Bears a distant fourth in NFC North at running back
Second in a series
In this series we rank the four NFC North clubs at every position. Rankings are based on performance to date, scouting reports and a consensus of evaluations from general managers, coaches and scouts around the NFL.
1. Minnesota Vikings, B+: The Vikings running game is the division's best in part because Dalvin Cook is the best back in the NFC North and one of the best in the league right now, and, in part because Mike Zimmer is completely committed to it. He is the only head coach in the division who'd rather run the ball than throw it.
Cook is that rare package that can handle 20-to-30 touches a game and is also a threat to hit a home run every time he touches the ball.
The Vikings ground game was sixth best in the NFL last year and 12th in average gain per carry behind a barely mediocre offensive line that may be upgraded this season with the addition of rookie tackle Ezra Cleveland.
Depth is a concern as Cook played just four games as a rookie, missed five games in 2018 and two last year.
All they have behind him is Alexander Mattison, who also missed three games last year as a promising rookie, Mike Boone, who was impressive in relief of Cook and Mattison last season and the oft-injured Ameer Abdullah.
2. Green Bay Packers, B: Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams are the best one-two punch in the NFC North, and Jones is coming off a monster 2019 campaign in which he scored 19 touchdowns. Sixteen came on the ground as he played all 16 games for the first time after missing four in each of his first two seasons.
He is neither the workhorse or big play threat the Vikings' Cook is, but he is the perfect lead back in a two-back tandem in which Williams is more the pounder and sledgehammer, and they were Aaron Rodgers No. 2 and 3 receivers last year with 49 and 39 catches, respectively.
They were 15th in team rushing last year and 16th in average gain per carry due mainly to Matt LaFleur's preference to have the offense run through Rodgers.
Dexter Williams is interesting as the third back and rookie A.J. Dillon is a fascinating prospect at 6-0, 250, who is likely to be a fourth-quarter, four-minute offense specialist to begin his NFL career.
3. Detroit Lions, B-: The Lions run game has struggled for years but appeared to get a boost last year from Kerryon Johnson before he tore a ligament in his knee in Week 9.
Backups Bo Scarbrough, Ty Johnson and J.D. McKissic picked up the ball nicely in the second half of the season in a running back-by-committee plan, but the Lions finished just 21st in rushing and 22nd in average gain per carry.
Part of the problem was with Matt Stafford missing the second half of the season. Lions backs usually saw eight or nine defenders in the box.
The Lions added an absolute steal in this year when D'Andre Swift out of Georgia, the top rated back in this draft was still there for them at 35.
We can't grade a player who's never touched the ball in the NFL, but if Swift is who we think he is and Johnson makes a full recovery, along with the addition of free agent Halapoulavatti Vaitai at right tackle the Lions ground game could take off.
4. Bears, C-: Much like the quarterback position, the Bears don't just begin the season fourth best in the division at running back. It's a distant fourth.
The issue is not David Montgomery, who had a very promising rookie campaign and could still emerge as one of the NFC's top RBs, it's the unknown of a sketchy offensive line, a new offensive line coach and questions as to whether coach Matt Nagy gets how to grow his ground game.
The Bears are the thinnest in the division at this position.
Tarik Cohen is an outstanding third-down back, but the Bears don't have a No. 2 with only undrafted rookie free agent Ryan Nall and wide receiver/kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson behind Montgomery.