The talent gap between the Chicago Bears and the rest of the contenders in the NFL has never been more evident than while browsing through a pair of lists that highlight the league’s best players.
Indeed, there are no Bears listed on Pro Football Focus’ top 50 players for 2017, while running back Jordan Howard is the team’s only representative in Pete Prisco’s top 100 players of 2017 at CBS Sports.
PFF’s list features three running backs, with Le’Veon Bell of the Pittsburgh Steelers (11th), David Johnson of the Arizona Cardinals (15th), and Ezekiel Elliot of the Dallas Cowboys (45th) making the cut. Howard was PFF’s seventh highest-graded running back in 2016, so there is a chance that he could have made a top-100 list as he is clearly a top-10 running back. But Bell and Elliott were the site’s two best in 2016, while Johnson ranked fourth.
No team had more players in PFF’s top-50 than the Cowboys (5), who were followed by the New England Patriots (4), Seattle Seahawks (4), Denver Broncos (3), Carolina Panthers (3), and New York Giants (3). Only one player from the NFC North was good enough to make it, and that was the very obvious choice of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Howard’s inclusion on Prisco’s top-100 is a nice nod to the production he made as a rookie, not to mention his projection going forward. Here is what Prisco had to say about the fifth-round pick turned Pro Bowl back:
“He finished second in the league in rushing behind a so-so line and without much help from the passing game. The most impressive thing about his rookie year was his 5.2 yards per rush average.”
The breakout star of the Bears’ 2016 draft class is Prisco’s fifth best running back. Only Elliott (14th overall), Johnson (15th), Bell (20th), and LeSean McCoy (65th) of the Buffalo Bills rank higher.
I still find myself impressed every time I see that 5.2 yards per carry number next to Howard’s name because of where he came from on the depth chart, the injuries that hindered the offensive line in front of him at times, and the lack of support in the Bears’ passing game.
Teams knew what was coming with the Bears offense, and Howard still produced at a high level. Hopefully the kind of thing he can build on or maintain in the years to come. And while Prisco doesn’t seem sold on the Bears line, we saw Howard run win power between the tackles, and know how good the interior of the line can be with the return of a healthy Kyle Long.
Still, the complete lack of Bears in PFF’s top-50 and the lone mention of Howard in Prisco’s top-100 is a sign of how far the Bears still need to go in building their roster. Sure, the roster turnover and addition of depth pieces will likely turn out to be valuable in the war of attrition that is the NFL on a weekly basis. However, the lack of top-end talent is the kind of thing that could hold back the team’s rebuilding efforts.
Maybe at this time next year, Howard will be joined by some of his teammates from this rookie class. And if that happens to be the case, the Bears’ offseason, rebuild process, and future will be looked at in a different light than it is today.