Jordan Howard: A bright spot for the Chicago Bears

Aug 18, 2016; Foxborough, MA, USA; Chicago Bears running back Jordan Howard (24) runs with the ball during the second half against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 18, 2016; Foxborough, MA, USA; Chicago Bears running back Jordan Howard (24) runs with the ball during the second half against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports /

While the Chicago Bears thus far have been disappointing to watch, one player making the most of his opportunity is rookie running back Jordan Howard.  And unlike the Bears’ team as a whole: he has yet to disappoint us.

Jordan Howard has come a long way since being selected in the 5th round of the 2016 NFL Draft.  Howard, coming out of Indiana University, was in many ways overlooked by NFL teams in search of an impact-type runner: one who could bruise his way through would-be tacklers for hard-earned yardage.

It’s hard to imagine how a powerfully-built runner like Jordan Howard was drafted in the 5th round.  Nine rookie running backs were taken by NFL teams in this year’s draft before the Bears chose Howard.  Out of those nine rookie running backs, only one of them thus far has made a bigger impact on his team: Ezekiel Elliott, the first running back taken in the draft (4th overall pick).

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Sometimes, players like Jordan Howard, who get overlooked by draft scouts, just need an opportunity on the big stage to show what they’re capable of.  Going into the season, second-year running back Jeremy Langford was named the starter for the Chicago Bears.  Unfortunately for him, Langford suffered an ankle sprain injury in Week 3’s game against the Cowboys, and has been out ever since.

Prior to getting injured, Langford wasn’t running the ball well for high amounts of yardage.  While he ran for a touchdown in each of the first two regular season games, his yards-per-carry average was a pedestrian 3.7.  As a result, the Bears’ offense struggled to gain yards on the ground, causing them to throw the ball frequently with an erratic Jay Cutler at quarterback.  Not a recipe for success.

Turns out, for both Howard and the Bears, Langford’s injury may have been a blessing-in-disguise.  This gave the team an opportunity to see what they might have in their 5th round selection.  And sure enough, since being given the lead role at running back, Howard has played, not like a 5th round draft-pick, but rather like a “first”.

Through 4 games played, Howard has rushed for 296 yards on just 51 carries.  His 5.8 yards-per-attempt leading into Sunday’s game against the Jaguars ranks first out of all rookie running backs with a minimum of 50 carries.  While he has yet to score a rushing touchdown, Howard has contributed efficiently in the Bears’ passing game.  While he has only caught 12 passes on the season thus far, he has accumulated 122 yards off catches to go along with one touchdown reception.  10.2 receiving yards per catch: a staggering average for anyone, let alone a rookie.

What has made Jordan Howard fun to watch thus far has been how he plays the running back position.  Listed at 6 feet, 222 pounds, Howard is a solidly-built power-back, one who can withstand a pounding or two from defenders on any given Sunday.  Because of his sheer strength as a runner, Jordan can break through for yards-after-contact much more frequently than the injured Jeremy Langford.

In addition, Howard adds a much needed passing dimension to the Chicago Bears’ offense, reminiscent of former Bear: Matt Forte.  Howard and quarterback Brian Hoyer have been developing a nice rhythm playing along side one another for these past few weeks.

But what truly makes Jordan Howard a pleasure to watch is his impressive ball-carry vision.  Howard is often able to recognize and exploit open-running lanes for huge chunks of yardage.  He is not by any means the fastest runner on the field, but Jordan certainly makes up for his lack of blazing speed with terrific intangibles. In short: Howard has great ball-carrying awareness, the type that goes beyond that of a typical rookie.  Jordan is playing more like an experienced veteran thus far, and for Bears fans, that’s a sight to behold.

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How Jordan Howard’s career pans out with the Bears is a mystery, yet to be seen.  Only time will tell, but given more playing opportunities with the team should only help Howard continue to develop into a great, all-around player.  He certainly has shown flashes of becoming a big-time star in this league for years to come barring injuries, given his impressive running style.

What the Chicago Bears will hope for out of Jordan Howard’s recent promising play is this: that he is not just another “flash in the pan” type player, but rather, for a struggling team: something much brighter.