Bears draft preview: Running backs

Trent Richardson might be the only running back picked in the first round this year. Matthew Emmons/US Presswire

Given the protracted contract impasse with Matt Forte, addressing the running back position through the NFL draft would seem to be an enticing option for the Chicago Bears.

Realistically, however, it’s not -- in part -- because of the insurance provided the team through the franchise tag hanging over Forte’s head, not to mention the addition of backup Michael Bush in free agency.

“The combination of Matt Forte and Kahlil Bell is good,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said when discussing the acquisition of Bush. “But Matt Forte, Kahlil Bell and Michael Bush is even better. This is about the strength in the numbers as much as anything.”

Interestingly, neither Forte nor Bell are under contract because they haven’t signed the tenders extended by the team. With them out of the mix for now, the team could start its offseason conditioning program with just Bush and Armando Allen in attendance.

That’s not a major concern. The team anticipates Forte and Bell rejoining their teammates eventually.

“I don’t think we need to get too caught up in it,” Smith said, regarding Forte. “This is part of the process.”

As of right now, the team hasn’t held any private workouts with any of the prospects from the 2012 class of running backs, and it hasn’t scheduled any pre-draft visits.

While it’s highly unlikely the team would use the draft to implement a contingency plan for a scenario in which Forte missed extensive time due to a holdout, the secretive nature thus far in the tenure of new general manager Phil Emery makes anything possible.

The next 10: 11. Ronnie Hillman, San Diego State, 5-9, 200; 12. Robert Turbin, Utah State, 5-10, 222; 13. Vick Ballard, Mississippi State, 5-10, 219; 14. Terrance Ganaway, Baylor, 6-0, 239; 15. Chris Rainey, Florida, 5-8, 180; 16. Michael Smith, Utah State, 5-9, 207; 17. Tauren Poole, Tennessee, 5-10, 206; 18. Dan Herron, Ohio State, 5-10, 213; 19. Brandon Bolden, Mississippi, 5-11, 222; 20. Darrell Scott, South Florida, 6-0, 231.

Position grade: B.

Analysis: Richardson seems to be the only elite every-down back in the class, but with the NFL’s widespread committee approach at running back, teams should be able to find plenty of talent able to contribute immediately outside of the first round. Alabama’s Mark Ingram was the only running back taken in the first round in 2011. The one-back-in-the-first-round trend could continue in 2012. The fact teams passed more than 50 percent of the time just last season also seems to be taking away some of the allure of the position. But one thing worth mentioning is it’s a lot cheaper for teams to address the running back position high in the draft than it is to add them in free agency.