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Jordan Howard is a No. 1 Running Back - FootballGuys

A detailed look at Jordan Howard's fantasy prospects for 2018. 

Jordan Howard's Third-Year Breakout

Jordan Howard will finish this season ranked as a top 10 running back and reward fantasy managers who took him ahead of other running backs like Christian McCaffrey, Dalvin Cook, and Jerick McKinnon.

Howard enters 2018 having rushed for 2,433 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns in his first two seasons. He has proven to be a workhorse, rushing 528 times in 31 career games (17 rushes per game) while averaging 4.6 yards-per-carry. Chicago has upgraded their talent at the skill positions, nabbing Allen Robinson, Trey Burton and Taylor Gabriel in free agency and Anthony Miller in the draft. The added talent at the skill positions should help round out the offense and keep opposing defenses from stacking the box with eight-man fronts. Howard faced eight-man fronts on 43% of his rushes in 2017, which further illustrates his talent as he was still able to average more than four yards-per-carry.

Matt Nagy is an Andy Reid disciple and has installed an offense that is very similar to what his mentor is doing in Kansas City. That means big things for Howard, as Nagy's offense is built around creating mismatches and attacking defenses downfield, but it all starts with the running game. Howard carried the ball 276 times last season (5th most in the league) with six games of 20+ carries. The most important stat to remember though is Howard's performance in the five games that Chicago won last season. In those games, Howard averaged 43.6 snaps and 25 carries for 112 yards and 1.2 touchdowns. In the games that Chicago lost, Howard averaged only 32.7 snaps and 13.7 carries for 50.6 yards and .2 touchdowns. He was a victim of circumstance when the Bears had to play catch up as he was not involved in the short passing game. This is something that usually pads the receptions stats of running backs and helps generate consistent fantasy points in down weeks. That is certainly a concern for managers who draft Howard. However, this year will be different with Nagy featuring an offense that will run more run-pass option (RPO) plays out of the shotgun. Howard and Cohen will be the main beneficiaries of the Bears new-look offense.

The Bears New Look Offense

Matt Nagy comes from the Andy Reid coaching tree and has assembled an offense that looks very similar to the one run in Kansas City. Matt Nagy was the quarterback coach for the Chiefs for three years before becoming their offensive coordinator for the 2015 and 2016 seasons. He has a very close relationship with Alex Smith, and Smith mentioned in interviews that he believes Nagy will "do wonders for Trubisky. Nagy certainly did wonders for Smith, as he was a career 59.3% passer, with 81 touchdowns to 63 interceptions and won 51.3% of his games before coming to Kansas City. With the Chiefs, he has won 67% of his games, with a 65.1% completion percentage and 102 touchdowns to only 33 interceptions. Trubisky's growth rate is important to Howard because the more plays he can create in the passing game, the more open lanes Howard will have running the football.

The biggest change to the Bears offense will be the frequency in which they operate out of the shotgun formation. In 2017, the Bears ran the fifth lowest number of plays out of the Shotgun formation (13%), while the Chiefs ran the fourth most plays out of the Shotgun (30%). That is a stat that you will see reversed this year as I expect the Bears to be in the top 10 in terms of utilizing the shotgun formation. Run-pass option (RPO) plays out of the shotgun is a staple in Kansas City, and Nagy was a big part of that while he was the offensive coordinator. We did see a glimpse of Howard's ability to create out of the shotgun last season and he has been at his best when running out of the shotgun, averaging 6.5 yards-per-carry on 128 attempts. When running the ball with the Bears quarterback under center, he has averaged 4.0 yards-per-carry on 400 attempts. It is also worth mentioning that the Bears ran the third fewest plays last season. The Bears now have a bevy of talent at the skill positions while also returning an offensive line (including 2nd round pick James Daniels at left tackle) that is equally talented, with the upside to be a top-5 unit. This will go a long way in helping Chicago gain more first downs and more total plays, which will, in turn, give Howard more opportunities in both the running and passing game.

Howard's Role in the Passing Game

Howard has little to no competition for carries, but he did see his role reduced on passing downs in 2017 with the addition of Tarik Cohen. Cohen's impact on Howard has been overblown though. Yes, Howard did see 18 fewer targets last season, but his reception total dropped by only six (29 receptions in 2017, 23 receptions in 2016) and he improved his catch percentage from 58% to 71%. This is an important stat, as Howard has had previous problems catching the ball.

The Bears will use RPO plays frequently this season with Tarik Cohen playing the role of Tyreek Hill. This will also keep Howard on the field--with Cohen--, something that the Bears did not do often enough in 2017. RPO plays will create more opportunities in the passing game for Howard, which is the main thing that he has been working on this offseason. Specifically, he is improving his hand position when catching the ball, as well as working on his hand-eye coordination. Howard is not going to catch 60+ passes, but with Nagy's offensive scheme, he has the upside to catch 35-40 passes. Our staff projections averages have Howard at 20.6 catches, but there is significant upside to those conservative estimates.

Projections

Projector
Games
Rushes
RuYards
RuTDs
Recs
ReYards
ReTDs
FumLost
David Dodds
15.3
241
988
8.6
24.0
170
0.7
3.3
Bob Henry
16.0
265
1110
8.0
20.0
160
0.0
1.0
Jason Wood
16.0
250
1050
7.0
23.0
10
0.0
2.0
Maurile Tremblay
16.0
288
1199
7.8
15.5
113
0.3
3.3

Using our staff projections below, if Howard can catch 40 passes for 280 yards and two touchdowns, he has the upside to sneak inside the Top 10 in PPR formats. As a reference point, the 13 players ahead of Howard are projected to average 56.6 catches this season, while he is projected to catch 24 passes. Something has to give here, as Howard will be on the field with Cohen and will see his snap volume increase. Howard had five games last year where he saw no targets, but I don't see that happening this year. The Bears offense will be creative, with a lot of pre-snap motion. That type of motion spreads out the defense and will create running lanes and open space for Howard.

Footballguys Staff Projections (Point Per Reception)

Rank
Running Back
Team
Bye
Age
Games
Rush
RuYds
Yds/Ru
RuTDs
Rec
ReYds
ReTDs
FanPts
1
Todd Gurley
LAR
12
24
15.3
288
1296
4.5
11.3
65
611
3.9
346.9
2
Le'Veon Bell
Pit
7
26
15.0
291
1254
4.3
9.7
79
624
2.7
341.2
3
David Johnson
Ari
9
27
15.3
264
1096
4.2
8.9
75
728
3.7
333.0
4
Ezekiel Elliott
Dal
8
23
15.1
314
1375
4.4
13
45
432
2.5
318.7
5
Alvin Kamara
NO
6
23
15.3
148
796
5.4
7.2
79
758
5.7
311.8
6
Melvin Gordon
LAC
8
25
15.1
276
1076
3.9
8.1
53
451
2.7
270.5
7
Kareem Hunt
KC
12
23
15.3
240
1104
4.6
8.1
48
403
2.0
259.3
8
Leonard Fournette
Jac
9
23
15.0
285
1154
4.0
9.3
38
319
1.7
251.3
9
Dalvin Cook
Min
10
23
15.3
258
1153
4.5
8.1
41
332
2.0
250.1
10
Saquon Barkley
NYG
9
21
15.1
247
1055
4.3
7.3
47
385
2.1
247.4
11
Devonta Freeman
Atl
8
26
15.1
213
920
4.3
8.0
45
383
2.0
235.3
12
Christian McCaffrey
Car
4
22
15.3
161
642
4.0
4.0
66
561
4.1
234.9
13
Jerick McKinnon
SF
11
26
15.3
12
726
4.0
5.7
56
465
2.9
226.7
14
Jordan Howard
Chi
5
24
15.3
241
988
4.1
8.6
24
170
0.7
195.6

Howard Is a Three Down Back

Is it not easy to find a three-down back after the first round of your draft, especially one who also receives the lion's share of red zone touches. Devonta Freeman, Christian McCaffrey, and Jerick McKinnon are guys who can play on all three downs, but they have players behind them that will eat into their production. C.J. Anderson should see a fair amount of carries on first and second downs, while Tevin Coleman has performed well enough to close the gap between him and Freeman. Matt Breida turned a lot of heads last year in San Francisco and was one of the reasons why the 49ers felt like they could let Carlos Hyde go in free agency.

Tarik Cohen is projected as a top 30 running back this year, but he is almost at the point where he plays a different position than Howard. Cohen is going to be lined up in the slot, in the backfield with Howard or put in motion during RPO plays. Cohen's rushing totals from last season (87 carries for 370 yards and two touchdowns) are about where I expect him to end up this season, although I do see his receiving totals increasing to around 60 catches and 430 yards. The chart below shows the breakdown of all plays on first and second down. Howard dominated the touches, seeing 74% of the total rushing attempts and 35% of the targets in the passing game.

Bears Running Backs Rushing and Receiving Totals on First and Second Down

Running Back
Rush
RuYds
Yd/Ru
1stDns
RuTDs
Targets
Rec
ReYds
Yd/Re
1stDns
ReTDs
FanPts
Jordan Howard
254
1050
4.1
48
8
24
16
79
4.9
2
0
160.9
Benny Cunningham
8
25
3.1
1
0
12
9
63
7.0
4
1
14.8
Tarik Cohen
81
348
4.3
18
2
52
40
243
6.1
5
1
82.1
Michael Burton
1
0
0.0
0
0
4
2
8
4.0
0
0
0.8

The chart below shows the breakdown of the Bears running back's rushing and receiving totals on third down. Interestingly enough, Howard was on the field for more third downs than Cohen, earning 11 first downs on 27 attempts, while Cohen picked up five first downs on 23 attempts. Benny Cunningham was also active on third downs--especially in the second half of the season--and was targeted 12 times, with nine receptions for 134 yards. Howard dominated the running plays on third down with 19 attempts versus nine from Cunningham, Cohen, and Burton. On third down passing plays, Howard was targeted eight times, versus 30 targets from Cunningham and Cohen (26% of the passing targets on third down). In total, Howard was on the field for 40% of the Bears third downs.

Bears Running Backs Rushing and Receiving Totals on Third Down

Running Back
Rush
RuYds
Yd/Ru
1stDns
RuTDs
Targets
Rec
ReYds
Yd/Re
1stDns
ReTDs
FanPts
Jordan Howard
19
60
3.2
11
1
8
7
46
6.6
2
0
16.6
Benny Cunningham
1
4
4.0
0
0
12
9
134
14.9
5
0
13.8
Tarik Cohen
5
25
5.0
0
0
18
12
110
9.2
5
0
13.5
Michael Burton
3
9
3.0
2
0
0
0
0
0.0
0
0
0.9

Red Zone Prowess

Jordan Howard ranked first in yards-per-carry (4.7) inside the red zone (among running backs with at least 15 carries). Howard ranked third in rushing yards, fourth in touchdowns, and fifth in total fantasy points inside the red zone, despite having only 32 rushing attempts compared to 63 rushing attempts by LeVeon Bell and Todd Gurley. Only Alex Collins and Alvin Kamara had fewer attempts among the running backs in the Top 10. Howard's red zone efficiency is even more impressive when you consider the fact that the Bears had the worst passing offense in the NFL last season. With upgrades to the skill positions, a year under his belt for Trubisky and a much more efficient offense under Nagy, the Bears will have a greatly improved passing game which will generate more red zone opportunities for Howard. Inside the five-yard line, Howard converted four touchdowns on nine attempts. The Bears rushed the ball only 11 times inside the five-yard line, and Howard got the ball on nine of those plays.

Red-Zone Rushing Stats (sorted by total rushing yards)

Running Back
Rushes
RuYards
Yd/Rush
1stDns
RuTDs
FanPts
Le'Veon Bell
63
191
3.03
20
9
84.1
Todd Gurley
63
161
2.6
17
12
117.3
Jordan Howard
32
152
4.8
14
8
63.2
Dion Lewis
35
142
4.1
11
6
74.7
Latavius Murray
47
127
2.7
13
7
54.8
Ezekiel Elliott
40
121
3.0
13
6
55.6
Alex Collins
27
114
4.2
11
6
47.0
Alvin Kamara
25
112
4.5
10
6
80.6
Melvin Gordon
49
107
2.2
10
7
82.9
Kareem Hunt
37
104
2.8
9
5
53.6
Derrick Henry
27
94
3.5
6
3
28.1
Javorius Allen
32
81
2.5
11
4
46.3
Frank Gore
24
78
3.3
7
3
33.3
Mark Ingram
33
69
2.1
11
9
63.1
Devonta Freeman
34
69
2.0
8
6
55.0

Final Thoughts

Howard has started his career with consecutive 1,000-yard seasons and now has a bright, young coach ready to implement a creative offensive attack centered around him. Mitch Trubisky has a wealth of talent at the skill positions and should take a big leap this year, resulting in an increase of opportunity for Howard. He is the centerpiece of the offense and it will go as he goes. His ability to generate yards on first and second down and move the chains is what will give Chicago advantageous opportunities to attack opposing defenses.

It is easy to get lost in the talent that Chicago has acquired and think that they will all eat into Howard's production, but that would be a mistake. Defenses will now have to respect Chicago’s receivers (Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Anthony Miller) on the outside, as well as Trey Burton in the middle of the field. Tarik Cohen is a dynamo coming out of the backfield (and in the slot), and is tailor-made for run-pass option plays where he can get the ball in space. Defenses cannot key on Howard the way they did last year without getting punished by the Bears receivers. Howard has a very stable floor with so much of the offense running through him, but his ceiling is what excites me this year. He is in a perfect position to score double-digit touchdowns, and if Chicago's offense exceeds expectations the way the Rams offense did last year, well you may just be looking at a top five running back.


Other Thoughts

Evan Reardon of FantasySharks advises selecting Jordan Howard over Jerick McKinnon in the 3rd round

"The difference between McKinnon and Howard is that McKinnon has been in the league for four years and before last season had never had more than 50 receptions or 400 receiving yards in a single season; whereas Howard has consistently put up solid numbers in his first two seasons. The hype on McKinnon and lack of respect for Howard has gone too far. If given the option of drafting Howard or McKinnon, I’m taking Howard every time."

NFL.com's Greg Rosenthal says to expect more of a committee in Chicago this year:

"Expect to see less of long-striding bruiser Jordan Howard and a lot more of Tarik Cohen, the human joystick who Nagy will move all over the team's formations this season. This is one of the league's best tandems, two top-25 backs with a coach who should know how to use them. "

Footballguys Shark Pool member Kam 2 wonders why more don't see Howard as overrated:

"One guy I thought for sure who would make this list is Jordan Howard. In PPR he is going well ahead of Kenyan Drake who figures to get a much larger market share of touches than Howard does. He is also being drafted ahead of Dion Lewis, Rashaad Penny, and Alex Collins and they all figure to get significantly more touches in the passing game than Howard."