- Michael C. Wright, ESPN Staff Writer
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ESPNChicago.com continues its Bears draft preview series with a look at the running backs.
Despite Matt Forte's standing as one of the NFL's best and most versatile backs, the Chicago Bears have shown some interest in multiple players throughout the pre-draft process, but it's unknown whether the team plans to add at the position through the draft.
The Bears spent time with UCLA's Johnathan Franklin at the Senior Bowl, and Texas A&M's Christine Michael at the East-West Shrine game, and it's believed there's legitimate interest from the team in the latter. During the Bears' marathon meetings with prospects at the NFL Combine, they sat down with Nevada's Stefphon Jefferson and also spent time with SMU's Zach Line at the East-West.
Interestingly, all possess widely differing styles. So if the Bears choose a running back, he'll likely come in playing a complementary role to Forte and backup Michael Bush.
Michael possesses, arguably the most overall talent of any back in the draft. But injuries throughout his college career and questions about discipline and attitude appear to have pushed his stock down to the point at which he could become a third- to fifth-round pick. Michael runs the 40-yard dash in the 4.4 range, and registered a vertical leap -- which Bears general manager Phil Emery has said is the most important predictor of a player's potential explosiveness on the field -- of more than 40 inches at the NFL combine.
Franklin, meanwhile, is considered a locker room leader type who is solid in almost every facet at the position.
Jefferson isn't expected to be drafted because of his 4.7 speed, but it's difficult to overlook the fact he racked up 1,883 yards rushing in 2012, his first season as the starter at Nevada. Line also projects to be a late-round pick or a free agent. At 6-foot, 232 pounds, Line could take on a situational role in the NFL as an h-back, short-yardage back or fullback, who would also contribute on special teams.
The next 10: 11. Miguel Maysonet, Stony Brook, 5-9, 209; 12.Knile Davis, Arkansas, 5-11, 227; 13. Stepfan Taylor, Stanford, 5-9, 214; 14. Joseph Randle, Oklahoma State, 6-0, 204; 15. Kenjon Barner, Oregon, 5-9, 196; 16. Jawan Jamison, Rutgers, 5-7, 203; 17. Zachary Stacy, Vanderbilt, 5-8, 216; 18. 18. Spencer Ware, LSU, 5-10, 228; 19. Cierre Wood, Notre Dame, 5-11, 213; 20. Rex Burkhead, Nebraska, 5-10, 214.
Position grade: C-
Analysis: Forte received his deserved and long-awaited contract extension just before the start of last year's training camp, and he rewarded the team with his second 1,000-yard rushing season in three years, in addition to producing his fifth consecutive year in which he gained more than 1,400 yards from scrimmage. Still, something seemed amiss with the rushing attack, in part because of inconsistent play from the offensive line, not to mention a run-pass ratio of 470 to 485.
While Forte appears to be in good standing with the Bears, it's interesting the team so far has shown some interest in at least four running backs with varying styles during the pre-draft process. If the Bears add at this position in the draft, it would be a complementary back to Forte and Bush.