In order to better get to know the Eagles’ new rusher, I thought it’d benefit BGN readers to get a Bears perspective on Howard. In order to do that, I reached out to Lester A. Wiltfong Jr. (@wiltfongjr) of Windy City Gridiron. Here’s what he had to say.
1 - Can you sum up Jordan Howard’s Bears career?
Howard is a good football player and he outplayed his original draft status as a fifth round pick. He was the focal point of the John Fox offenses, and he’s a quality running back, but he’s also limited in what he can bring to an offensive attack. He’ll get what’s there, he’ll run through arm tackles, and he’ll fall forward when tackled, but he’s not a “Wow” player.
The Bears want a guy that can do more in the passing game. A player they can split out or motion into the slot, and Howard is a classic ‘line up seven yards deep and run’ power football player. His hands are fine as a receiver, he’s just not dynamic in space after catching the ball. The reality is that Howard isn’t a good system fit for Matt Nagy’s scheme. His yards per carry went from 5.2 as a Pro Bowl rookie, to 4.1 in the second year as John Fox’s lead back, to 3.7 in his first year in Nagy’s offense. Some complain that he wasn’t given enough carries, but he had 252 in his best season (2016), and 250 last year.
One of our guys did a film breakdown of him last November, and he thought that some of Howard’s troubles had to do with not facing eight in the box anymore. It sounds weird, but with defenses not stacking the box they were in a better position to converge on him and tackle him once he hit the hole. When they were stacking the box, Howard had more room to run if he broke free. In 2016, when he was always running into an eight man front, he had 10 runs of twenty-plus yards and 2 runs over 40. In 2018, Howard only had 5 runs over 20, and 1 over 40.
2 - What’s the reaction to the Bears trading Howard? Did fans want the team to keep him?
Fans were split like on most things. There are extremists on each end of the spectrum with some complaining about the Bears giving up a top tier running back, while others are saying ‘good riddance’ because he sucked in 2018. Both of those takes are horrible. Like I said earlier, Howard is a good football player, but a running back in the last year of his contract that doesn’t bring versatility to an offense simply doesn’t have much value in today’s NFL, which is why Philly got him for a 6th (or conditional 5th). If this was 20 years ago, Howard would be a star, and he’d be paid accordingly, but teams don’t view the position like they used to.
I think Howard will slide into the LeGarrette Blount role like from the Eagles Super Bowl team and average about average about 11 carries a game. He’ll be the starter and the goal line/short yardage back, but he’ll be a part of a committee approach.
3 - What are Howard’s strengths?
I already mentioned a few, so I’ll talk about a different one here. He’s outstanding as a pass blocker. I breakdown sacks allowed for the Bears each game, and Howard didn’t give any up in 2018. If my memory serves me right, he’s only allowed 1.5 sacks in his three year career. His base is strong when taking on blitzers and his blitz recognition is good as well. There have been many times when he’s picked the right guy to block when defenses have tried to get tricky on the pass rush.
4 - What are Howard’s weaknesses?
Speed and quickness. He’s just not a sudden runner and he’s not making anyone miss. If you’re looking for explosive plays, look elsewhere.
5 - Is there anything to know about Howard off the field?
Nope. He’s a quality guy off the field and in the locker room. His teammates and the beat reporters all talk highly of him. We actually interviewed him last year about his charity and he’s very likable.
Thanks again to Lester from WCG for the insight!
Strengths - Showed ability to step his game up against top competition at both UAB and Indiana. Rushed for at least 145 yards in every full game he played. Natural runner who combines tempo with a special feel for spacial relationships. Pro-ready vision gives him outstanding feel for run lane developments at the line of scrimmage and onto the second level. Consistently chooses best angles and creases for optimal yardage. For a big back, can make himself skinny through tight quarters. Decisive and punishing. Drops pads and accelerates into contact to batter would-be tacklers on the second and third levels. Drives legs through arm tackles and goes about his work. Hard-charging when its third- or fourth-and-short. Showed potential in screen game as receiver.
Weaknesses - Doesn’t have sudden one-cut ability and has to tap brakes to hit it downhill on outside zone runs. One-speed runner. Can be chased down by backside sprinters before getting to the second level. Takes big hits due to bruising running style. Scouts concerned about ability to stay healthy. Missed four games and parts of three others with knee and ankle injuries. Upright pads and narrow base leads to slips and balance issues when trying to make sharp cuts. Rarely factored into passing game at UAB or Indiana.
Sources Tell Us - “He’s the best pure running back in this draft. I’ve coached some good ones and he’s what you look for. His injuries will knock him back a round or so, and he’s not as well-rounded as Ezekiel Elliott is, but I think this kid is the best runner in this year’s draft.” -- AFC running backs coach
NFL Comparison - Arian Foster
Bottom Line - Howard has the optimal size and talent needed to strap the pads on and become a productive workhorse for a team looking for one, true lead back. Howard’s vision, power and subtle shiftiness allow him to create and break tackles along the way. Staying healthy in the NFL is a legitimate concern for Howard considering his relentless running style. If he can stay healthy, Howard has the ability to become an instant factor as an NFL starter.
Spider graph via Mockdraftable: