Expect running backs to go out early, which benefits Bears

It's a great year for NFL teams that need immediate help as running back help, because this draft crop is deep and talented.

That's also good news for the Bears, even though they don't need any running back help after striking gold in the fifth round last year with Jordan Howard.

The more teams that opt for running backs in the first round, the more players are available at positions of need for the Bears when they execute the fourth pick in Round 2 (No. 36 overall).

As many as four running backs could be claimed before then.

This year's projected first-round runners - LSU's Leonard Fournette, Stanford's Christian McCaffrey, Florida State's Dalvin Cook and possibly Oklahoma's Joe Mixon - are all capable of putting up big numbers as rookies. But they will have a tough time exceeding Howard, who rushed for a Bears-rookie-record 1,313 yards and averaged 5.2 yards per carry in 2016.

The Bears also boast solid depth behind Howard, but he played so well after becoming the starter in Week 4, that it would have been foolish to make him share the job.

Jeremy Langford, a fourth-round pick in 2015, averaged just 3.2 yards on 62 carries, but he has a burst and is also a threat as a pass catcher. Ka'Deem Carey, a fourth-round pick in 2014, got just 32 carries, but the Bears love his toughness as a short-yardage option.

The Bears added more depth in free agency with former St. Louis Rams player Benny Cunningham, who was undrafted out of Middle Tennessee State in 2013.

Cunningham's primary contribution could come as a kickoff-returner. His 27.2-yard average last season was third in the NFL. But he has also rushed for 748 career yards on 171 carries (4.4-yard average) and is a pass-catching threat out of the backfield with 93 receptions for 752 yards (8.1-yard average).

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

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