Chicago Bears running back Jordan Howard is the only player in team history to start his career with back-to-back 1,000-yard-rushing seasons. His rookie year produced a team record 1,313 yards for a first-year player.
His backfield-mate, Tarik Cohen, dazzled fans as a rookie with highlight-reel plays as a runner, receiver and return man and is expected to have an even bigger role as an offensive weapon in 2018.
Defenses will be challenged on every down this season, regardless of which running back is in the game. Both players are capable of shouldering starter's responsibilities and as a result, they were ranked the fourth-best running back committee in the NFL by NFL.com's Bucky Brooks.
For a team that won just five games in 2017, the Bears have plenty of reasons for optimism heading into the new season. And a lot of the positive vibes spawn from this 1-2 backfield punch, which gave opponents fits last fall. Howard has eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing in each of his first two NFL seasons, exhibiting a one-cut running style that is ideally suited for rugged runs between the tackles. Cohen is a 5-6, 181-pound jitterbug with explosive stop-start quickness and wiggle. He routinely makes defenders miss in tight quarters and is nearly impossible to snag in the open field. As a designated receiver out of the backfield, Cohen exhibits Darren Sproles-like playmaking ability, but he is more polished and refined as a pass catcher. Considering Matt Nagy's experience working with versatile playmakers in Kansas City, the Bears' backfield could be a treat to watch in 2018.
There have been questions surrounding Howard since early in the offseason when he was rumored to be on the trade block. There was no apparent truth to the trade speculation but concerns over how Howard will fit in coach Matt Nagy's system have remained. Mainly, there are doubts about his ability to be an effective receiver out of the backfield, a trait that appears to be a prerequisite for playing time under Nagy.
Naturally, Cohen would seem like a better fit because of his well-rounded game. The only problem, however, is his size. At 5-6 and 181 pounds, he hardly presents as a full-time starter. As a result, they should both find a path to the field and have the opportunity to produce. Add in the new weapons at wide receiver and the modern-era passing attack being installed by Nagy, and the Bears' ground game could reach new heights in 2018.
As for who ends up the primary ball-carrier this season? Nagy hinted that game situation will dictate who's in the backfield, but Howard should continue doing the dirty work between the tackles. It's safe to assume he'll get the lion's share of the carries, but expect Cohen to have a lot more touches in his second season as a receiver and package player.