What a long, strange trip it’s been. ~Grateful Dead
Jordan Howard took the path less traveled. He committed the the University of Alabama-Birmingham and played well as a freshman and sophomore but due to financial constraints UAB had to shut down their football program after the 2014 season. Fortunately for Howard, he was one of the better players on the team and players joining other teams from UAB were exempt from the standard year waiting period and played as a junior for Indiana University. Against Big 10 competition for a season Howard excelled. He gained 1,200 yards on the ground and saved two of his bigger days for two of the better defenses in the conference, Iowa and Michigan. He averaged 6.2 yards a carry last year against Big 10 competition. He chose to go pro as a junior and was picked in the 5th round by the Chicago Bears.
Howard joins a team with a couple of young backs already on the roster. Jeremy Langford showed well as a rookie and Ka’deem Carey has proven to be backup worthy over his two years, so where does that leave Howard? Howard is a big back that is built for the type of running game that John Fox likes to bring. Despite his 230 lbs. he’s agile and fast for his size. As I writing this article it dawned on me that he is very comparable in size, skill and college competition to three other backs that have come out recently, Jeremy Hill, Matt Jones and Le’Veon Bell. All four of these backs stand between 5’11” and 6’2″ and weigh between 230 and 233 lbs. coming out of college. All four are not considered fast because they are so big, but all three have speed scores over 100, which indicates they are very fast for their size. All four played either in the SEC or Big 10, the creme of the crop in college football competition. The similarities really are striking, especially considering the success that all three that have already played in the NFL have had (given the limited sample size for some of them). Here is a comparison of their Quad Scores:
|2013||Le'Veon Bell||Michigan State||73||230||0.34||0.82||(0.49)||1.00||0.33
|2014||Jeremy Hill||Louisiana State||73||233||0.83||(2.43)||(1.44)||0.09||(0.86)
You can see that all four of them have great speed for their size, with above zero speed scores. While Jordan Howard doesn’t have the agility that Bell and Jones have he makes up for it in leg power and explosion, as measured by the only positive leg power score in the group. Leg power is a combination of vertical leap and broad jump and it’s clear he was much better in those tests than these peers. On the down side, Howard did not fare as well in the bench press as measured by the Arm Strength score, so he can certainly continue to build upper body strength in the pros.
Here’s the thing. Le’Veon Bell was a 2nd round pick in the NFL draft and so was Jeremy Hill. Matt Jones was a third round pick. Jordan Howard was a 5th rounder. Did he exhibit significantly less skills on the field than the other players? Certainly not, especially compared to Jones and Hill who were part of committees in college and were not featured. In my mind, Howard was a steal for Chicago. He is comparable in skill set to Bell, Hill and Jones and my guess is that John Fox want’s to use him in that way if he shows he can handle the load. Currently he’s being picked up in the 2nd round of rookie drafts in ADP and I think that is a bargain.