In 2016, the Chicago Bears had one of the best draft classes of the year. Optimism for the franchise was high when they drafted outside linebacker Leonard Floyd and offensive lineman Cody Whitehair in the first and second rounds respectively. However, the value of this draft class increased once fifth-round draft pick Jordan Howard stepped on the field in the regular season.
Howard’s play surprised many across the league, and was hands-down the brightest bright spot during the Bears’ woeful 3-13 2016 campaign. The running back out of Indiana University finished the season as the NFL’s second-leading rusher with 1,313 yards, and averaged 5.2 yards per carry (second among running backs with at least 250 carries). Remarkably, Howard did virtually all of this after becoming Chicago’s starting running back in Week 4. With such uncertainty with the Bears’ passing game heading into the 2017 season, it looks as if Howard is primed for another big season.
Wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and Eddie Royal are gone. Kevin White and newly-acquired receiver Victor Cruz are injury liabilities, and we don’t know just how well the rest of the receiving corps will adjust to new starting quarterback Mike Glennon. And as for offensive tackles Bobby Massie and Charles Leno Jr., they are not the most dependable protectors to defend the edges on passing downs. Therefore, the running game may be highly depended upon, which will give Howard ample opportunities to repeat the success he had last season.
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Doing something such as this wouldn’t be new to the Bears. Last year, Chicago’s quarterbacks were marred with injuries, and there was no choice but to run the ball. After hearing rumors of sliding three-time Pro Bowler Kyle Long to left guard and putting four-time Pro Bowler Josh Sitton at right guard (the position he played most of his career), the interior of the offensive line should be improved and designed better for the running game.
And sharing the carries between Howard and the rest of the running backs on the Bears’ roster shouldn’t interfere with the Pro Bowl running back’s production. In 2016, Howard had 252 carries. Fellow backs Jeremy Langford and Ka’Deem Carey combined for only 94 carries. Despite carrying the ball 20-plus times in only four games last season, Howard still managed to put up big numbers for the year. When compared to the league’s leading rusher Ezekiel Elliott of the Dallas Cowboys, who had 12 games with 20-plus carries, Howard definitely could be one of the premiere rushers in 2017 if given the same workload.
Can Jordan Howard prove that his rookie season wasn’t a fluke? He absolutely can. Until the Bears’ find consistent chemistry in the passing game, both on the offensive line and between the quarterback and receivers, Howard will be the center of the offense, and should end the 2017 season as one of the NFL’s leading rushers once again.