If there was a bright spot in the Chicago Bears disappointing 2016 season, it came in the form of an emerging rookie.
Former Indiana RB Jordan Howard capped his impressive first season by breaking Matt Forte’s franchise record for most rushing yards by a rookie. Howard finished the Week 17 game against the Minnesota Vikings with 135 yards on 23 carries and looked just as good as he had all season long.
For the rookie, breaking a franchise record was special moment.
“It means a lot,” Howard told Bear Report today. “Not just for me but my coaches, the other running backs and the offensive line. It shows that we are doing our job and to a high standard.”
The Week 17 performance was the seventh this year in which Howard finished with 100-plus rushing yards.
The 2016 fifth-round pick finished with 1,313 yards on the ground and six touchdowns this season. Only Dallas Cowboys rookie RB Ezekiel Elliott had more rushing yards than Howard.
Elliott was selected with the fourth overall pick in the draft. Howard was taken with the 150th pick.
Howard accomplished the feat despite starting just 13 games and being a healthy scratch in the regular season opener. The rookie also played behind an offensive line that was shuffled numerous times due to multiple injuries.
One of those injured linemen, Pro Bowl G Kyle Long, took notice of Howard’s stellar season and his consistent ability to gain yards after contact.
“I just read Jordan Howard’s No. 2 in the league in rushing,” Long said. “And you have to run the ball to win in the NFL, so I’d say, Jordan Howard is kind of the hare out their in front of us leading the pack there, which you can do from a personal standpoint, because you can see he wills himself to get four or five extra yards every time he’s got the ball.”
The emergence of Howard is akin to finding a diamond in the rough for the Bears, who entered the season with both Jeremy Langford and Ka’Deem Carey ahead of the rookie on the depth chart.
The running back position had its fair share of injuries, with both Langford and Carey missing time. That opened the door for Howard, whose 5.2 yards per carry this year was fourth best in the league.
“I think we did pretty good,” Howard said. “We had a lot of production. It wasn’t just myself at the running back position. I thought we did pretty well but there’s always things to improve on.”
With plenty of question marks going into the 2017 off-season, Howard appears to be a staple in the Bears offense for years to come. Yet, despite his record-breaking rookie season, he still sees plenty of room for improvement for both himself and the team.
“Just focus on the little things and execution,” Howard said. “All of the little mistakes and fundamental mistakes we made because we were close in a lot of games. Fundamentals broke down toward the end of the game and we committed too many penalties.”
Chicago enters a very important off-season in their rebuilding process, as they hold the third overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft and will have roughly $60 million to spend in free agency.
While the Bears are still a few years away from competing for a playoff spot, Howard believes the offense has momentum heading into 2017.
“Yeah, we definitely saw improvement,” Howard said. “Just how we fought every game no matter what happened the previous week or no matter how much we were down by. We always came out fighting.”
If the current rebuild propels the Bears back into contention for a Super Bowl title, we may look back at the drafting of Howard as the team's catalyst for greatness.null