Jordan Howard had a stellar rookie season with the Bears last year, but he – like many others – can’t help but think about what could’ve been (and almost was):
— NFL Total Access (@NFLTotalAccess) March 29, 2017
Remember, Howard did not play in Week 1 and didn’t start until the fourth game of the season last year. In total, then, Howard started 13 of the 15 games he appeared in, gaining 1,313 yards on 252 attempts. Great numbers, to be sure, but they could have been even better with a more fitting work load.
For example, if Howard could maintain his 5.2 yards per carry average while taking on Ezekiel Elliott’s racket (322 carries for Elliott as opposed to 252 for Howard) the overall numbers would have been close to surpassing Elliott for the year.
And some back-of-the-napkin math says that 5.2 yards per carry times 322 carries comes out to 1,674 rushing yards. To put that in perspective, no Bears player has rushed for 1,600 yards or more since Walter Payton did so in 1984. Payton also happens to own each of the 10 highest single-season rushing yard totals in Bears history. He was pretty good. Some would even say great. So Mr. Howard certainly has his work cut out for him, but he’s off to a nice start.
And fortunately, more opportunities is just one of the reasons to be optimistic about Howard’s highly anticipated follow-up to his 2016 campaign. A better receiving core should help, as well.
This offseason, GM Ryan Pace paid $13 million worth of guarantees to wide receivers Markus Wheaton and Kendall Wright, as well as tight end Dion Sims. The hope is that these additions will 1) live up to some untapped potential (Wheaton, Sims) and/or 2) catch lightning in a bottle (Wright). For an offense that averaged 17.4 points per game – tied for the fourth lowest in the NFL – that’ll be important in its own right.
But an improved passing offense can also help Howard take his game to another level.
Imagine the running lanes that could be created if Wheaton can stretch the field vertically as he did in Pittsburgh, Wright can free himself enough to move the chains, and Sims can excel as a blocker and receiver. Offensive diversity was lacking for the Bears in 2016, and while they threw more passes than attempted runs, the offense was rather predictable – especially when it fell behind in games early.
So if the Bears can get their receivers going in the right direction right away, the offense would be a lot more dynamic. And that would mean more and better carries for Howard, the team’s most potent offensive weapon.