Jordan Howard Can Be an Early-Down Running Back for the Bears
The Bears selected Howard with the 150th overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.
What does he bring to the offense?
After the University of Alabama-Birmingham (UAB) elected to shut down their football program, Howard transferred to Indiana for just one year prior to forgoing his senior year to enter the 2016 NFL Draft.
At UAB, Howard was named to the Conference USA All-Freshman team and the All-Conference USA first team in 2013 and 2014, respectively.
Howard rushed for 881 yards and 2 touchdowns on 145 carries in 11 games (five starts) as a freshman. Howard then went on to break UAB’s single-season record for rushing yards in the following year, as he rushed for 1,587 yards and 13 touchdowns on 306 carries as a sophomore.
Howard continued to improve with the Hoosiers despite some injury concerns, as he finished second in the Big 10 behind now Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliot in rushing yards per game (134.78). In nine games, Howard rushed for 1,213 yards and 9 touchdowns.
In his three-year collegiate career, Howard has just 24 receptions, but he is still capable of making things happen coming out on screen passes or when checked down to in the flats.
Because he opted out of running at the combine, his spider graph from MockDraftable.com depicted below is without a 40-yard dash time, but the graph still illustrates Howard’s above average size (6’0”, 230 pounds) and stellar broad jump (122”).
Though both Ridley and Allen have flashed at times in the NFL, PlayerProfiler.com reveals that Howard best compares with a relatively more successful back in the NFL (when healthy): San Francisco 49ers running back Carlos Hyde.
Howard also earned 105.5 (76th percentile) Speed Score with PlayerProfiler.
Howard is a powerful, downhill runner who leans on his ability to lower his shoulder through defenders and finish runs on each every down. He is relentless in his effort to move the football forward through contact, but the extra wear and tear he puts himself through could have been a contributing factor the amount of injuries he’s had in recent years.
Howard missed four games with injuries to his knee and ankle in his final season at Indiana, and though he displayed toughness when he attempted to play through the pain against Ohio State, he will have to play somewhat more conservatively at the next level in order to preserve his health.
Due in large part to his size, Howard has the potential to become an every-down back at the next level if he can prove that he is a reliable pass blocker and receiver on third downs, but he may have to change his running style slightly if he’s going to increase the longevity of his career with the Bears.
Howard in Chicago
Now in Chicago, Howard will likely begin his career in the Windy City behind Langford and Ka'Deem Carey, but of the three backs, Howard has the best chance to take over as an early-down runner in the NFL.
Though Langford flashed at times throughout his rookie campaign, he finished the year with just 537 yards and 7 touchdowns on 148 carries (3.6 yards per carry). According to our Net Expected Points (NEP), Langford was efficient overall.
Among the 44 backs with at least 100 carries last season, Langford ranked 11th in Rushing NEP per carry (0.01) and in Success Rate (43.42%), which measures the percentage of carries that resulted in positive expected points for his team.
For further context, Forte ranked 14th in Rushing NEP per carry (0.00) and 3rd in Success Rate (46.33%).
Further, Langford posted a Reception NEP per target of 0.54 on 42 targets, which ranked fourth among 47 backs with at least 30 targets. This is despite a catch rate of just 52.38%, meaning a lot of his targets were fruitless.
Forte's 0.43 Reception NEP per target ranked 10th among this group of backs.
Langford graded out well last year and will still likely receive the nod as the starter, but Howard could steal some carries away from him if he doesn’t get off to a hot start or goes down with an injury.
Howard likely won’t make an impact as a receiving back on third downs, as Langford (a former receiver at Michigan State) looks to be better receiving backs than Howard.
Look for Howard to take advantage of his limited opportunities on the ground throughout his rookie campaign, but don’t be surprised if he pushes Langford into a third-down role down the road.