Jordan Howard's offseason has been full of questions about his hands.
There's no doubt he can run the ball like many of the NFL's top-tier running backs, but in order for him -- and the Bears offense -- to reach expectations that have come with the hiring of coach Matt Nagy, he has to prove he can be a reliable receiver.
Howard understands how important it is to make an early impression as a pass-catcher this season. In 2017, Howard had Pro Football Focus' second-worst grade among running backs in the passing game. Tarik Cohen, on the other hand, was tied for sixth-best. If Howard wants to be a three-down back (in theory), he has to make the most of his targets.
As a runner, few backs have been more productive than Howard since 2016. He finished second in the NFL in rushing in 2016 and was sixth last year. Howard tied for fourth in the league in rushing touchdowns in 2017 with nine. Simply put, he's a true first and second-down back who can carry a running game in any scheme.
Speaking of schemes, Nagy will bring a very different offense than the one Howard's thrived in through his first two years in the league. That's not a bad thing; Howard played in a similar system at Indiana where he ran for over 1,200 yards (6.2 yards per carry) and nine touchdowns. It's also the same system that allowed Kareem Hunt to win the rushing crown in Kansas City last year. Howard will find success, there's little doubt about that.
Howard's importance to the Bears is understated. He will wear down defenses and protect leads. He will convert in short-yardage situations and be a beast in the red zone. He'll be the kind of running back the coaching staff doesn't have to worry about when they call his number in the running game. If he can build that same level of trust as a receiver, he could end up with the best year of his career and a lot of leverage as he jockeys for a new long-term contract.