Coming out of high school, Chicago Bears running back Jordan Howard was not highly touted. Though he had put up impressive numbers over his career at Gardendale High School (Ala.), he didn’t draw much interest from college scouts.
In his senior season at Gardendale, Howard rushed for 1,388 yards and 21 touchdowns in 10 games. Overall he amassed 2,876 yards on the ground in his two seasons on the varsity team. Following his senior year he was named the Birmingham News North/East area’s player of the year.
Despite all of this, Jordan Howard was generally regarded as only a two-star recruit by most recruiting publications. As a result, he didn’t have many offers and ended up committing to the University of Alabama-Birmingham (UAB) out of high school.
As a freshman at UAB, Howard continued to impress. He set the UAB freshman rushing record and was second in the nation among freshman with 881 yards on the ground in 2013. Those numbers landed Howard on the Conference USA All-Freshman team.
Howard followed up that season by rushing for a UAB single-season record 1,587 yards along with 13 touchdowns as a sophomore in 2014. He was seventh nationally with 132.3 rushing yards per game and earned first team All-Conference USA honors.
Following Howard’s sophomore season, UAB shockingly decided to drop it’s football program. This news left Howard scrambling to figure out where he would continue his college football career.
He eventually landed in the Big Ten at Indiana University. The transition into a power-five conference did not slow Howard down.
In his one season at Indiana, Howard rushed for 1,213 yards (3rd in Big Ten). He also finished second in the Big Ten and ninth nationally with 134.8 rushing yards per game. At the conclusion of the season he was named first team All-Big Ten and was a candidate for the Doak Walker and Maxwell awards.
Howard then decided to forgo his senior year and declared for the NFL draft on December 28, 2015. And once again, he had a lot of doubters.
When the Bears selected Howard with the 11th pick (150th overall) in the fifth round of the 2016 NFL Draft, little did anyone know that they had arguably landed the steal of the draft.
There were nine running backs selected ahead of Jordan Howard in the 2016 draft. Of those nine, only Ezekiel Elliot (fourth overall pick) rushed for more yards as a rookie in 2016. Not only that, but Elliot was the only back period to rush for more yards than Howard. The two rookies finished as the top two rushing backs in all of the NFL.
Ezekiel Elliott & Jordan Howard finshing 1st & 2nd would mark 1st time since 1968 (AFL) that top 2 rushers in league were both rookies pic.twitter.com/mmeHawQOXR
— Randall Liu (@RLiuNFL) January 2, 2017
Elliot had an unbelievable rookie season rushing for 1,631 yards and scoring 15 touchdowns. He helped lead the Dallas Cowboys to a 13-3 record. This type of season was not a huge surprise for a guy that was drafted with the fourth overall pick.
Jordan Howard, on the other hand, came out of nowhere to finish with 1,313 yards and six touchdowns. He set a Bears rookie record for rushing yards and 100-yard games in a season. Certainly nobody expected the 150th overall pick to produce a rookie season like this.
It’s also important to note that Howard had 70 less carries than Elliot for the season. In fact, Howard had only 12 carries through the first three games and did not log more than nine carries in a game until the fourth game of the season. He did a majority of his work in 13 games versus 16 games.
Jordan Howard rushed for 1,313 yards, the second-most in the league, despite not getting the starting job until Week 4. pic.twitter.com/6ImIYJHE3T
— PFF Fantasy Football (@PFF_Fantasy) February 6, 2017
Rather impressive for a guy taken in the fifth round.
Jordan Howard’s rookie season certainly made coaches, players and and fans take notice. To most he was an unknown guy who took the league by storm, but he was not all that surprised. He knew what he was capable of.
“I exceeded my expectations, but I didn’t really surprise myself,”Howard said. “I always knew I was capable of this, but coming into the season I just wanted to help the team the best way I could.”
Going into his second season, Howard will no longer be an unknown. He will now be a focal point for opposing defenses. Regardless, it’s good to see that he has his priorities straight based on the comment below.
"Make the playoffs, first off, and get another 1,000 yards."
– #Bears RB Jordan Howard's goals for 2017
— Chicago Sports News (@ChiSportUpdates) February 14, 2017
Providing that the Bears offensive line is healthy next season, Howard has a great opportunity to improve on his numbers from last year. The interior of the line consisting of center Cody Whitehair as well as All-Pro Guards Kyle Long and Josh Sitton is among the best in the league. Running behind them certainly bodes well for any back.
Fans are hoping for an improved Bears team next season and Howard’s success is certainly a key to making that happen.
For those concerned that Howard may regress this season, they should remember one thing. He has a history of proving people wrong.
Todd Thorstenson is a staff writer covering the Chicago Bears as well as Illinois Fighting Illini football for EndZoneScore.com. Follow him on Twitter: @Thor1323