Could Chicago Bears resist if Buckeyes' Elliott falls in draft?
A question Bears general manager Ryan Pace and his staff have already asked themselves is: What if Ohio State's franchise running back Ezekiel Elliott is available when they're on the clock at No. 11?
Elliott is as close to a can't-miss prospect as there is in this year's NFL draft. But, because the running back position has become devalued in the league in recent years due to the emphasis on throwing the ball, Elliott could fall out of the top 10.
In his NFL Draft 2016 Preview, talent evaluator/draft analyst Nolan Nawrocki, says Elliott is: "The most complete, all-around back to enter the draft in the last decade."
Elliott has all the physical gifts and intangibles scouts look for in a game-changing, dominant ball carrier, and he would make any NFL team better immediately.
Bears coach John Fox values a strong run game, but his team's ground attack is worse than it was last year due to the departure of Matt Forte, whose 898 rushing yards were 49 percent of the team's total in 2015.
Pace and Fox initially gave a vote of confidence to young running backs Jeremy Langford and Ka'Deem Carey, the team's previous two fourth-round draft picks. But then the Bears made a big-money play for restricted free agent C.J. Anderson, who later re-signed with the Broncos.
Still, the Bears have greater needs than at running back, specifically defensive line, secondary and offensive line.
So odds are the Bears will wait to address their running back needs in the draft and settle for adding depth behind Langford, Carey and veteran Jacquizz Rodgers. Alabama battering ram Derrick Henry could last until their second-round pick (41st overall) and would provide the short-yardage beast currently lacking on the roster.
Help could come later in the draft from local players. Illinois' Josh Ferguson was a four-year contributor with 168 career receptions with relatively little wear and tear (505 career carries). The Joliet Catholic product from Naperville doesn't have the size to be an every-down back, but he has enough speed, quickness and elusiveness to provide chunk yardage. He should be a mid-round pick.
Sharing time wouldn't be a difficult adjustment for Ferguson, who played in the same backfield with two other FBS runners at Joliet Catholic: Ty Isaac (USC, Michigan) and Malin Jones (Northwestern, Louisville).
Unlike Ferguson, Illinois State's Marshaun Coprich, a late-round consideration, was a workhorse. In his final three years, Coprich had 912 carries for 5,126 yards and 59 touchdowns. Coprich gets downgraded because he played against lower-level FCS competition and because of a marijuana arrest last April. But he was a two-time Missouri Valley Conference offensive player of the year and is dangerous in the open field.
Northwestern's Dan Vitale is also a late-round candidate who would give a team like the Bears a running back with a different skill set than their incumbents. The 6-foot-1, 239-pound Vitale played superback for the Wildcats, a fullback/H-back hybrid.
The Wheaton-Warrenville South product had a sensational performance at the NFL Scouting Combine, pumping out 30 reps of 225 pounds on the bench, running the fastest 20-yard shuttle (4.12 seconds) among running backs. and leaping 38 ½ inches in the vertical jump. He also gets high marks for character and for being the ultimate team player.
"Every single day, my goal was to become the best, (most) well-rounded football player on the field," he said. "I plan to do the same thing from here on out."
Vitale had just 6 carries at Northwestern but caught 113 passes, has versatility and is an exceptional special teams player.
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NFL draft: Top 10 running backsName, school Ht. Wt. 40-time
Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State 6-0 225 4.47
Do-it-all RB with rare size-speed combo with no weaknesses. Instant difference-maker is clearly the best at his position.
Derrick Henry, Alabama 6-3 247 4.54
Built like a LB with CB speed. Can punish a defense with bulk strength and power but lacks quickness and pass-catching ability.
Jordan Howard, Indiana 6-0 230 4.56
More a between-the-tackles banger than big-play threat. Will take big hits with upright run style. Good vision and some elusiveness.
Alex Collins, Arkansas 5-10 217 4.59
Tougher than a $5 steak, finishes runs and has a nose for endzone. Has quickness, vision, agility despite mediocre speed. Will fumble.
Devontae Booker, Utah 5-11 219 4.52
Productive receiver with soft hands. Nice agility with ability to string moves together but lacks top-end speed to go the distance.
C.J. Prosise, Notre Dame 6-0 220 4.48
Ex-wideout with great value as pass catcher. Low-mileage runner with good size. Ball security and pass protection are concerns.
Kenneth Dixon, Louisiana Tech 5-10 215 4.58
Has make-you-miss skills with quickness. Speed is pedestrian. Won't go down without a fight, smells pay dirt and can catch.
Paul Perkins, UCLA 5-10 208 4.54
Great elusiveness with stringing multiple moves together. Has good vision and cutting ability but just average speed and size.
Josh Ferguson, Illinois 5-9 198 4.49
Won't be a bell cow in NFL but could be a nice fit in a time share with his instant acceleration, pass-catching and big-play potential.
Marshaun Coprich, Illinois State 5-8 207 4.47
Tough runner with a burst. Rushed for 4,241 yards, 50 TDs on 691 carries in 2014 and '15 but has some size and character concerns.
-- Bob LeGere