Jordan Howard - Signed through 2019 - Howard is one of the best tailbacks in the NFL, and with an offensive minded head coach in place, I wonder if we’ll see his production go up in his third year. In 2016 the Chicago Bears ran Howard from the shotgun quite a bit, and he led the NFL in yards per carry (7.0) from the gun. The shotgun provides a lighter box for the one cut and go Howard, and he has the strength to power through arm tackles.
In 2017 the predictability of the offense really hurt their overall numbers, and as a team the Bears only averaged 3.9 yards per carry from the shotgun. I would expect more formation use and scheming to get Howard some running lanes in Matt Nagy’s offense.
The drops have been an issue for two years now, but I think it’s more of a concentration and repetition thing. In 2016, Howard had 29 receptions in 50 targets, with 7 drops according to FOX Sports, for a catch percentage of 58%. Last year, they had him down for 32 targets, with 23 catches and 5 drops for a catch percentage of 71.9%. He still dropped about the same percentage of balls, but he knows this is something he has to improve on, and I expect him to put in the work again this offseason.
Tarik Cohen - Signed through 2020 - Speaking of players that should thrive in Nagy’s offense, I would expect to see Cohen used all over the field in 2017. He’ll get time in the slot, split out wide, as the primary running back, on some jet sweeps or end arounds as the wingback, and don’t rule out some creative three back sets. You just never know what a guy schooled in the Andy Reid coaching philosophy will come up with.
Benny Cunningham - Free agent - I liked the Cunningham signing and I’d have no issue if the Bears bring him back in 2018. He’s a good special teamer, he’s a quality receiver out of the backfield, and at 5’10”, 218 pounds, he can spell Howard as the primary ball carrier if he had to.
Michael Burton - Signed through 2018 - I was excited to see the Bears get back to some downhill power football with a lead fullback, but Burton didn’t do as well as I hoped. He played about 18% of their snaps on offense last year, with an additional 30% of the snaps on special teams. The last three years the Chiefs used a traditional fullback about 17% of the offensive snaps, so there’s a chance that Matt Nagy will carry that over with the Bears’ offense. If he does, I’d look for the Bears to at least have another fullback in camp to compete with Burton.
Taquan Mizzell - Signed through 2019 - I find it interesting that general manager Ryan Pace kept Mizell around on the 53-man roster all season, even though he wasn’t active much and only appeared in three games. It’s almost like Pace wanted to keep him off the practice squad because he envisioned a new offensive minded head coach that would figure out a way to use his talents.
2018 OUTLOOK - This is a very deep running back draft class, and I would not be surprised to see the Bears grab one late if the value is there. But if they don’t, I’m completely content if they head into the season with the same group of tailbacks.
One of the mid-round picks that could be interesting is Arizona State’s Kalen Ballage, who had a very nice week of practice at the Senior Bowl. His college numbers weren’t very eye-popping, but he showed an all around game in Mobile.
Fullback is a place I could see them upgrading, and it just so happens that the Chiefs fullback Anthony Sherman is a free agent.