The Bears really need a complementary piece for Matt Forte in the backfield, or else the next great running back in the Windy City will have a career closer in length to the fragile Gale Sayers than the indestructible Walter Payton.
Forte was sensational as a second-round draft pick and set a franchise rookie record with 1,238 yards on the ground, but he didn't do much in the month of December after being subjected to so much punishment. Kevin Jones, Adrian Peterson, and Garrett Wolfe were all kept on the 53-man roster just in case Forte faltered out of the shoot, but not one of the three could provide that change-of-pace factor the Chicago offense needed from time to time. Quite simply, the coaching staff didn't have enough confidence in any of them to take Forte off the field.
While Peterson and Wolfe will likely be back next season because of their attributes on special teams, Jones is as good as gone.
Fortunately for general manager Jerry Angelo, running back is arguably the most disposable position in all of sports – he'll have options. Should he go the free agency route at the end of this month, veteran reserves like Correll Buckhalter of the Eagles and J.J. Arrington of the Cardinals could be had at a reasonable price. If he holds out until the NFL Draft in April, even highly-decorated collegiate ball carriers like Michigan State's Javon Ringer and Clemson's James Davis could be available on Day 2.
But the Bears have more pressing needs on both sides of the ball than tailback, so Angelo would be wise to focus on a play-making receiver and a hard-hitting safety in free agency and wait until draft weekend for another runner.
How early should Angelo be thinking about selecting a running back? Does he need a player that complements Forte's specific set of skills? Would a big bruiser or a small scat back be a better fit?
One thing is for certain: The ability to catch the ball consistently out of the backfield is key, and Cedric Peerman of Virginia does that as well as any back in the draft.
"It's something we really focus on at UVA," Peerman told Ed Thompson of Scout.com. "The running backs are expected to be able to do more than just carry the football."
Peerman (5-11.5, 208) is the No. 15 running back available for the 2009 NFL Draft according to Scout.com, ahead of Wisconsin's P.J. Hill and just behind Northwestern's Tyrell Sutton. Built like Maurice Jones-Drew Lite, Peerman rushed for 774 yards and caught 44 passes as a senior, and he's also an experienced return man on kickoffs. But he may not be big enough to serve as a featured back in the pros, and a foot injury he suffered as a junior with the Cavaliers required surgery – he was the leading rusher in the ACC at the time he got hurt.
Peerman had rave reviews at the Senior Bowl last month in Mobile, and he's put the right attitude on display ahead of the Scouting Combine this week in Indianapolis.
"I just want them to know that I'm coachable and I'm willing to do anything and everything to be a part of the team," he said. "I want to show them that I'm a good guy, that I work hard, have a great work ethic and a lot of determination."
Peerman's experience on the kickoff-return team could also prove to be valuable to the Bears. Even though Danieal Manning took over for the worn out Devin Hester midseason and went on to lead with league with an average of 29.7 yards per return, he might have to step up as the full-time free safety with veteran Mike Brown now out of the mix. Starting at receiver in addition to being a return man proved to be too much for Hester to handle, so Manning may have to sacrifice that part of his game if he wants to be all he can be on defense.
Most importantly, the Midway Monsters have to find somebody to take some of the Atlas-like workload off Forte's shoulders, and investing a fourth- or fifth-round pick in Peerman is a small price to pay for protecting the team's greatest offensive asset.
John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.
The Chicago Bears have several players currently on their roster that will become unrestricted free…