Jordan Howard Will Avoid Sophomore Slump
Jordan Howard’s 2016 season was one of the quietest breakout performances in recent memory. Despite not even starting until Week 4, Howard finished second in the league in rushing with 1,313 yards. Unfortunately for him, there were too many contemporaries hogging the spotlight. Howard’s stats were amazing for a rookie, but Ezekiel Elliott was a rookie too, and he put up even bigger numbers. His presence in the passing game left something to be desired, making him unable to compete with the likes of David Johnson and Le’Veon Bell, who were more complete and thus more generally dominant. His consistent 100-yard outings didn’t grab the headlines quite like Jay Ajayi’s trio of 200-yard performances.
Howard was excellent, but he didn’t really blow anyone’s socks off either. What’s more, we just watched Todd Gurley completely collapse after a comparable rookie outing, reminding us all that an offseason of film and preparation is enough for opposing teams to stifle the ascension of any young star. Some might say that Howard will fall off in similar fashion as his putrid supporting cast fails to provide him the backup he needs.
But here’s the thing – the Bears offense could actually be pretty good. At the very least, good enough to allow Howard to continue his success. Todd Gurley can blame his down year on the Rams passing offense, which was in the bottom three in touchdowns, yards, turnovers, and net yards per attempt throughout the league. The reigning Rookie of the Year didn’t stand a chance.
2016’s Bears were far more depleted due to injury than the Rams were, and they’ve made many more improvements in 2017. The Rams are going to roll out Jared Goff, just like they did last year, while the Bears have two new options at QB. Chicago just paid out the nose for Mike Glennon, who was fairly respectable when he was a starter all the way back in 2013, where he averaged 200 yards per game and ended the season with a serviceable 19:9 TD:INT ratio. If Glennon can just recreate that modest season, then he’s a major upgrade compared to the position last year, when Bears QBs threw 23 touchdowns and 28 interceptions. If Glennon doesn’t work out, the team can opt to send Mitch Trubisky onto the field. Trubisky, the top quarterback taken in the most recent draft, was selected after Chicago infamously elected to surrender assets just to move up a single spot and grab him. No matter how you might be projecting Trubisky as an NFL talent, it would be very difficult for him to be worse than career third-stringer Matt Barkley was last year.
Alshon Jeffery’s departure is a blow to the passing game. But in his place the Bears have accrued respectable veteran talent in guys like Victor Cruz, Markus Wheaton, Kendall Wright, and Rueben Randle, who combined should have no trouble replacing Alshon’s 821 yards and two touchdowns at the very least. The team’s top scorers, Cameron Meredith and Zach Miller, are both returning. It’s by no means a group of world-beaters, but it should be enough to keep the Bears’ air attack outside of the bottom 10.
If you’re still not sold on Chicago’s passing game, at least take solace in the fact that their offensive line is returning in its entirety – fantastic news for Jordan Howard. PFF ranked them 15th overall last year, and even said “Chicago’s interior was arguably the league’s best.” And don’t forget to look at the Bears’ schedule either. They’re playing the NFC South and AFC North this year. Every defense in the NFC South ranked in the bottom 11 in yards allowed, and the AFC North is pretty squishy too outside of Baltimore.
Knowing all of this, it doesn’t make much sense to see guys like Devonta Freeman (who is in a committee), Jay Ajayi (who has an extremely low floor), or DeMarco Murray (who is injury prone and holding Derrick Henry’splace) ahead of Howard, who has the job to himself and hit 100 yards rushing seven times in 13 starts. He’s young, he’s promising, and he’s on a Bears team that’s just barely good enough that they’ll lean on him whenever they can, but will never need to be carried.