After a laboring towards a 3-13 record, it’s not difficult to understand why a list of the top-101 players from the 2016 season isn’t littered with Bears.
Indeed, there is only one.
Running back Jordan Howard was the Bears lone representative on Pro Football Focus’ top 101 players from the 2016 season.
If it makes you feel any better, there aren’t any ex-Bears on this list. So, you won’t see Martellus Bennett, Matt Forte, Brandon Marshall, Shea McClellin, Josh McCown, etc. as players who left town only to thrive somewhere else.
However, you will see six Packers on the list — just in case you were curious about the talent gap between the NFC North champions and the team that finished in last place.
But let’s focus on Howard because he is deserving of his place in the top-101. Ranking 75th overall, Howard is one of five running backs to crack the list. Ezekiel Elliott (22nd overall) of the Cowboys leads the way, but is followed closely by the Cardinals’ David Johnson (23rd), the Steelers’ Le’Veon Bell (27th), and the Dolphins’ Jay Ajayi (31st) before we get to Howard at 75.
While this is impressive notoriety for a player who didn’t start until Week 4, it’s curious that Howard – who ran for the second most yards and had a higher per-carry average than Elliott with fewer fumbles – checked in 44 spots behind the rest of the league’s top backs. Oh well.
Even still, recognition from PFF is only the latest accolade earned by Howard, who started the season behind Jeremy Langford and Ka’Deem Carey before capitalizing on an increase in playing time which coincided with Langford’s early season injury. Howard never gave up his role as the Bears’ feature back, and finished with a PFF grade of 81.0.
Though, in fairness, the Bears definitely could have used him more in 2016 and would be wise to do so in 2017 when he’ll presumably be surrounded by an offense with more weapons.
So, how can Howard build on his 2016 campaign?
For starters, he can improve as a pass catcher out of the backfield. Of the 21 running backs who were targeted at least 50 times in 2016, Howard’s 58% catch percentage was the lowest. Moving that number into the 75% range would inch him closer to the middle of the pack and could likely result in more dynamic plays — his 10.28 yards per reception was the second highest average, for what it’s worth.
All things considered, ranking in the top-5 at your position and among the 75 best in football is a good place to start your career.