By Bryan Dietzler
The 2016 season has come to an end for the Bears and there are probably many of us who are happy it’s over. 3-13 is a miserable record and the Bears found little success in much of anything this season. You can blame injuries for a bulk of their problems but coaching issues and poor depth hurt them as well. It wasn’t just one thing that took them down.
Some people feel there are no bright spots from the Bears 2016 season. After all, with just three wins, how can you find anything to be excited about? But there were some moments when the Bears shined and there were a few players that shined as well.
But out of all the players that graced the field for the Bears this year, and there were many, there is one guy that was consistent in just about every game he played in. And he was a record setter along with being one of the top weapons for the offense this season.
That player is running back Jordan Howard.
There is no fan who can deny that Howard was the best player on the team in 2016. He was productive, consistent (as much as the coaching staff would allow him to be) and reliable. He had a hand in helping the team win when they did win. And all this by a rookie fifth round running back.
Some fans out there are clamoring for more information about the Bears new star. The following is a look at Howard’s life before football, during college and his short time with the Bears. He hasn’t established a lot of stats or a big track record just yet but it’s still interesting to know where the Bears players come from.
Jordan Reginald Howard was born on November 2nd, 1994 in Gardendale, Alabama. He played his high school football at Gardendale High School where his team was known as the Rockets. Howard started for two seasons (his junior and senior years) gaining 2876 yards. That should have been considered excellent among college coaches but he was not a very highly recruited player coming out of high school.
Howard found himself playing for the University of Alabama at Birmingham. His first season with the Blazers saw him rush for 881 yards averaging 6.1 yards per carry. He recorded just three touchdowns in that season.
In 2014, his sophomore year, Howard stepped it up setting a single season school record with 1587 yards on the ground. His 132.3 yards per game was seventh among Division One FBS players.
Following his sophomore season at UAB, the school’s football program ceased to exist. Howard was able to transfer to the University of Indiana just before the 2015 season and play the next season. In his first and only campaign with the Hoosiers, he rushed for 1213 yards with an average of 6.2 yards per carry. Howard had ten total touchdowns.
Howard decided not to complete his senior year and entered the 2016 NFL Draft. Some well-known draft services had him rated anywhere between third and sixth in running backs coming into the draft. But no one had really heard of Howard before the draft.
During pre-draft workouts, Howard posted a 40-yard dash time of 4.59. He had 16 repetitions on the bench press and recorded a 34-inch vertical leap.
Howard was taken by the Bears in the fifth round with the 150th overall selection. Despite being ranked so high among running backs entering the draft, he was the tenth running back taken. Chicago gave Howard a four-year deal with 2.58 million dollars.
With a strong showing against Cleveland Browns in the preseason (a 107-yard performance that came with a touchdown) Howard helped earn himself a spot on the roster. He came into the regular season as the third running back on the depth chart behind starter Jeremy Langford and second stringer Ka ’Deem Carey.
Following a hamstring injury to Carey, Howard entered the game against Philadelphia Eagles marking the first time he played in a regular season NFL game. After an ankle injury, sidelined Langford, Howard was named the Bears starting running back. He made his first start against the Detroit Lions and broke the 100-yard mark rushing for 111 yards on 23 carries.
Howard had another 100-yard outing in the team’s next game (against Indianapolis) and scored a touchdown off a pass from quarterback Brian Hoyer. His first rushing touchdown was scored against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
He rushed for his season high 153 yards on 26 carries against the Minnesota Vikings in the Bears’ first game against their division rival. For his efforts in that game, he was named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week. In early December, he eclipsed the 100-yard mark again in the Bears third and final victory of the season over the San Francisco 49ers.
He went over the 100-yard mark in the final two games of the season and broke another record, this one a team record. He became the leader in rushing yards in a rookie season with 1313. Howard edged out the Bears’ previous starter at running back, Matt Forte, for that honor.
Just recently, Howard was named the NFC Offensive Player of the Month for the month of December. This was quite an honor for the rookie and for the 3-13 Chicago Bears.
While Howard came in second in the league in rushing, he was not a finalist for the NFL’s Rookie of the Year honor. Dallas Cowboys’ running back Ezekiel Elliot is going to run away with the honor. Howard should have garnered some consideration for it. Such is the politics of the NFL.
Aside from his career in the NFL, Howard has been active in the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation. His father, Dr. Reginald Howard died in January of 2007 of the disease. Pulmonary fibrosis is a disease that can result in scaring of the lungs which then makes it harder for a person to breathe.
In honor of his father, Howard wears a shirt with his father’s picture on it beneath his uniform in every game he plays.
The future looks very bright for Howard and Chicago’s running game. He is a consistently healthy starter who has not missed any action (perhaps a series or two in some games but that was a coaching decision, time to rest or some time to recover from getting dinged up). He should roll into the 2017 ready to go. If the Bears can use him more often it could help balance the offense. With that, they should be able to win more games.
Consider him one of the best, if not the best, pick of the Ryan Pace era so far. Hopefully he will remain a consistent and productive player for years to come.