, when draft speculation heats up to a feverish level.
The Bears don’t have a selection until the 24th pick of the third round (88th overall) because they dealt their first-rounder this year and next to the Raiders for Khalil Mack and sent this year’s second-round pick to the Patriots in order to move up from the third round to the second last year for WR Anthony Miller.
But that doesn’t mean the Bears won’t have an opportunity to make more improvements to a team that pulled off a worst-to-first turnaround in 2018, coach Matt Nagy’s inaugural season. An early look at “Pro Football Weekly’s Draft Guide 2019” reveals a variety of interesting players who could make an instant impact for the Bears.
The Bears also have their own selections in the fourth and fifth rounds and an additional seventh they received from the Eagles in last year’s trade of DB Deiondre Hall. They’re missing a sixth-rounder, which also went to the Raiders in the Mack trade.
One player who jumps out as an interesting option for the Bears is Memphis RB Darrell Henderson, who could be available when their first pick rolls around, despite some eye-catching numbers. Not only did Henderson average 8.9 yards per carry (that’s not a misprint), while rushing for a combined 3,063 yards and 31 touchdowns in his last two seasons with the Tigers, he caught 63 career passes for 758 yards (12.0-yard average) and eight more scores.
So, why would a player like that fall into the third round?
For years, running backs have been devalued in the draft and in NFL free agency because they are often seen as easily interchangeable parts. And Henderson is undersized — he’s expected to measure about 5-foot-9 and 203 pounds at the combine — plus he played in a read-option offense that can sometimes inflate rushing numbers.
But, if the Bears are looking for the ideal complement to Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen, Henderson fits the profile. He’s extremely explosive, according to PFW draft expert Greg Gabriel, and he has much softer hands than Howard and more ability to create after the catch than the Bears’ bell cow. And, although Henderson is probably not ideally suited to be an every-down back in the NFL, he’s significantly bigger than the 5-foot-6, 181-pound Cohen, and he could run under 4.50 in the 40 at the combine.
Nagy and Bears GM Ryan Pace both value versatility, and Henderson’s presence in the backfield would allow the Bears to keep defenses honest. When Howard’s in the game, it’s a safe bet the Bears are running the ball, since he rushed 250 times last year while catching just 20 passes. Cohen provides more subterfuge, since he was the team’s leading receiver with 71 catches last year. But he’s averaged just eight carries per game in his two NFL seasons, and that may be the maximum amount of punishment a player his size can withstand.
Henderson would be more of a dual threat. He was never a heavy-duty ball carrier in college, although he did rush 214 times last year before leaving with a year of eligibility remaining. He had 217 carries in his first two seasons, so he doesn’t have a lot of wear and tear.
On the other side of the ball, depending on if they are able to re-sign nickel CB Bryce Callahan, the Bears could look to add a replacement or an understudy. Michigan’s David Long is a two-year starter who may not have the length to start on the outside in the NFL, but could be an ideal fit in the slot. He figures to measure in the 5-foot-10, 190-pound range, which would put him at a size disadvantage against many wide receivers, but he has the quickness and cover ability to excel at nickel.
As for the third phase, there doesn’t appear to be much PK talent in the draft, if the Bears are hoping to upgrade from Cody Parkey in the late rounds. LSU’s Cole Tracy had an impressive 2018, but it was his only season at the FBS level after transferring from D-II Assumption College. PFW’s Gabriel has him as a possible mid-to-late-round pick but lists only two other kickers as potentially draft-worthy: Oklahoma’s Austin Seibert and Utah’s Matt Wishnowsky.
This article originally ran on profootballweekly.com.