Despite being one of the most promising young running backs in the game of football, the Bear’s Jordan Howard has seen his name in the media due to swirling trade rumors. It without a doubt is in part because of the Chicago Bear’s offensive explosion in week four against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, scoring 48 points behind Mitch Trubisky’s six touchdown passes. However, Jordan Howard made little impact on the game. Howard ran the ball 11 times all game for only 25 yards and was only targeted in the air once. His dismal impact on the game has led to speculation as to how the young back will fit into new head coach and offensive mastermind Matt Nagy’s plan of attack. Despite some believing the only solution is to sell Howard while he is a hot-commodity and receive compensation for an unused weapon, it would be not only silly, but downright negligent of the Chicago Bears front office to move Howard.
The two-back punch of Howard and Cohen is the best in the NFL
Anyone would be hard pressed to find a better one-two punch coming out of the backfield so far this season than Tarik Cohen and Jordan Howard. Rivaled only possibly by Alvin Kamara and the newly available Mark Ingram in New Orleans, Cohen and Howard have combined for over 300 yards rushing already this season. However, coming out of the backfield the two have also combined for 257 receiving yards on 28 targets this season. The dual backs’dual effectiveness is giving defenses fits for the second season in a row. Odds are, if a defense can stop one of them, like Tampa Bay did to Howard, the other will have a chance to explode. Cohen went off against the Bucs, being targeted eight times for 121 yards through the air as well as adding 53 rushing yards and a receiving touchdown. There was no answer for the second-year back out of North Carolina A&T.
One thing that Cohen lacks though, is size. Standing in at just 5’6 and 181 lbs, Cohen is the NFL’s smallest back. While he makes up for his lack of size with speed, agility and Darren Sproles-like elusiveness, size cannot be taught. And size is also something that Jordan Howard has. The former Indiana Hoosier is a healthy 6’1, 225 lbs, making Howard a true power running back. The two backs are vastly different and that is exactly what makes them so effective together. Defenses may be able to adjust and stop one of them at a time, but at that point Nagy can throw the other back into the game and transform the look coming out of the backfield completely.
He is still just 23-years-old and also has another year left on his contract
Howard is now in his third NFL season, in his first two he rushed for over 1,000 yards. He is the first Chicago Bears running back to do so. When you think of all of the great Chicago Bears running backs over the years, this becomes even more impressive. Not even Walter Payton, one of only two running backs in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards in 10 season, did not achieve that feat. While the Bears may be looking to trade Howard through the lens of receiving compensation for parting ways with an offensive weapon, they still have time before they lose him for nothing in free agency. If this is indeed the Bear’s motive, it may be more beneficial to them to wait until the offseason or next year, closer to the end of his contract, to make the young running back available. With this comes the threat of possible injury or loss of value, but it is one worth taking with Howard. He has not shown the levels of production this season that he did in his first two, but he will.
In his junior season, Howard may be experiencing somewhat of a sophomore slump. However, with a player of the caliber and with the raw talent that Howard has shown, it is only a matter of time before he breaks out of it. If he does, his trade value will skyrocket in the offseason with teams looking to make Khalil Mack-esq deals, looking to trade for Howard in hopes that he will sign a long term deal once on their team. His age makes this an ideal scenario for any GM looking to build their offense for the future. For the Bears, a trade of a key player at the height of his value mid-season may have looked attractive just last season, but the rebuilding period is over. The Bears sit atop the NFC North and have a real chance at a playoff run this season. To show their fans, and their players, that they have real belief in this team moving forward, the front office must keep Howard for the remainder of this season.
He is a top-five back in the NFL
Since his entrance into the NFL, Howard has finished second and sixth in rushing yards in his first two seasons respectively. Despite his age and low-expectations coming out of the fifth round of 2016 NFL Draft, Howard has easily been one of the best running backs production wise in the past two seasons. In his first season, Howard ran for six touchdowns, just one less than Todd Gurley. In 2017 he rushed for nine, tied for fourth best in the league while still splitting time with Tarik Cohen. He was top ten in yards-rushed-per-game in both seasons. Howard is a true top running back. Combine his size and playmaking ability, and he is a menace to opposing defenses. Since joining the Bears and earning the starting role, Howard has been the Bears only real weapon on offense and they have relied heavily on him.
Now that Ryan Pace and company have brought in other real talents to the offense such as Trey Burton and Allen Robinson II, they do not have to rely as heavily on Howard. His workload has surely been less heavy, but that is because the Bears’ finally do not need it to be. Mitch Trubisky may be settling in meaning that the passing game will be more expansive. Tarik Cohen is the better receiving back of the two, but Howard is still a vital part of the offense. As soon as a defense overcommits to the run or the pass the Bears will finally be able to switch strategies and attempt to more evenly spread the ball.
Tampa Bay’s secondary is one of the worst in the league, and they could not stop the passing game so there was no reason to have a significant run game. This led to Howard looking like he will not be as significant a piece in the offense as he was in years past, but this is simply not true. Trubisky may be able to tear apart poor secondaries right now, but against teams like the Patriots and Vikings he will have a much harder time looking like a star with a one-dimensional offense. In those games they will need Howard to diversify their attack and keep the defense guessing to give the Bears their best chance at a successful season.
Howard did not produce at the level he is expected to against Tampa Bay, but that was because he didn’t need to, not because he will not be a significant part of Nagy’s system.