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.
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