The Bears have drafted some of the league’s all-time greats like Sid Luckman, Mike Ditka, Dick Butkus, Gale Sayers, Walter Payton, Dan Hampton, Mike Singletary, Richard Dent and Brian Urlacher. They’ve also had their fair share of mishaps like Rex Grossman,Cade McNown, Brad Muster, Jim Harbaugh, Jim McMahon, and on, and on. Notice a pattern? Historically, the Bears are quite good at evaluating defensive talent, but struggle a lot more on the offensive side of the ball.
Outside of the aforementioned Payton and Sayers, as well as a few others, the Bears have had some horrific draft day blunders at running back. For my list, I concentrated on the biggest “busts” the Bears have drafted, therefore I only included backs taken in the first three rounds.
5: Joe Moore: 1st Round, 11th Overall, University of Missouri
While at Mizzou, Moore broke the school’s single season rushing record with 1,312 yards in 1969, and eventually became its all-time leading rusher. During Moore’s senior campaign in 1970, he gained 610 yards through five games before suffering a shoulder injury. In 1995, Moore was inducted into the University of Missouri’s Hall of Fame.
When the Bears drafted Moore, they saw him as the guy that would replace Gale Sayers. Unfortunately, Moore failed to stay healthy and never panned out. He only appeared in 23 games for the Bears over two seasons. He carried the ball just 87 times for 281 yards and no touchdowns.
4: Garrett Wolfe: 3rd Round, 93rd Overall, Northern Illinois University
Wolfe’s college stats were very impressive at NIU. He amassed over 5100 rushing yards, 586 receiving, with 52 touchdowns on the ground and five through the air in 32 games over three years. Wolfe accomplished all of that using his five foot, seven inch frame. As impressive as that is, he played in the mid-2000’s MAC, which is nowhere near the league it is now. Once he got to the league, his smaller stature couldn’t compete with the big boys.
In four seasons with Chicago, Wolfe only carried the ball 72 times for 274 yards and one touchdown. He returned six kicks for 125 yards. He was primarily a special teams player, on defense. He had 41 total tackles, and in 2008 and 2010, he had more tackles than rush attempts. With Wolfe’s size, he was never going to be a featured back, and with Hester already on the roster, the Bears didn’t need him to return kicks. This pick was a real head-scratcher.
3: Cedric Benson, 1st Round, 4th Overall, University of Texas
Benson was a four year starter at Texas and won the Doak Walker award as the nation’s top running back in 2004. He finished his collegiate career with over 5500 rushing yards, sixth all-time in Division-1, and second in school history behind Ricky Williams. Benson’s life off the field at UT was up and down. He was an honor roll student, but was also arrested twice, once for marijuana, and once for trespassing.
When the Bears drafted Benson 4th overall, they made him the franchise’s highest draft pick since Dan Hampton in 1979. He missed his entire rookie training camp due to contract negotiations, and was named Thomas Jones’ backup in 2005. Jones started the entire season due to his play, and was named the starter again in ’06 after Benson injured his shoulder in a scrimmage. Benson was the starter in his final year with the Bears, but his time in Chicago was marred by public outbursts, criticizing the coaching staff on multiple occasions.
Benson played in 35 games with 12 starts in three years with the Bears. He carried the ball 420 times, rushing for 1,593 yards and 10 touchdowns. He had 26 receptions for 180 yards and no touchdowns. Benson’s best season was in ’06, teaming with Thomas Jones to provide a formidable two-headed rushing attack during Chicago’s run to Super Bowl XLI. He played in 15 games, rushed for 647 yards and scored 6 touchdowns. He was injured in the first half of the Super Bowl and didn’t return.
After the ’07 season, Benson was traded to Cincinnati where he became a productive back, stringing together three straight 1000+ yard seasons. However with Chicago, he provided little return on the five year, $35 million investment the team made in him. If you divided Benson’s salary equally over five seasons, he made $2.1 million per touchdown, $600k per game, and $50k per carry with Chicago.
2: Curtis Enis, 1st Round, 5th Overall, Penn St.
Curtis Enis was a consensus First Team All-American at Penn St. his junior year in 1997. However, he was caught accepting a bribe from a scout and was suspended for the team’s bowl game.
In ’98, the Bears were interested in Enis and Randy Moss out of Marshall. Moss and Enis both had off the field problems in college which worried the Bears, so both were invited to Chicago for interviews. Moss missed a breakfast with team officials to sleep in, and was vocal that passing on him would be a mistake. Enis impressed Chicago with his quiet demeanor, told the media it’d be an honor to play for the Bears, and that Walter Payton was his hero.
Come draft day, the Jaguars made a late push to get the #5 pick, but first year VP of Player Personnel Mark Hatley refused, because he felt Jacksonville should have offered more picks in the deal. The Bears took Enis fifth, and Moss slid all the way to 21st, where he was drafted by the Vikings. Moss helped Minnesota become the top offense in the league that year, setting a then-NFL record with 556 points. He was also named NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Enis’ rookie season with the Bears didn’t get off to a good start; contract negotiations caused him to miss 26 days of training camp and two exhibition games. That season, Enis appeared in nine games, made one start, and in November he tore a ligament in his left knee. In 1999 Enis appeared in 15 games, carrying the ball 287 times for 916 yards, and scoring three touchdowns. By 2000, Enis had been moved to fullback, carrying the ball just 36 times for 84 yards and a touchdown. In 2001, Enis was forced to retire due to a degenerative condition in his left knee.
1: Rashaan Salaam, 1st Round, 21st Overall, Colorado
Rashaan Salaam became the fourth player in college history to rush for over 2000 yards in a season as a junior in 1994. He helped his team to an 11-1 record, a Fiesta Bowl Title, a #3 ranking in the final polls and won the Heisman Trophy.
Entering the ’95 season, Salaam missed a big chunk of training camp before finally signing on the dotted line. Initially everything seemed fine, as Salaam recorded a Bears rookie record with 1,074 yards rushing and got into the end zone 10 times. His success would be very short lived, though. In his final two seasons in Chicago, Rashaan Salaam rushed for just 608 yards and three touchdowns.
The decline in Salaam’s game can be attributed to his work ethic. In a 2012 interview with Fred Mitchell of the Chicago Tribune, Salaam stated that he started slacking more and more throughout his career.
“I had no discipline. I had all the talent in the world. You know, great body, great genes. But I had no work ethic and I had no discipline. The better you get, the harder you have to work. The better I got, the lazier I got.”
Salaam played in two games in 1999 with the Browns, netting one carry for two yards. He ended his career very unceremoniously in 2000, playing for the Memphis Maniax of the XFL. The extreme-style football league lasted just one year before folding. And just like that, Salaam’s fairy tale ride from Parade All-American, to Heisman Trophy winner, to first round pick was over.