Bears

15 Most Important Bears of 2018: No. 10 - Jordan Howard

15 Most Important Bears of 2018: No. 10 - Jordan Howard

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.

How much better did the Bears' NFC North opponents get in the first round of the NFL Draft?

4-26rashangary.jpg
USA Today

How much better did the Bears' NFC North opponents get in the first round of the NFL Draft?

The Bears collectively kicked their feet up Thursday night, watching the NFL Draft unfold with a few Khalil Mack highlight clips thrown in there to remind them why they didn’t have anything to do. 

The Bears’ competition in the NFC North, though, made four picks Thursday night, infusing significant talent into the division. A look at who Bears players on offense and defense will have to deal with twice a year starting in 2019:

Detroit Lions: TE T.J. Hockenson, Iowa (No. 8 overall pick)

Where he’s ranked: 6th (Dane Brugler/The Athletic), 12th (Danny Kelly/The Ringer), 13th (Josh Norris/Rotoworld), 21st (Pro Football Focus)

Why it makes sense: Hockenson is one of the best tight end prospects to be drafted in recent history. He’s a true combo in-line tight end, someone who can create mismatches against any defense with his ability to both block and catch. He’s regarded as a high-character player, too, someone who the Lions may believe can help change a deteriorating culture inside their locker room

Why it doesn’t: Hockenson is only the third tight end in the last 20 years to be dated with a top-10 pick, and the last one was…Eric Ebron, who flopped with the Lions after being the 10th overall pick in 2014. The big question for how this pick is viewed may not be how good Hockenson is, but how the guy drafted one pick after him — defensive tackle Ed Oliver — winds up being. 

Green Bay Packers: EDGE Rashan Gary, Michigan (No. 12), S Darnell Savage, Maryland (No. 21)

Where Gary ranks: No. 13 (Brugler), No. 13 (Kelly), No. 15 (Norris), No. 48 (PFF)

Where Savage ranks: No. 28 (PFF), No. 33 (Norris), No. 39 (Kelly), No. 58 (Brugler)

Why it makes sense: Gary and Savage inject loads of talent into a Green Bay defense that underwent a massive overhaul during free agency. Gary will join a pass rush featuring Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith, Kenny Clark, Mike Daniels and Kyler Fackrell, giving defensive coordinator Mike Pettine excellent depth to pressure opposing quarterbacks. The super-athletic Gary has tremendous upside, even if his college production never matched former ranking as the nation’s No. 1 recruit. If the Packers can harness that raw talent, he could be a menace in the division for years to come. 

Savage, meanwhile, looks like a solid partner to pair with Adrian Amos in the back end of the Packers’ defense. He picked off four passes in 2018 and possesses the kind of traits — physicality, speed, ball skills — that teams desire in safeties. Perhaps the Packers see him as a version of Eddie Jackson, who paired well with Amos in 2017 and 2018 with the Bears. 

Why it doesn’t: A couple of instant reactions to the Gary pick didn’t paint it in a positive light:

Gary finished his three-year college career with only 9 1/2 sacks, two fewer than Bears 2018 sixth-round pick Kylie Fitts had in his three years at Utah. He also had a labrum injury pop up that could be of some concern. Further back: Gary, perhaps, could remind you of Alonzo Spellman — the Bears’ 22nd overall pick in 1992 who had nine sacks in three years at Ohio State and took a few years to get off the ground in Chicago (he had 32 sacks in six seasons with the Bears). 

There’s less to not like with Savage — he was a late riser and is a little undersized, but pairing him with Amos seems to make all the sense in the world on paper. 

Minnesota Vikings: C Garrett Bradbury, N.C. State (No. 18)

Where he ranks: No. 17 (Brugler), No. 18 (Norris), No. 23 (Kelly), No. 41 (PFF)

Why it makes sense: The Vikings desperately need offensive line help, and likely felt fortunate that there wasn’t a run on offensive linemen prior to their pick. Bradbury can immediately step in and improve the interior of Minnesota’s offensive line, keeping pressure out of Kirk Cousins’ face and opening holes for Dalvin Cook. His bi-annual battles against Eddie Goldman should be fun to watch. 

Why it doesn’t: A few analysts noted Bradbury being undersized and not having ideal length, though his athleticism and technique should overcome whatever those deficiencies may be. This feels like a smart pick by the Vikings. 

Briefly

— The Oakland Raiders were the only team to pick a running back in the first round, and used the pick the Bears sent them — No. 24 overall — to grab Alabama’s Josh Jacobs. 

— If you’re looking for a position that could see some talented players fall to the Bears’ No. 87 pick: Wide receiver and cornerback. Only Hollywood Brown (No. 23, Baltimore Ravens) and N'Keal Harry (No. 32, New England Patriots) went among receivers; the first cornerback didn't go off the board until the New York Giants traded back into the first round and picked Georgia's Deandre Baker 30th overall. If the Bears have a few players with high grades at either of those positions, there's a chance of those guys slipping deep into the third round and giving Ryan Pace an opportunity to take a clear-cut best player available.

Kyle Long "disappointed" that the Long family couldn't join the Bosa family as first round selections

9-7kylelong.jpg
USA TODAY

Kyle Long "disappointed" that the Long family couldn't join the Bosa family as first round selections

When the Arizona Cardinals selected Ohio State DE Nick Bosa with the No. 2 overall pick, he helped his family make some incredible history.

Bosa became the 4th member of his family drafted in the 1st Round in Common Draft Era, with his brother Joey being the most recent draftee in 2016. The Bosa family will now be discussed in the same vein as the Manning and Gronkowski families, who each have had three or more members of their family play in the NFL.

The Bears have a connection to the great football families in the nation, as three-time Pro Bowler Kyle Long’s brother Chris is a member of the Philadelphia Eagles, and their father Howie is an NFL Hall of Famer. But nonetheless, looking at Bosa complete the string of 1st round selections for their family made Long take to Twitter to tell the world how he really felt about the accomplishment.

The humorous tweet from Long elicited some great responses.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Bears.