Jordan Howard ready to be unleashed

The Chicago Bears are in the midst of a transition. Following a 5-11 season that ended with a changing of the guard at the quarterback position, the Bears seem ready to take some positive steps forward.

Chicago will now look toward second-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky to lead them, as they try to become relevant once again. The insertion of former Chiefs offensive coordinator Matt Nagy as the team’s new head coach could prove critical to their win total. But how will Nagy’s philosophy impact the players themselves?

Jordan Howard has been the team’s leading rusher for the past two years, since being selected in the fifth round of the 2016 draft. His low draft stock only fueled what has been an impressive start to his career. Howard has surpassed the 1,000 rushing yards mark in each of his first two seasons in the pros. His rookie campaign was highlighted by 1,313 rushing yards on a 5.4 yards per carry average, another 298 yards through the air on 29 receptions, and a combined seven touchdowns. He followed up that performance last year with 1,122 rushing yards and nine scores on the ground. His receiving numbers did suffer a slight setback, with the insertion of (then) rookie runner Tarik Cohen taking a share of the running back targets.

Jordan was able to achieve all of the above despite playing with a multitude of below average quarterbacks and a thin wide receiver group. Trubisky should provide a nice boost to the overall offensive output, thereby increasing Howard’s opportunities in scoring position. Moreover, Nagy’s system typically has the quarterback play from the shotgun formation, which has historically benefited Howard’s rushing numbers. His yards per carry average jumps all the way up to 6.5 yards per rush attempt when he gets the handoff out of the shotgun.

Howard also had just a minor dip in what many running backs usually endure – the sophomore slump. But 2018 could be his year to truly shine among the league’s best backs. The Bears offense only scored a total of 26 touchdowns last year, and as mentioned, Howard had nine of them. His near 35 percent scoring share is absurd. If the team can improve on their overall touchdown pace, and assuming Howard maintains anything near his current percentage, he could easily eclipse double-digit touchdowns.

Last season, Nagy was able to feature rookie running back Kareem Hunt, which translated into a monster season, to the tune of 1,327 rushing yards and 4.9 yards per carry. Hunt also added 53 receptions on the year for another 455 yards. He, of course, combined to score 11 total touchdowns last season. Hunt’s numbers could have even been much better had Andy Reed not decided to inexplicably go away from the talented rookie too often and early in games. But when he handed over the play calling duties to Nagy, Hunt returned to his early-season dominant form.

Howard has all the tools to have a monster season in 2018. And the pieces around him are starting to fall into place, where it is becoming more likely than not that we will see him have his best season to this point in his young career.