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NFL Draft: Bears want another solid RB who can carry the load

PASADENA CA - JANUARY 01:  Running back Tyler Gaffney #25 Stanford Cardinal carries ball first quarter against Michigan State

PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 01: Running back Tyler Gaffney #25 of the Stanford Cardinal carries the ball in the first quarter against the Michigan State Spartans during the 100th Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio at the Rose Bowl on January 1, 2014 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

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WATCH LIST

De’Anthony Thomas, Oregon, 5-9, 174: It might be unfair to call Thomas merely a running back.

“I can play receiver,” he said. “I can play running back. Kick return. Punt return.”

He’s a specialty player with world-class speed, having claimed America’s fastest prep 200-yard dash time as a senior in high school.

The Bears are interested in Thomas, even if he doesn’t fit the mold of a No. 2 back.

He’s undersized — and never ran more than 96 times in his three years on the high-octane Ducks — but could replace Devin Hester’s kick-return sizzle at a low-risk draft position.

“That’s what I’m good at, making plays,” Thomas said. “Just being out in space, creating one-on-one matchups.”

FIVE MORE

Kapri Bibbs, Colorado State, 5-9, 212: The former Plainfield North High School star had 31 rushing touchdowns, tied for most in major-college football, in his only season with the Rams.

Ka’Deem Carey, Arizona, 5-9, 207: The two-time first-team All-American might fit the Forte mold after leading the nation in rushing in 2012 and finishing third last season.

Carlos Hyde, Ohio State, 6-0, 230: The Big Ten’s reigning Running Back of the Year will be the first one taken in the draft and “could have a rookie year like Eddie Lacy,” ESPN’s Mel Kiper said.

Tre Mason, Auburn, 5-8, 207: The son of Maseo from legendary rap group De La Soul is a hit-maker himself, having won the SEC Player of the Year award.

James White, Wisconsin, 5-9, 204: The Bears like White, who had 1,444 rushing yards last season and could make for a change-of-pace option in the middle rounds.

Updated: April 30, 2014 11:04PM



Leading up to the NFL draft, which begins May 8, the Sun-Times has taken a position-by-position look at the Bears’ needs and which players might be available to fill them. This is the last in the series.

Given Marc Trestman’s quarterback-guru reputation and the stunning skill of the Bears’ best receivers, the following might surprise you: No running back in the NFL touched the ball more than Matt Forte in 2013.

He had 289 carries and 74 receptions, setting career highs with 1,339 rushing yards and 594 receiving yards.

This offseason, the Bears dumped reserve Michael Bush after the worst season of his career. They signed Shaun Draughn, who had four rushes last season, to join Michael Ford, who spent his rookie year on special teams.

Finding a suitable backup for Forte in the middle to late rounds of the draft next week isn’t as simple as it might appear.

Via the draft or with a late free-agent pickup, the Bears need a complementary piece, but one who, were Forte to be injured, could carry the load.

“I’m sure [Trestman] is looking for a young back that has some similar traits to Forte,” ESPN analyst Jon Gruden said of his longtime friend. “To be a running back for the Bears in this current system, you’ve got to be sharp.

“You’ve got to be able to handle a lot of offense: picking up blitzes, understanding protections, audibles. …

“You’ve got to be able to catch the football and do something after you do that.

“And you’ve got to be able to run an array of different runs.”

Tyler Gaffney has the bell-cow thing down.

He rushed 330 times as a senior for Stanford, third only to Boston College Heisman Trophy finalist Andre Williams and Arizona All-American Ka’Deem Carey.

“Taking care of your body, before and after, was a huge thing to get through this year,” said Gaffney, who had 1,709 rushing yards, eighth in the country.

He played baseball in the Pirates’ system — and not football — the year before.

Gaffney, who spoke with the Bears at the NFL Scouting Combine, said most NFL teams have wanted reassurances that he’s in football to stay.

“This is what I love; this is what I want to do,” he said. “I wouldn’t have left baseball otherwise.”

Gaffney could be drafted near where the Bears will look to take a rusher.

Others will, too: ESPN’s Todd McShay said 11 running backs could be selected from the end of the second round through the fourth.

Gaffney has told teams he’s willing do whatever they need to make the team.

“I tell them, ‘You’re going to get a tough guy, and more than you bargained for,’ ” he said. “I’ve been told many times that I wasn’t good enough to do that, wasn’t fast enough to do this. I felt I’ve proved everybody wrong.”

Email: pfinley@suntimes.com

Twitter: @patrickfinley



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