Jordan Howard cleared a milestone in last Sunday’s loss to the Packers. While his postgame comments indicated he did not care about the milestone, it is certainly not without significance. Howard’s rookie campaign is only the fifth time in Chicago Bears history that a rookie running back has cleared 1,000 yards for the season.
The first to set the mark was Beattie Feathers in 1934 with 1,004 yards at an unbelievable 8.4 yards per carry. It was, in fact, the first 1,000 yard season in NFL history and helped lead the Bears to a perfect 13-0 regular season. These are numbers that, quite frankly, act as statistical outliers in the history of football, but there is something right about having the first 1,000 yard rusher in league history wear navy and orange. Feathers would never recapture that magic but would be named 1st team all pro in 1934 and inclusion into the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s All 1930’s squad.
About 60 years later, Rashaan Salaam finished the year with 1,074 yards in his rookie campaign. Salaam finished with a flourish in what was the best three game stretch of his short career, averaging 120 yards a game to help clear the mark. He finished with 10 scores and a pedestrian 3.6 yards per carry. Salaam was finished in Chicago in 1997 and out of the league in 1999 due to off the field issues.
Anthony Thomas burst onto the scene with an excellent rookie campaign, finishing with 1,183 yards on the ground despite gaining only 9 yards through 2 games and missing two more in the middle of the year. The A-Train’s heroics earned him the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award at the end of the 2001 campaign. Thomas turned in a second 1,000 yard campaign in 2003 but the wheels fell off after that. Thomas bounced around the league after leaving Chicago in 2004, finishing his career in Buffalo with a career total of 3,891 yards.
Finally, Matt Forte set the Bears rookie rushing record in 2008 with 1,238 yards on the ground. Forte, a sterling pass catcher, was able to add an additional 477 yards through the air for a total of 1,715 yards from scrimmage. Forte went on to eclipse the 1,000 yard barrier an additional 4 times in his Bears career, narrowly missing in 2011 (997 yards) and 2015 (898 yards) as injuries kept him out of 4 and 3 games respectively. Forte was named to two Pro Bowls as a Chicago Bears player and owns the record for most receptions by a running back in a single season with 102.
Howard will need to average 90 yards the next two games to overtake Forte. Washington ranks 22nd in rushing yards allowed per game and the Vikings, ranked 18th against the run, were victimized by Howard’s biggest game earlier this year with 153 yards. With Barkley providing a legitimate threat in the passing game, Howard will likely have a real shot at the rookie record.
What does all this mean for the rookie out of Indiana? Obviously, only time will tell but if you had to compare Howard to the previous two rookies on this list, he would seem to split the difference in a lot of ways. Forte’s greatest value was in his versatility and his ability to put up consistent yards from scrimmage numbers to carry the offense. He was a poor man’s Ladainian Tomlinson or Marshall Faulk, without the touchdown proficiency. Howard clearly doesn’t provide the smooth route running ability like Forte; however, he’s not a one-dimensional runner like Anthony Thomas (the A-Train chipped in less than 200 yards receiving). He has been able to move the pile in short yardage situations, but has already broken off 8 runs of 20 yards or more.
Comparing Howard to his contemporaries is maybe the most interesting exercise. The old guard took a big hit this year as Adrian Peterson and Jamaal Charles sustained injuries and Frank Gore is well past his peak. The best backs in the league currently are Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell and Arizona’s David Johnson with rookie sensation Ezekiel Elliot behind that amazing offensive line in Dallas demanding entry into the conversation. The next tier would probably include Tennessee’s DeMarco Murray and Buffalo’s LeSean McCoy as proven veterans with the ability to take over a game. Howard’s game seems most closely aligned with Murray’s, who has put up big seasons in Dallas and now in Tennessee.
What do you think? Will Howard get the rookie record? Can he develop into the next great Chicago Bears running back?