By now, the well-known story around Chicago is that Jordan Howard is the first running back in the history of the franchise to start his career with back-to-back 1,000-yard campaigns. Walter Payton, Gale Sayers and Matt Forte weren’t able to accomplish this feat, with Forte being the closest.
It should be mentioned that there were only 14 games in an NFL season when Sayers played and that he did much more than just run the ball. The same could be said about Payton and Forte.
Obviously rushing yards are just one of the many statistics we look at in a running back, but when you have more yards through two seasons than two members of the Hall of Fame and a man nearing 10,000 career yards, you’re in good company.
So, we know how Howard compares to other historically great Chicago Bears, but how does he compare to successful running backs currently in the NFL?
Included in this list is a guaranteed Hall of Famer (Gore), a 2017 MVP candidate (Gurley) and a two-time first-team All-Pro (Bell). I’m not saying that’s the future for Howard, as Gore’s ability to remain a consistent force in the NFL is remarkable, Bell’s play-making ability out of the backfield is second to none while Gurley is still out to prove that he is an elite back.
You’ll also notice that the chart above does not include Freeman or Ingram’s rookie/second-year seasons, and instead, displays their two best seasons. This was purposeful and due to the fact that they didn’t have much of an impact as a rookie, so I put their two best seasons to be fair.
You can’t deny the stats. They show that Howard is off to a better start than any of those players.
The first two years of your career is nothing more than a start, and players like Bell and McCoy didn’t serve as much of a role their rookie season compared to their second year, but what Howard has accomplished needs to be appreciated.
After Howard’s surprisingly successful rookie campaign, a topic of discussion was if he would be a one-hit wonder. Was he just another Anthony “A-Train” Thomas or Steve Slaton? Would he have a sophomore slump and not perform as well as his rookie season? While he did suffer a minor regression, he silenced his critics and finished sixth in the NFL for rushing yards in 2017.
While his slight regression isn’t anything to be worried about, I was curious to see how common it is for running backs to have a sophomore slump after a strong rookie campaign. Upon further investigation, Bears fans should feel very confident and comfortable with where Howard is after two seasons.
In order to calculate a player’s regression, I took their second season rushing total, divided it by their rookie season total and subtracted that percentage by 100. I’m a math teacher, so you can trust me. 😉
There are many reasons that can cause a regression. Perhaps the team lost important offensive linemen, they have new playmakers and the backs aren’t getting the ball enough, or they suffered injuries during the season. Howard was able to overcome plenty of adversity. He had a new running back take some of his carries (Tarik Cohen), battled nagging injuries during the season as the Bears relied heavily on his production and played behind a shuffling offensive line that had its own injury concerns.
He was still able to put up 85 percent of the yards he posted as a rookie, which is more than any player included in the table above. That list includes three Hall of Famers in Jerome Bettis, Curtis Martin and Marshall Faulk, so once again, Howard is in great company.
To be absolutely clear, I’m not making a Hall of Fame case for Howard or saying that he’s going to be a perennial All-Pro. Maybe he’s already peaked and won’t even hit 1,000 yards next season. Nobody knows what the future holds, but this much is clear; Howard is off to an incredible start and the sky’s the limit.