Last season, defenses were able to easily key in on Chicago Bears running back Jordan Howard, as he continued to run in an offense that was unimaginative and predictable. But despite those obstacles, Howard managed to post a second consecutive 1,000-yard rushing campaign for the Bears in 2017. Not bad, right? Right.
What’s better is that his past successes (under those circumstances) imply that the best could still be yet to come for the Bears young RB1, especially as he enters what’s expected to be an innovative offense that plays to the strengths of its skill position players.
WITH THAT SAID, Howard does still have one glaring weakness that lingers on everyone’s mind: catching the dang ball. By now, you’re very familiar with Howard’s struggles as a pass-catcher, so I won’t harp on the stats. But, yes, for the second straight offseason, Howard will have to prioritize this particular issue, because if he can’t quite figure it out, he’s at risk of losing passing down snaps to Tarik Cohen and Benny Cunningham. In fact, that may be more true with this new offense than most others, but we’ll put a pin in that for a second.
The good news is that although he’s worked to improve in this area of his game before, Howard is going to some new lengths this time around: “Everyday on special teams, I catch a lot of passes to work on my hand placement,” Howard told Pro Football Weekly. And that’s not something he’s done before.
Back in May, Running Backs Coach Charles London said there were “a lot of factors” that would go into making Howard into a better receiver. And I’ll go out on a limb to say that taking on special teams reps is a unique way to go about improving Howard’s pass-catching ability. But to be fair, helping Howard reach his full potential as a pass-catcher out of the backfield might take that kind of outside-the-box thinking.
And make no mistake: if Howard turns it around and becomes a reliable target for Mitch Trubisky target, then we’re looking at a game-changer in the backfield. And he certainly seems to recognize that: “I like coach Nagy putting me in space and the different ways he uses running backs,” Howard said via Pro Football Weekly. “They can catch a lot of passes and run for a lot of yards. I mean, Kareem Hunt led the league in rushing, so it’s pretty exciting.”
Only Ezekiel Elliott and Le’Veon Bell have rushed for more yards than Howard since the start of the 2016 season. Indeed, Howard has established himself as a tough customer to bring down, gaining 1,448 yards after contact the last two years. And once again, only Bell and Elliott have more. Back when he was a rookie, Howard showed an extra gear, gaining 36.9 percent of his rushing yards on runs of 15+ yards.
With an offense that will threaten to stretch the field with the deep passing game, there could be more holes for Howard to run through underneath. And if Howard can have a hand in the passing game’s production, then it would add a dimension the offense hasn’t really had since Matt Forte was the team’s lead back. Howard has good reason to be excited about his role in what is expected to be a more diversified game plan, more so if he can catch some passes here and there.
Michael Cerami contributed to this post.