A 230-pound back with 4.6 speed isn’t what most fans are dreaming of this offseason. But Spencer Ware, a sixth-round pick by Seattle in 2013, could be the perfect fit for the 2019 Chicago Bears.
At this point in his career, Ware is known as a backup, but he once earned Kansas City’s starting job by rushing for 403 yards — 5.6 per carry — and six touchdowns in 2015. He held the starting job in 2016, making 14 starts and totaling 1,368 yards from scrimmage; more than Jordan Howard has managed each of the last two years. He was poised to start for the Chiefs again in 2017 before a preseason injury knocked him out and Kareem Hunt exploded. Ware reemerged late last season, rushing for 122 yards in two starts before another injury knocked him out until the playoffs.
With Damien Williams performing well in the playoffs, Ware will likely be looking elsewhere for a chance to compete for a starting gig. Where better than Chicago? On paper, he may not seem like an upgrade over Howard, and he may not be a better overall runner, but Ware can simply do things that Howard can’t. These are the things the Bears need their running backs to be able to do.
Howard excelled early in his career at running outside zone plays, cutting up the field, against the grain. With Nagy’s inside zone scheme, the Bears are asking Howard to do the opposite, to be able to take inside runs outside and he simply hasn’t done it effectively.
Despite the fact that Howard timed better than both Ware and Hunt in the 40-yard dash, he isn’t as explosive. As Johnathan Wood broke down last week, Howard tested below average in a couple key drills for the Bears and that stuff shows up on the field.
Then, of course, there is the impact on the passing game.
“(You want to have a guy) that can make guys miss and, at the same time, there’s that balance of being a hybrid of being able to make things happen in the passing game too,” Matt Nagy said at the combine last week.
Ware caught 33 passes in 2016 and 20 in 2018, despite playing limited snaps. Just as impressive, however, is his career average of 11.5 yards per catch, compared to Howard’s 7.9. For their careers, Ware has averaged a yard more per touch than Howard.
Too much is made of Howard’s ability to catch; he does fine on dump offs, but he isn’t natural and has struggled catching on the run. The real issue is with the route running. We have never seen Howard beat a running back on a wheel route, or even be able to run a wheel route. Ware can do that and more.
Unlike some of the top options in the draft, Ware can also handle the load in short-yardage, which is where Howard was most valuable to the Bears last year.
Signing Ware would also fit what the Bears have done in the past, filling needs in free agency so they can draft the best player available.
In this case, they could likely trade Howard for an addition draft pick — likely fifth round or later — to help add to their current total. The next best option is waiting and hoping a running back who can play all three downs drops to them in the draft and that player can come in and play right away.
Ware isn’t a Hall of Famer and there certainly are injury concerns that should be monitored, but he’s a good player when healthy and he fits what the Bears want to do. Running backs who can do everything the Bears need aren’t all that common, the Bears have an opportunity to get one cheap.