Matt Nagy was nothing short of a godsend for the Chicago Bears’ offensive players. Skill players like Tarik Cohen, Taylor Gabriel, and Mitchell Trubisky enjoyed career statistical years. Heck, even lineman like Cody Whitehair, Kyle Long, and Bobby Massie all played some of their career’s best football. Truly, it feels like everyone in the offense benefited from Chicago’s change at the top.
Well, almost everyone.
Jordan Howard entered the 2018 Chicago Bears season with more questions surrounding him than anyone else. Could he remain productive in an RPO offense? Was he in the Bears’ long-term plans? Might he get traded during the season? These questions, it seemed, would be answered as the season played out.
That didn’t end up being the case. The 2018 season is now behind us and the answers still aren’t very clear. On one hand, Howard posted the worst statistical season of his career, averaging under 4 YPC for the first time in his three seasons. On the other, two of Howard’s last five games saw him rush for over 100 yards as he and Nagy seemed to turn a corner together. So which is it? Does he fit or not?
The writers are going to answer this question in three parts: whether Howard fits in the Nagy offense, what we think his market value currently is (in terms of dollars and/or draft picks), and whether or not the Bears should trade him if they can get that market value. This article will only address the first question.
Given how the 2018 season played out, do you think Howard fits in the Nagy offense?
Erik Duerrwaechter: This is somewhat difficult to answer. Early in the year, Jordan Howard was used primarily for plays requiring pass protection in the backfield, or for the obvious dive plays up the middle. Starting against the Rams, they opened the playbook for Howard, as far more counters, isos, and powers were ran with him seeing a greater load on carries. He rushed for just under 400 yards in the final 4 games of the season. I think if -- and I mean IF -- the Bears elect to keep him in the fold next season, then his role will likely be the early down back specialist with Cohen becoming the third down back.
Jeff Berckes: No, I don’t think Howard fits Nagy’s ideal version of the offense. I think there was fire behind the smoke we saw in the offseason chatter about Howard getting traded. I like Howard more than most, but it is clear Nagy is looking for a different skillset for his feature back. However, we did see some positive development from Howard’s production towards the end of the season and that gives me some hope that Nagy can find a way to squeeze another year out of JoHo if he returns for his 4th season.
Josh Sunderbruch: I think Nagy tried a little too hard to get him to fit, but he doesn’t fit. He’s a volume back in a system that doesn’t need a volume back, and he’s less of a true power back than people want to make him out to be.
Lester A. Wiltfong Jr.: I think it took Nagy a while to realize how best to use Howard, but I still get the feeling he’d rather have a guy that is more explosive and more versatile. Howard can still be a good back in the right system and I think he’ll have a LeGarrette Blount type of career, which means the Bears will either move him this offseason, or allow him to play out his contract and walk as a free agent in 2020. I just don’t see him getting a new contract in Chicago.
Robert Schmitz: I don’t. I want to think he fits, but I don’t think he does. As others have pointed out, Jordan Howard is a volume-carry zone-blocking back. He picks up steam as the game wears on, watching how defenses react play-to-play to determine how he’ll attack them next. He’s a bell cow that generally needs at around 10+ carries to turn in a good performance.
Nagy, on the other hand, wants a quicker back. He wants someone who is equally dangerous on the ground as he is through the air, specifically someone who doesn’t give the defense clues about whether called plays are passes or runs. Unpredictability seems to be one of the foundations of the Nagy system, so I think Howard’s limitations in the passing game ultimately make him a poor fit.
Ken Mitchell: I think that Matt Nagy had so much coming at him this year trying to assess the strengths and weaknesses of each of his players that he really didn’t connect with Howard. Howard’s skillset is simply outside the box of what Nagy’s offensive focus is, and Nagy just started getting a handle on how to best use Howard in Nagy’s offense in the last 5 games.
WhiskeyRanger: Does he fit in the idealized version of it? No. For that you need a more well-rounded back that can be trusted on short yardage, while also being an athletic threat in the open field, and at least a decent playmaker in the pass game. But can Nagy adjust his scheme to make use of Howard’s skill set? Yes. And we saw that start to take shape toward the end of the regular season. There is value to Howard’s game, regardless of system. It just may not be exactly what you need from a featured back to realize the scheme’s full potential.
We generally agree that Howard has value but that his talents make him an imperfect for the ideal Nagy offense.
Our answers to these questions will be coming up next.