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Chicago Bears RB Jordan Howard is entering an interesting season. He has just as good a chance of leading the NFL in rushing as he appears to have at losing reps to Tarik Cohen, a player some analysts feel is a better fit for coach Matt Nagy's system.
It's unfortunate that Howard isn't receiving the kind of praise a player like him deserves. He set the Bears' rookie rushing record with 1,313 yards in 2016. In 2017, he became the first running back in franchise history to start a career with back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons.
Howard's production suggests he should be the feature back in Chicago's ground game. In fact, according to NFL Network's Maurice Jones-Drew, it's a no-brainer. He recently ranked Howard in the NFL's top-10 running backs.
7. Jordan Howard (Bears)
Even with the plethora of offensive weapons thanks to some offseason additions, the Bears' offense still must run through Howard. After rushing for at least 1,100 yards in each of his first two seasons, Howard will be a key piece for first-year head coach Matt Nagy and will have to carry Chicago late in the season if the squad is going to make a playoff push.
Howard will be given every chance to prove he can thrive in Nagy's system early in the season. If he can prove reliable as a receiver, he could match Kareem Hunt's league-leading 1,327 yards last season. He'll have to be effective as a pass-catcher to keep Cohen from threatening for more touches.
Howard deserves this kind of respect for what he's done through two seasons as a pro. He may not be in the NFL's elite class just yet, but if he surpasses 1,200-plus rushing yards and threatens for 10 or more touchdowns again, it'll be an undeniable fact that Howard is a true franchise back.
The Chicago Bears selected inside linebacker Roquan Smith in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft with the expectation that he'll become an immediate starter and impact player on defense. But, was there a need at inside linebacker?
According to Pro Football Focus, Nick Kwiatkoski, who Chicago selected in the fourth round of 2016's draft, was a standout performer last season. He ranked third in the NFL among inside linebackers in run-stop percentage and was fourth-best in pass-rush productivity.
Kwiatkoski also wasn’t tagged for a missed tackle against the run all season. He still has to share time on the field with Danny Trevathan and newly-drafted Roquan Smith, but should be able to capitalize on a great sophomore year after being drafted in the fourth round from West Virginia in 2016. Overall, Kwiatoski was graded as the NFL’s 12th best inside linebacker, higher than both Spaight and Hitchens.
His 21.0 pass-rush productivity ranked fourth and came on the heels of his rookie season in which he ranked 10th in the same category in 2016.
Kwiatkoski didn't receive much fanfare last season but the analytics speak for themselves. He started six games (appeared in 11) and registered career highs in tackles (34) and sacks (two). He's an ascending player but his growth is likely to be stunted by Smith's presence.
Chicago could view Kwiatkoski as the heir to Danny Trevathan's starting job. The Bears can move on from Trevathan with little consequence at season's end. His dead cap number drops to just $1.25 million in 2019. Kwiatkoski will be in the final year of his contract that season (2019), and if he hasn't earned a starting job by then, he's a near lock to sign elsewhere when his rookie contract expires.
Kwiatkoski has proven he can produce when given a chance to play, something 31 other teams have certainly taken notice of.