Let’s set aside the Instagram-sparked rumors and take a moment to remember that Jordan Howard is still a member of the Chicago Bears and is among the team’s most valuable offensive assets.
And yes, it goes goes beyond the fact that his cap hits of $692,006 in 2018 and $782,006 in 2019 make him an extreme bargain as far as cost value in concerned.
But Howard is more than a productive player on a minimal salary. He was a star-caliber performer on an offense where every defender knew he was the best (and sometimes only) option. Hell, Howard has two 1,000-yard rushing seasons in an offense he described as predictable and easy to stop.
Seeing what he did in two years in that offense says a lot about his skills (not to mention his general drive and determination while facing eight-man fronts) and what the future could hold in a more creative offense led by an innovative play caller. So … why even entertain the thought of dealing him?
Well, we’re not. And from all accounts, the Bears aren’t either. But that doesn’t mean he’s perfect. Howard has one area in his game that could use significant improvement, and that’s catching passes out of the backfield. Let’s discuss.
Pass-catching backs are growing into staples of the league’s best offenses. Not only is versatility valuable on an individual level, but a player’s ability to impact multiple facets of the game could allow an offense to deploy different looks and keep a defense off balance. Remember how frustrating it was when you saw Adam Shaheen on the field and knew he wasn’t going to go out in a pattern because he was used as a blocker on 69.5 percent of his total snaps? This is why it’s important for Howard to show he can be a full-time three-down back with no limitations.
However, since 1992, only three running backs who have gained at least 2,000 rushing yards in their first two seasons have a lower catch rate than Howard’s 63.4 percent. Adrian Peterson (59.7%) stands out above the rest for obvious reasons, but the others are Errict Rhett and Karim Abdul-Jabbar (no, not the basketball player).
That 63.4 percent number represents an alarmingly low catch rate that needs to improve drastically because the ability to catch passes out of the backfield and turn them into big plays figures to be a staple in Chicago’s offense under Matt Nagy as it was in Kansas City.
Put differently, Tarik Cohen is a fine pass-catching back, but the Bears need their RB1 to step his game up in this area.
Still, Howard’s short-comings shouldn’t be a reason enough to spark trade rumors. He literally does everything else well, which should carry more weight than his issues with drops. Howard has gained 1,448 yards after contact since the start of the 2016 season, only Le’veon Bell (1,622) and Ezekiel Elliott (1,618) have gained more. Howard is also a solid pass blocker, so it’s not as if he has to come off the field in those situations either.