2020 Very Deep Sleeper (S5, E2) -- RB Ryan Nall, CHI
Who is the worst (talent-wise) starting running back in the NFL?
You know where I am going just by the name/team that is the focus of this piece. But seriously, who would it be?
Some contenders (for me): Melvin Gordon, Adrian Peterson, Cam Akers, Kerryon Johnson, Chris Carson…and, of course, David Montgomery.
Melvin Gordon has Phillip Lindsay to gamble on if you feel possible bust/outplayed potential of Gordon. Kerryon Johnson may be bumped by D’Andre Swift right away. We’ve all been pining for Rashaad Penny or someone to knock off Chris Carson. Cam Akers might be the worst/shakiest of all…but we’ve been talking about Darrell Henderson for almost two years now. You likely have ‘stock’ in Henderson or Lindsay or Swift or Penny/Hyde, for just such a moment…for a lottery ticket shot at a failing RB starter.
Adrian Peterson? You’re not that interested…and also not super-hyped about Bryce Love or Antonio Gibson or J.D. McKissic or Peyton Barber because you’re not hyped about anything for Washington, and all those backs are backup talents. However, you might have grabbed one of the Washington backups as a flyer on a deeper fantasy roster situation.
You are keenly aware of the alternatives, the hopefuls behind Gordon-Peterson-Kerryon-Akers-Carson…but what about the play off of a David Montgomery failure? You think the Bears are turning the backfield over to Tarik Cohen in such an event? Not happening because he’s not THAT kind of RB. If Montgomery falters or sprains an ankle or gets COVID…who is going to work with Cohen in that backfield? Most people do not know the answer to that question instantly.
Most people don’t really know about Ryan Nall, the player, even if they see him on the depth chart behind Montgomery.
*After I finished this piece, news broke of Cordarrelle Patterson working with the Bears’ RBs. I’m not sure how serious to take that – it’s possible that CP requested it, and/or is considered a failure at WR so he might as well work with the RBs, and/or he might be going to get released anyway so why not use him as a camp body at RB – he’s going to cost $5.8M to keep, but just $1M to release. CP has never been used as anything more than a gimmick his entire career with no follow through the next week when he is amazing the week prior. Ryan Nall is a serious, experienced RB, Patterson is not really…that ship probably sailed years ago.
I have a few private clients in massive roster spot Dynasty leagues…leagues where EVERY RB with a pulse is taken/gone, but Ryan Nall is available. Lamar Miller is rostered. Mike Davis is rostered. Wayne Gallman is rostered. John Kelly is rostered. BUT Ryan Nall is as free as a bird in most every league I checked, even the deepest ones.
Very Deep Sleeper doesn’t begin to label this discussion.
Let’s learn why Ryan Nall should be more on our radar – not just because of his spot on the Bears’ depth chart, but for the potential that he’s a pretty good NFL prospect and could rise to the occasion and win the hearts of Bears fans and coaches if David Montgomery has another season of hopping around and going nowhere with his excessive jump stop hops.
Ryan Nall arrived at Oregon State as a 6’2”+/255 pound tight end. When they realized how fast/quick he was for his size, and because of a desire to play running back…they moved him to RB and he dropped 20 pounds to work as a 6’2”+/232 (NFL Combine numbers) RB.
As a freshman/2015, the first time he got a real workload, he ran for 122 yards on 20 carries against Colorado. He went back to backup the next few games and then was pushed to be a main back against in-state rival Oregon in the 2015 OSU season finale – Nall ran for 174 yards and a TD on 19 carries, with 4 catches for 54 yards.
Not only did Oregon State find out Nall was big and fast and tough, they also found out he had great hands and was very effective at running back.
As the full starter in 2016, as a sophomore, Nall ran for 951 yards in 10 games with 6.5 yards per carry and 13 rushing TDs. Accomplishing this on a very bad, always outmatched (4-8) Oregon State team.
In 2017, Oregon State was even worse…(1-11), their one win a lucky win over FCS Portland State. Nall rushed for 810 yards in 11 games in 2017 with a lower 4.9 yards per carry on this dreadful team. Sadly, the OSU program dragged Nall’s draft stock/visibility down.
Nall wasn’t totally unnoticed…he declared early for the NFL Draft and was invited to the NFL Combine. At the Combine, you’d think a 6’2”+/232 guy who could run a 4.58 40-time with a stunning (for his size) 6.95 three-cone would gain draft momentum. Don’t forget, this is the NFL, having their heads up their arses is a daily way of life. If he were a TE prospect, his Combine would have been amazing. It was wonderful as an RB prospect for his size. But you know what the NFL saw…’must be a fullback’.
Ryan Nall faces many NFL scouting biases. He’s bigger than David Montgomery (he could eat him for lunch). Faster than Montgomery. Way better agility/three cone than Montgomery. Better hands than Montgomery, and both are good receivers…but Nall is better. Tools-wise, this should be a great debate. The reality is…the Bears only have eyes for Montgomery and barely recognizes that Nall exists.
Well…the Bears organization doesn’t totally ignore Nall, anymore…and that’s where some hope lies.
Nall went undrafted, because of course he did. John Kelly and Mark Walton and Ito Smith and Trenton Cannon and Jordan Wilkins were drafted (all guys who cannot hold a candle compared to Nall’s physical profile and on-field display)…but Nall went undrafted in 2018. Nall signed as a UDFA rookie with the Bears.
Nall was released by the Bears before the 53-man roster lock to start the 2018 season -- but did go to the practice squad but was never elevated to the main roster. In 2019, he was signed to a future’s contract by Chicago, to protect him, then released before the 53-man roster lock to start the 2019 season…only this time, Nall had a more impressive preseason showing and was building some momentum/chatter in the organization. In November 2019, he got called up to the main roster and played special teams eventually getting a few carries Week 17. For the 2020 season, Nall is likely to make the 53-man as the 3rd RB…he only has undrafted rookie RBs to beat back for a roster spot, and he will easily make the team with no real preseason to help showcase any rookie challengers (and the Bears didn’t land any rookie/UDFA RB talent at all in 2020). Nall is experienced with the Bears for 2+ years now. The GM is starting to mention him in discussions of their backfield depth.
Ryan Nall is scratching and clawing his way to NFL/FF relevance/hope.
Watching Nall on tape at Oregon State and his preseason time with the Bears – he has that Toby Gerhart type running ability/style…physical, but with surprising punch/speed/agility. He’s average speed among RBs but considering he’s 230+ pounds, he has higher-end speed and wonderful agility. He’s a physical runner that can get up and go in the open field.
This one play from the Bears 2019 preseason is a nice glimpse of Nall’s abilities (video will open to it straight away at the 1:00 mark): https://youtu.be/ZNcz75Khr-E?t=59
Here’s a 3+ minute Oregon State highlight reel, and remember – he’s playing at 230-235+ pounds and moving as he does: https://youtu.be/onPWdt58lvE
Now, I absolutely know the Bears/Matt Nagy has ZERO intention of pushing Ryan Nall…but he does have EVERY intention of proving how smart they were with David Montgomery. It’s not even debatable, but I also know from history – most long shot players got their chance on accident. The NFL, by and large, has no vision or real open competition for anything…they made their minds up on players before they arrived at their first training camp -- and training camp performances and actual successful game play won’t sway them easily when their mind is made up.
However, especially in this Year of the Virus, Nall might get that accidental chance for a week…or two…or what if Montgomery gets injured in-season? Nall is ‘the next man up’ for the Bears, at this stage…and it looks like the Bears are starting to get comfortable with that based on their roster moves and GM’s words this year. There is some hope for Nall to come out of nowhere and be that throwback Chicago bruiser/grinder the fans would love…especially if/when Montgomery is bunny hopping around to nowhere like he did last season.
Ryan Nall played 14 games at Oregon State where he got 14 or more carries in a game. One of those games was against an FCS opponent, so I’ll deduct that. So, looking at his 13 games with 14 or more carries against D1 teams in his college career, here are Nall’s output numbers:
249 carries, 1,707 yards rushing, 6.6 ypc, 20 rushing TDs
30 catches, 296 rec. yards, 3 TDs.
In this ’13 game’ look/’season’…that’s 2,000+ combined yards and 23 TDs. That’s not bad…especially for an Oregon State team that went 7-29 his three seasons, 4-29 when we took away wins against FCS teams.
There is something here to watch/consider, but the odds are against it happening naturally…but 2020 is about to be a very unnatural season.