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updated: 4/28/2014 7:46 PM

NFL draft: Smaller running backs create big dilemma for Bears

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  • De'Anthony Thomas had 113 career receptions, 20 of which resulted as TDs, during his time at Oregon

      De'Anthony Thomas had 113 career receptions, 20 of which resulted as TDs, during his time at Oregon
    Associated Press

  • Kent State's Dri Archer ran a 4.26 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, nearly besting Chris Johnson's all-time best mark of 4.24.

      Kent State's Dri Archer ran a 4.26 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, nearly besting Chris Johnson's all-time best mark of 4.24.
    Associated Press

  • Kent State running back Dri Archer (1) crosses the goal line for a touchdown during the first quarter of the Mid-American Conference championship against NIU in 2012. Archer finished his collegiate career with 99 receptions.

      Kent State running back Dri Archer (1) crosses the goal line for a touchdown during the first quarter of the Mid-American Conference championship against NIU in 2012. Archer finished his collegiate career with 99 receptions.
    Associated Press

 
 

There isn't much top-tier talent at running back in this year's draft, but there are several intriguing players who could help the Bears fill a niche behind starter Matt Forte.

There's a chance that no running backs are chosen on May 8 in the first round at a position that continues to be devalued as the NFL becomes more and more of a passing league. But there are a handful of role players and situational runners/receivers who can provide a change of pace or a pass-catching threat out of the backfield.

Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas and Kent State's Dri (pronounced Dree) Archer are two of the most electrifying, although both come in extremely small packages. Thomas stands 5-foot-8⅝ and weighs 174. Archer is 5-7¾ 3/4 and weighs 173.

Neither player will ever be an every-down running back in the NFL, and both could project best to slot receiver because of their receiving skills. Thomas averaged 11.5 yards on 113 career receptions with the Ducks and scored 20 touchdowns.

Thomas grew up in South Central Los Angeles and got his start in the Snoop Dogg Youth Football League, where he also earned a nickname from the rap star.

"My first game against his team, we blew them out 52-0," Thomas said. "That's when he established the name 'The Black Mamba.' "

According to Thomas, Snoop Dogg tagged him with the nickname before it was made more famous by Kobe Bryant.

"I feel like everyone knows I was (The Black Mamba) way before Kobe Bryant. It was my childhood days," Thomas said. "He was just in the spotlight more than me. One day we could do a commercial about it or something."

Even if Thomas is just an afterthought as a runner at the next level, he can still be an impact player. In addition to his pass catching, he averaged 17.1 yards on punt returns and scored 4 TDs on kickoff returns while averaging 25.8 yards.

Archer might be even more of a big-play threat than Thomas because of his elite speed that makes everyone else on the field appear to be running in sand.

Archer's 4.26-second 40-yard dash was the fastest at this year's Scouting Combine and just missed the all-time Combine record of 4.24 set by Titans running back Chris Johnson. Archer also brings more to the table than the potential to be a change of pace at running back.

Like Thomas he scored 4 kickoff return touchdowns, and he scored 12 more TDs on 99 career receptions.

To have success in the NFL, Thomas and Archer will have to go to teams that can devise creative ways to get them involved in the offense that utilize their unique talents. The Chiefs have had decent success utilizing Dexter McCluster's skills since drafting him in the second round in 2010, even though he's just 172 pounds.

In four seasons, McCluster has caught 172 passes for 1,500 yards (8.7-yard average) and rushed 152 times for 662 yards (4.4-yard average). Last year he averaged 11.8 yards on 58 punt returns while scoring twice, and he has handled kickoff-return duties in the past.

"Whenever you get those (little) guys, that 170-plus pounds, the question is how do you use them?" NFL Network's Mike Mayock said. "Where do you line them up? How many touches can I get him per game?

"So you look at a kid like (Archer) and you go: Is he a fourth-round guy where he's going to be a situation guy, slot (receiver), motion, hand him the ball?

"You look at McCluster, you look at (St. Louis Rams 176-pound receiver) Tavon Austin, and they're still trying to figure out how to get those guys the ball consistently."

A chance to be involved in an offense is all Thomas wants.

"I feel I can be successful (at running back)," he said. "Just put me on the field and let me make plays and contribute to the team."

• Follow Bob's Bears and NFL reports on Twitter@BobLeGere.

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