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10 Most Important Bears of 2018: #9 Will Jordan Howard still be the engine that runs the offense?

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For the 10th straight year, I’m bringing you who I believe will be the ten most important Chicago Bears for the upcoming season. At number nine is running back Jordan Howard.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

Jordan Howard has been the focal point of the Chicago Bears’ offense since he took over as a rookie starter in 2016. He had a career high 1,331 yards rushing that year, then last season he followed it up with another 1,122 yards on the ground. His average yards per carry dropped from 5.2 as a rookie to 4.1 last year, but how much of that was the predictable way he was used?

My guess is most of it.

Head coach Matt Nagy will put Howard in a position to thrive this season. Howard excelled running from the shotgun as a rookie, but he didn’t do it as much in 2017.

Nagy will change that.

Howard was effective against a lighter box, so Nagy will spread his playmakers out to give Howard more running lanes.

It’s really not that complicated, but for some reason the Bears didn’t play to their offensive strengths last year. With an improved Micthell Trubisky pulling the trigger, and a revamped group of pass catchers, Howard will have a lot of fun in this offense.

I gave my predictions for Howard’s numbers last week right here, so I’m expecting a big year from him. I think his carries will be down a bit, but that’s the nature of the offense he’s in now. As a rookie he played about 65% of the time, and last year that number was down to 58% with the dynamic Tarik Cohen added to the mix. I think that playing time may dip slightly again, with Cohen lining up all over the place and back-up running back Benny Cunningham getting his fair share of touches too.

Keep in mind that Cunningham missed a couple games last year, but he still played in about 18% of the offensive snaps. He’s a solid third down option because of his blocking and catching, but he can run a little bit too. Nagy comes from a system that is used to sharing the tailback load, so expect the number-two and number-three to have opportunities.

Even thought the Bears will look to spread things out more, Howard is still their top running threat, because he’s perfect for the zone blocking, RPO, shotgun stuff the Bears will in the new O. He’s a one cut runner that can get something even if there’s nothing there because of his size and forward lean.

And then there’s his perceived bugaboo, his hands. I honestly think that’s all overblown and we’ll see him be involved in the passing game. He may not be Matt Forte, but he won’t be a liability.