If Jordan Howard Wants to Stay in Chicago, He’ll Need to Improve in Passing Game

| July 2nd, 2018

Jordan Howard has surpassed all expectations as a fifth round pick. After a series of injuries gave him an opportunity just a few games into his career, he grabbed the job and literally ran with it. 2400 yards and 15 touchdowns later, Howard is firmly entrenched as one of the best runners in the NFL.

Yet for all his excellence on the ground, there remains a nagging doubt about Howard because of his limitations in the passing game. Fans remember his dropped touchdown against Atlanta in Week 1 last year, and he has only 423 receiving yards through 2 seasons. Catching the ball is an important part of any running back’s job in the modern-day NFL, and especially in the new offense head coach Matt Nagy is mostly importing from Kansas City. So today I want to look a little bit deeper at Howard’s impact – or lack thereof – in the passing game and what that might mean for his future (I’d like to give a special thanks to DBB reader Evantonio for this idea).

Let’s start with the basics, looking at how Howard has done in the passing game. I’m going to compare him to a few different groupings of players:

  • Bell cow running backs who are focal points of the offense and rarely leave the field – Todd Gurley, Ezekiel Elliot, LeSean McCoy, Le’Veon Bell.
  • Situational running backs known for their running – Jay Ajayi, LeGarrette Blount, Carlos Hyde.
  • Kansas City running backs in the Reid offense – Kareem Hunt, Jamaal Charles.

Groups are sorted by color coding in the table below. Charles’ data is only for the years when Reid was in Kansas City (2013-16), and drop figures are courtesy of Player Profiler, which only had them for 2017.

A few thoughts:

  • Howard doesn’t come close to matching the other bell cow backs through the air in terms of volume, efficiency or drops.
  • The air profile that Howard does match quite well is that of other run-heavy backs like Ajayi, Blount, and Hyde. He actually catches a lower rate of his passes than those players by a good margin, but is similar to them in terms of target frequency, yards per target, and drop percentage. That’s not to say that Howard is a bad player-all of these are solid NFL players-but it does limit his value. All of those players have settled into situational roles and not every-down duty, and I think Howard is probably destined for the same fate unless he can improve as a pass catcher.
  • Hunt and Charles are the lead backs the Chiefs have used under Andy Reid (and LeSean McCoy was the lead back his last 4 years in Philadelphia). Notice they all get used through the air far more frequently than Howard has, and produce efficiently in that regard, in line with other top bell cow backs around the league.
  • I find the Carlos Hyde comparison interesting. Howard is a better runner than Hyde, but actually pretty similar as a pass catcher. When Kyle Shanahan arrived in San Francisco last year, he installed a passing attack that incorporates the running back more, and Hyde’s usage in the passing game increased tremendously. He saw 88 targets (5.5 per game), dropped an astounding 14 of them (16%), and had his least efficient pass catching season both in catch % (67%) and yards per target (4.0). Coincidentally, Hyde was allowed to leave in free agency. If Howard sees something similar happen as he gets more involved in the passing game, I think it’s safe to say he won’t be in Chicago beyond his rookie contract.
  • I do wonder if Howard’s low yards per target value is a function of 2017’s comically inept offense. Tarik Cohen averaged only 5 yards per target last year, a number that I expect to rise to be more in line with the other backs on this table in 2018. Hopefully Howard sees a similar spike in production, though it’s worth noting he was only at 3.9 yards per target last year.
  • One non-passing nugget I found on Player Profiler: through two years, Howard has averaged 6.0 yards per carry against nickel fronts, one of the best figures in the NFL. He had less than 20% of his carries against those fronts in 2017, but should see them much more often in this new offense. I am very excited to see him carry the ball in 2018.

There were rumors the Bears considered trading Jordan Howard this offseason because of his limits in the passing game. He’s still a Bear, but that doesn’t mean those concerns have disappeared. If Howard can’t find a way to both be more involved as a pass catcher and become a more efficient weapon through the air, he is likely going to end up as a platoon running back.

To his credit, Howard has admitted this is a problem and is working diligently with coaches to improve. Bears fans can only hope the hard work pays off.


  • I’ve watched Hyde play. He has more natural hands than Howard. In fact, it’s hard for me to think of a HB with worse hands. That’s just not his thing, like Forte and short yds.

    Said it b4 and say it again, the HB Howard most reminds me of is Alfred Morris. Check out their stats the first 2 seasons.

    The Foreskins installed a WCO, then Alf was expendable.

    I see the same future for Howard after this yr. It’s not just his hands, but what type of routes he’s capable of running. He’s not exactly the most spry and nimble. Howard isn’t going to be running any wheel routes and beating LBs 20 yds down field. He’s more juggernut than ninja.

    Nagy will want ninja.

    That being said, Billichick employed a 3 back committee (which drove every FF player nuts) with Blount/Vereen/Ridley and switched tactics weekly.

    And the Iggles did the same with Blount/Ajayi/Barner/Smallwood

    And I think Penis cited that no SB winner had a 1,000 yd rusher, so RBBC can be done, and might be the way, as long as the HC is creative.

    • I continue to think PHI is more of the offensive comp for the Bears than KC. You have the inside/outside rushing splits that line up with what Howard/Cohen do better, you have the Cohen/Sproles comp, and the Blount/Ajayi/Howard comp.

      • Yeah, but Wentz made it much easier for their HBs since they couldn’t zero in.
        Needless to say, we don’t want Trub running as much since we know the results.

        But like I said, the RBBC can work, it’s just more work for the HC/OC as opposed to simply having an all-purpose HB.

        • Wentz ran it 64 times in 13 games last year, or 4.9 times per game. Trubisky ran it 41 times in 12 games, or 3.4 times per game.

          I think 3-4x per game is probably a realistic mark. 5 is a bit high.

          • CanadaBear

            NTM, slide (or go out of bounds) every time unless the game is in the balance. Wentz was too reckless and it cost him.

          • I love Nagy’s response to a reporter’s question “What will it take for Trubisky to be successful running the ball?”

            Nagy, “Get down”

            Hope he’s wired more like Wilson and Rodgers than like Wentz or Cam

          • CanadaBear

            He really wants to be coached.

    • and as for the SB winners with 1k backs, here’s the ones who have had a 1k rusher in the last 10 years:

      2016 Patriots (Blount)
      2013 Seahawks (Lynch)
      2012 Ravens (Rice)

      So not a lot of them, but some have.

      • Yeah, not sure if the 1,000 yd mark was even the cut off we were discussing in a previous thread. It might’ve been 1.200 or something, but the point was, an “elite” top 5 all around HB isn’t all that important for SB ring. The last best HB to win one might’ve been Lynch, who isn’t a HOFer.

        Like I said, the Pats, Eagles, etc just rotated them in, so it can be done. The Falcons and Saints have also implemented RBBC, and they’re both perennial contenders.

        I still think Howard was on the tradeblock this off-season, but Pace didn’t get what he wanted, so he stuck with him.

        Unless Howard really blows up this yr, I don’t see him sticking around beyond the 1st contract.

        Love his grit and style, but the scheme changed on him.

        • “Modestly” Huge Bears Penis

          It was 1000 yd mark we were discussing, and I pointed out 7 out of the last 10 SB winners did not have a 1000 yd rusher.

          • And as Irish pointed out, a HB only has to avg 62yds a game to reach that, ergo a dominate HB is not a SB prerequisite.

          • “Modestly” Huge Bears Penis

            yep. I think the most interesting thing I discovered during that convo was that most SB winner did not have a WR with double digit TDs in 10 years or so.

          • Yeah, to think that a team doesn’t need a 1,000 yd rusher or 10TD WR seems counter intuitive.

            Just goes to show how all important the HC-QB combo is now in the NFL.

            Donkeys are exhibit A. They essentially had the same team two yrs in a row, only one yr their HC was Fox and they were teabagged in the SB. They dumped him, hired a real coach, they won the SB (in spite of some avg, at best, QB play).

            So I guess the formula still holds.

            HC-QB combo
            Near historic D.

            The rest is just dressing.

          • “Modestly” Huge Bears Penis

            FYI, it was 3 years for the Donks for the SB not back to back years, 2013 and 2015. But you are right they drop Fox and they win.

          • I think teams that invest too much into skill position players end up weaker elsewhere.

            If you want to win, have a great QB, great OL, and great front 7. The best teams have at least 2 of those 3.

    • Irish Sweetness

      This will always be the knock on Howard – actually there are two:

      1. I think he led the NFL in drop% at some point last year when it was at 24%. An anomalous stat in his young career never to be repeated? Perhaps.

      2. He gasses 20 yards downfield. Now, if you can get 20 yards downfield, you’re doing your job as far as I’m concerned. But there are guys out there who don’t. Guys like Saquon Barkley.

      Nowadays in the NFL it helps your team if you can run AND catch. Doesn’t mess with the playbook and the coach’s onfield playcalling ability, or tip off the defense. We have a guy who’s very good at running up to 20 yards, but not much else. A great pick …. but he’s not an NFL studback, and we’d be wise to cash him out in a couple of years if we can. You certainly don’t give him his retirement money with a second contract.

      Pick any bum off a heap and put him behind a wall and he’ll get you a thousand yards. That’s 60 yards a game.

      Like Mr. Trump says, BUILD IT.

      • CanadaBear

        You do know that he doesn’t gas out at 20 yds. it’s called getting the angle on someone. I won’t explain the physics. That happens to every ball carrier except the one’s with elite speed. Most of those guys aren’t exactly bangers.

        • KentuckyBearsFan

          Didn’t he run for 200 yards in a game last season? Like even wounded that man was a soldier.

          • CanadaBear

            Watch the run against the Steelers where he goes out of bounds. He had a bad shoulder and turned it away from contact at the last second. He’s a bad man!

          • KentuckyBearsFan

            H e can run for 2000 yards if healthy. I saw enough from him last season I will never distinct him. He can bowl over people.

            He was our best player in a losing season. And some fans were talking about trading him because he’s not Marshall Faulk. Thought that was insane.

          • CanadaBear

            Not sure he can get to 2,000 yds but I expect another good year from him. Not that he will ever be Forte in the passing game but I think he will be just fine this year.

          • “Modestly” Huge Bears Penis

            2000 seems a little low. I was figuring 6000.

          • CanadaBear

            You mean for Ryan Nall?

          • “Modestly” Huge Bears Penis

            yep him too

          • leftcoastdave

            Damn, that is optimistic. I was going to say 5000.

          • SC Dave

            This. It was insane.

          • You wouldn’t have traded him for a 2nd?

          • KentuckyBearsFan

            I’m not sure if that was sarcasm.

            I wouldn’t trade him for a first rounder even.

            Considering that Cedric Benson history.

      • BenderMcLugh

        you like Saquon Barkley???? who knew….

  • Jim Wenhart

    Howard is going to have a monster year. Teams can no longer stack the box because of the new pieces on offense. The Bears finally will have a modern NFL offense which will help as well. Last, all the trade rumors and talk of his inability to catch has likely motivated him big time. Nagy and crew will coach him up with his catching and everyone can chill.

    • Irish Sweetness

      Oh you can stack the box and blitz the shit out of an OL if there are any weak links on it.

      Let’s see the OL in action first.

      • KentuckyBearsFan

        Hoping Harry Hiestand is a miracle worker. After Grossman couldn’t handle the pressure and seeing Cutler get the fuck beat out of him in those early Bears years. Got to give Tru a chance.

    • I certainly believe he’s going to have a big year running the ball. And I hope his pass catching improves to the point that it’s not a liability, but there are no guarantees that happens.

      • leftcoastdave

        I think the criticism of his “fit” is an irrelevancy, given his phenomenal abilities when handed the ball. He is the number one threat which opens up everyone else.

        “If the right hand don’t get you then the left one will.”

        Stack the box against HoJo and you are leaving yourself open to a potential TD on every play.

        • And that’s where run-pass options become dangerous. The play action-or even just the threat of Howard running-can at least help the passing game by forcing the defense to respect him running, even if he’s not a threat through the air.

          • SC Dave

            I think this is what Nagy will be thinking. At least he should be.

          • Thats the hope. Philly led the NFL in volume of RPOs last year, per PFF. I continue to think that should be who people look at for clues of how Chicago’s offense will look.

  • Irish Sweetness

    As long as he’s good enough to keep them honest in the passing game i.e. when he’s in, the defense could believe it’s a pass … then it will allow this to happen:


    • SC Dave

      Or this

      • CanadaBear

        Loved the last one!

        • leftcoastdave

          I love them both. They go hand in glove.

      • Scharfinator

        #8 and #2 were my favorites.

      • Howard just keeps those thunder thighs churning. And he gets low then explodes when he sees a hole. Great vision.

        I wonder how the new helmet rules will affect powerbacks this season. Can no longer bull them over like Earl Campbell.

  • Johnnywad

    He’s played every snap of his short NFL career for John Fox.

    There really no telling what he might be capable of.

    • CanadaBear

      100%. With an actual modern passing attack and Harry coaching up the OL, who knows where this will go (other than up).

  • Sactowns#1

    Well I started both Goliath and Expanse over the weekend. I actually really like Expanse. The characters are super basic and none of them are really fleshed out in the first two episodes, but its a fun world that they built and its entertaining.
    Goliath is solid but feels a bit like a retred of Better Call Saul.

  • T.dyon

    Howard’s field vision combined with his ability to maneuver and hit the hole as it’s just opening is amazing. He is what he is, a great RB.

  • “Modestly” Huge Bears Penis
    • leftcoastdave

      Off to re-education camp for you, dude.

      • willbest

        70% of black children are born to unwed mothers. The numbers are almost as bad among poor whites. I doubt even a sizable number of these women would describe the situation as ideal.

        • CanadaBear

          Really sad stuff. It’s not a black/white/brown thing, it’s poverty.

          • leftcoastdave

            Read Daniel Patrick Moynihan on that. From Wiki:

            “Some suggested that Moynihan was propagating the views of racists[12]
            because much of the press coverage of the report focused on the
            discussion of children being born out of wedlock. Despite Moynihan’s
            warnings, the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program included rules for payments only if no “Man [was] in the house.”[13] Critics said that the nation was paying poor women to throw their husbands out of the house. Moynihan went on to formulate Richard Nixon’s idea of a Guaranteed Annual Income (GAI) and conducted significant discussions concerning a Basic Income Guarantee with Russell B. Long and Louis O. Kelso.”

            BTW, Nixon implemented the GAI via the Earned Income Tax Credit.

          • Irish Sweetness

            It’s weak, spineless ‘men’. Although they’re not really men. Men look after their families. Boys run away.

          • willbest

            Yeah, I used to think that too. Then I saw a stand up guy get fucked out of his children by a woman that “fell out of love”. Then I saw it happen again.

            Some 70 years ago, a few asshole guys were treating their wives like shit. And the system we decided to create in order to protect against that was an over correction of the highest order. Only a father can be thrown into debtor’s prison where the vig is still running while they have him locked up. Divorce is a $50 billion dollar a year industry in the US, and it wants its profits the same as anything else.

          • SC Dave

            And then there’s the whole alimony thing…

    • Bears like a 32 yr old pregnant woman, desperate and sad?

      Maybe he should’ve said Bears are as hungry as a 32 yr old pregnant woman.

      The QB comps were interesting. Trub ahead of Eli and Luck and just behind Flacco. Seems about right, and cause for optimism esp when one considers the Fox factor.

      • willbest

        In the hospital admittance for labor on our 3rd kid the nurse is going through the standard set of questions. One being are you married. My wife took offense to this, and the nurse simply shrugged and said most aren’t

        • AlbertInTucson

          Aren’t %50 of births are to unmarried moms?

          • Sactowns#1

            Perhaps the idea of marriage has seen its time. People might not be willing to participate in such a dated practice.

          • “A person is only as loyal as his options”

            With Tinder, IG, Facebook, Twitter, AhsleyMadison, Snap, Kik and all sorts of niche sites like Fetlife, I don’t see how marriages will work going forward.

            And of course, there’s the ole school MAGA way of just porking your coworker in the parking lot at lunch…

          • beninnorcal

            I’m glad I grew up with two parents. I’m lucky. I want the same for my daughter and soon to be son.

          • willbest


          • You gotta be their Hasselhoff

          • AlbertInTucson

            I find the decline of the traditional nuclear family disturbing.

          • The legacy of the baby boom generation. The 60s brought a lot of good stuff, like huge strides in equality, but it also destroyed the relatively conservative judeo-christian attitude on marriage.

            It used to be a huge shame to be divorced.My old school aunts would treat divorcees as if they were criminals. Something you don’t talk about outside the family

            Now, with the younger generation, it’s kind of a running joke.

            I know a baby boomer who’s on his FIFTH marriage.

            That would’ve never happened pre 1960.

            For better or worse, the social/christian pressure to stay married is gone, so there’s no bulwark to stop a disgruntled hubby or harpee from filing for divorce like it was applying for a license.

          • willbest

            Yeah, that is why the most successful black woman of the last 20 years had an “Eat it bitches, I am married” tour. Marriage is still status to women in their competitive arena of life.

            And I can’t think of a single better way to create a permanent over class than to convince the hoi polloi that marriage is an outdated institution not worth pursuing.

            The outcome differentials between kids raised by their mom and dad and those that aren’t is staggering. Kids raised in broken home head up to the plate with their shoe laces tied together.

          • willbest

            It’s right around there but it depends on the hospital on what they would see. Northwestern Women’s hospital is the goto for all the afluenent families, so I suspect they see mostly married people. The one we were going to services a more working class clientele.

        • Yeah, I think once upon a time the father had to sign the birth certificate. I’m not even sure if the dad’s line is on there anymore.

          • willbest

            Its still there, and if you sign it, you owe 18 years of child support whether it’s yours or not

  • KentuckyBearsFan

    Jordan was drafted in the 5th round. And he runs like he’s playing for his life. That’s the type of guy I want to route for playing on my team.

    • CanadaBear

      Really easy guy to like. His first year he wasn’t in NFL shape for the first month or so. The next year that wasn’t even remotely an issue. I’m guessing Howard has been working on his hands and explosion (not that kind of explosion) this off season.

      • He has been working on his hands. I Iinked an article about that in the last paragraph.

        • CanadaBear

          I didn’t click it but I’ve read a couple articles stating it. He’s a hard-working young man with a great desire. No reason to think he can’t get better. Basically he’s the anti-Cedrunk!

          • Forte, the receiving king, said that catching was the area he worked on most in the NFL. That contrary to popular belief, he wasn’t billed as a “natural” pass catcher coming out of college.

            That being said, he still looked more natural with routes and such as a rook than Howard.

            Howard will never reach Forte catching level. He’s never gonna line up on the slot, but he’s just gotta catch those flats, outs and screens to keep Ds honest.

          • SC Dave

            Never is a long time.

      • The spirit is willing but sometimes the body doesn’t comply


  • HoJo like Constanza gots no hand
    But he has plenty of sand
    One shoulder or two
    To make defenders cry “ooooo”
    10 TDs, so strike up the band!



  • “Modestly” Huge Bears Penis

    In honor of Canada Day yesterday.

    • Surprised he hasn’t been MeToo-ed out of the show. Then again, they have a pedo grandpa…

      • “Modestly” Huge Bears Penis

        They are equal opportunity when it comes to rape and sexual harassment jokes.

  • Here’s some more Bear chum to get you jacked. Rookie highlights.

    Butch notes.

    We all know the deal on Roquan. That batted pass in the endzone is as impressive as any of the tackles. Gone are the days of balls zipping past the helmet of Kasheem Greene.

    Never saw Daniel’s mirror drills. Excellent. He also displays great hand placement, drive and 2nd level agility.

    Anthony Miller has some ODB type catches. Fiery.

    Joel whatever his name is. Good sideline to sideline speed. Tenacious.

    Nichols. 10 feet of mocha mountain

    Fitts. Decent burst/closing speed. Showed spin and rush moves.

  • KentuckyBearsFan

    Military.com is so bad where I can’t ask a decent question. That’s just bad.

    It’s a badly designed site.

    • What did you ask?

      • KentuckyBearsFan

        I couldn’t ask anything. There was not even a chat feature.

        I know I’m probably too old for anykind of official recruitment. But tested on most intelligence tests in the top 1% since grade school. And every test afterwards.

        • Irish Sweetness

          I don’t think they’re looking for geniuses, man.

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