The Chicago Bears have one of the youngest rosters in the NFL, but it isn’t exactly overflowing with top end talent. There are plenty of youngsters that could be primed for a breakout season in 2018, but as of right now, this team is still one that is coming off of a five win season. However, after a fantastic offseason, and to borrow a Dave Wannstedtism, the pieces are in place. If things go according to plan, the fourth year of the rebuild will bear fruit (pun intended).
CBS Sports’ Sean Wagner-McGough recently poured over all thirty-two rosters in the NFL to find the top twenty-five players under 25 years old. For obvious reasons he didn’t include any rookies, so when looking over Chicago’s roster there are twenty-one veteran players that could have qualified for the list.
Newly signed wide receiver Allen Robinsion, who is still recovering from a week one knee injury last year while with the Jags, just missed the cut. This is the point in the article where I point out that the 24-year old Robinson, who is about to enter his fifth professional season, is only one year older than rookie wide out Anthony Miller, and one year younger than fellow veteran receiver Kevin White.
Also a near miss on the list was center Cody Whitehair, who actually made the list initially, but then Wagner-McGough realized he was already 25, so he had to go back to the drawing board.
Whitehair getting dropped paved the way for another Bear to make the cut, because look who checked in at 25.
25. Bears RB Jordan Howard (23)
Up until the last minute, I had 49ers linebacker Reuben Foster slotted in at this spot. But at the final moment, I decided to bump Foster off the list for Howard. It’s not that Foster isn’t a good player. According to PFF, he graded out as the fourth-best linebacker in football last season, placing behind Bobby Wagner, Lavonte David and Luke Kuechly. It’s just that, he needs to prove he can stay on the field and produce over the course of a larger sample size before he makes his way onto a list like this. To this point, injuries and troubling off-the-field incidents have overshadowed his production on the field. He played in only 10 games last season.
Foster did have a good rookie year last year, but did you know that Howard is a year younger than Foster?
A quick tangent, but Howard is set to come out of his rookie contract at the still-in-his-prime age of 25. If Howard can prove to be a good fit for the Matt Nagy offense, do the Bears lock him up to a big deal?
Back to what CBS had to say,
As for Howard, he’s been a productive player for two straight seasons. Drafted in the fifth round in 2016, he’s rushed for the third-most rushing yards since entering the league. Only Ezekiel Elliott and Le’Veon Bell have more rushing yards in that span. Howard is also averaging 4.6 yards per carry in his career. For the sake of comparison, LeSean McCoy has averaged 4.6 yards per carry over the past two seasons. Also consider that Howard has managed to piece together two good seasons even though he’s operated within John Fox’s “basic” offense. Howard should thrive in Matt Nagy’s system that’s designed for the modern era.
Imagine Howard being put in the best situation to succeed. No more obvious run, run, pass sequences, and more runs from the shotgun where he’s thrived. Howard has also tore up lighter boxes in his career, and if Mitchell Trubisky is slinging it, Howard will see lighter boxes.
Really, the only knock against Howard is his inability to serve as a capable pass catcher, which is why he ranks so low on this list. It’s almost why I left him off entirely. But in the end, Howard’s contributions as a bruising runner were too much for me to ignore. He’s a damn good player, if not a perfect one.
Now imagine if Howard has improved enough as a receiver to be a viable threat in the passing game. I’m not expecting to see him dart up the seam or fly down the sidelines on wheel routes, but some screens and swing passes, or some quick hooks over the middle are in the realm of possibilities for him.
If Howard improves his receiving skills and racks up another 1,000 yards on the ground, we’ll likely see him on this list again next year.