If you shoot for the moon and miss, at least you’ll land among the stars … and it appears as if Jordan Howard is doing just that as he sets his goals for the upcoming season. Or at least that’s what he told the Chicago Tribune’s Terrin Waack:
“I’m definitely trying to be the No. 1 rusher in the league this year,” Howard said.
Had Howard made such a proclamation at this time last year, it would have been met with a confused look and a raised eyebrow (and at least a couple laughs). In June 2016, Howard was just a rookie entering the league as a fifth-round pick who was in his first NFL offseason training program. He was also the No. 3 running back on the team’s depth chart, saddled behind returning starter Jeremy Langford and backup Ka’Deem Carey. Even head coach John Fox notes that Howard wasn’t even practicing at this time last year.
But oh, what a difference a year makes. Fast forward to June 2017 and Howard is seen as one of the league’s premier rushers – real or fantasy. He rushed for 1,313 yards en route to a Pro Bowl appearance, the second most in the league behind Ezekiel Elliott. It’s not hard to imagine Howard catching up with Elliott with an increased workload. Howard tallied just 252 carries in his rookie season, or 70 fewer than his counterpart on the Dallas Cowboys.
This is how good Howard was in 2016: If given Elliott’s workload (and perhaps, his highly touted offensive line) while maintaining his 5.2 yards per carry average, Howard would project to post a 1,674-yard season – or 43 yards more than the league’s leading rusher.
Of course, this isn’t the only goal Howard has in mind for 2017. He also wants to turn more of his runs into scoring plays. Howard’s 10 rushes of 20+ yards were tied for the third most in the NFL, but he scored just six touchdowns – which were tied for the third fewest among the 12 running backs who gained at least 1,000 yards.
Separately (but relatedly), Howard could also stand to round out his skills as a pass catcher. Of the 31 running backs who started at least eight games in 2016, Howard’s 58 percent catch rate was the second lowest. Only Jonathan Stewart, who owned a lowly 38.1 percent catch rate, ranked lower than Howard in this particular category.
Howard has been busy this offseason, trimming down to get his body in better shape to improve his physique, increase his endurance, and get him in a position to earn more carries. He also underwent eye surgery and now says he has 20/20 vision. One thing is clear, the Bears have the fourth best running back situation in football with Howard leading the charge, and they would be wise to ride his coattails to boost the offense’s production in the year to come.