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Bears: Jordan Howard, a Case Study in “Bang for Your Buck”

First round picks are exciting, but it's hitting your mark on day two and three of the NFL Draft that makes GM's successful in the NFL, Jordan Howard is a perfect example of this.

After the 2007 season, ‘Vizio’ launched an NFL award it calls the Top Value Performer, an award for players that outperformed expectations. The award is nothing more than a publicity stunt from Vizio, but the Bears’ own Jordan Howard is a finalist this season, which got me thinking about just how undervalued the 2016 fifth-round draft choice is, and the Bears’ path forward in building a contender.

In 2017, Jordan Howard rushed for 1,122 yards and nine touchdowns, and added 125 yards receiving, stats that put him among the most productive backs in the league for a second straight year. However, the cap hit the Bears took to get this production was minuscule compared to some of his peers in terms of production.

Bears fans are very familiar with Howard’s production on the field, and it is nearly impossible not to marvel at the second year pro’s impressive combination of patience and power. While his vision and explosiveness are easy to spot, his presence on the Bears’ payroll is much harder to find, and this is why he is a prime example of an NFL franchise getting plenty of bang for its buck. Finding cheap, effective players like Howard via the draft will be vital in building the Monsters of the Midway into a true contender, a concept that hit home in Chicago after the 2017 off-season was littered with swings and misses in the free agent market.

With that in mind, let’s dig into the production and salary cap hits of Howard and his peers, both the other finalists for Vizio’s Top Value Performer Award and the top rushers in the NFL in 2017.

  2017 Vizio Top Value Performer Finalists
  2017 Cap Hit % of Team Cap Space Yards from Scrimmage TD % of Total Team Offense Cap Hit per yard Cap Hit per TD
Alvin Kamara $708,193 0.44% 1554 13 24.83% $456 $54,476
Jordan Howard $602,005 0.36% 1247 9 27.11% $483 $66,889
Alex Collins $508,235 0.32% 1160 6 23.74% $438 $84,706
Jerrick McKinnon $828,750 0.55% 991 5 17.36% $836 $165,750
Davante Adams $4,857,127 2.87% 885 10 18.09% $5,488 $485,713

Data source: and

The case for Howard to be the Top Value Performer of 2017 is an easy one to make, but it will likely come down to him and Saints rookie phenom Alvin Kamara, whose overall production is unrivaled among the five finalists. Kamara had the benefit of playing in one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL, while Howard routinely faced defenses that were selling out to stop the run, a by-product of former offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains’ predictable offense. Why Kansas City Chiefs running back and 2017 NFL rushing champion Kareem Hunt did not make the list of finalists is beyond me, but the award is trivial, to say the least. Let’s now take a look at how Jordan Howard’s production and pay stack up against the only five running backs to out rush him in 2017, all of whom saw their respective teams make the 2017-2018 season tournament.

  2017 Top 6 Rushers
  2017 Cap Hit % of Team Cap Space Yards from Scrimmage TD % of Total Team Offense Cap Hit per yard Cap Hit per TD
Kareem Hunt $658,988 0.39% 1782 11 29.67% $370 $59,908
Todd Gurley $3,769,959 2.38% 2093 19 36.19% $1,801 $198,419
Le’Veon Bell $12,120,000 7.39% 1946 11 32.18% $6,228 $1,101,818
LeSean McCoy $10,375,000 6.69% 1586 8 32.76% $6,542 $1,296,875
Mark Ingram $5,345,000 3.31% 1540 12 24.60% $3,471 $445,417
Jordan Howard $602,005 0.36% 1247 9 27.11% $483 $66,889

Data source: and

Howard’s overall production was nearly on par with the best backs in the game in 2017, even with the predictability of the Bears’ offense, but overcoming adversity is nothing new to Howard. Check out this NFL Films short on his journey, if you haven’t already:

Among the top six rushers in 2017, only Kareem Hunt delivered more value to his team in terms of dollars earned per yard gained and dollars earned per touchdown.

Unfortunately for Hunt, Howard, and Kamara, they are still on their rookie contracts, the sole reason for the massive discrepancies in cap hit per yard and cap hit per touchdown compared to the other top backs (the plight of the young NFL workhorse is a topic for another time). However, while Bears fans are (understandably) fixated on what Chicago will do with the eighth pick in the 2018 NFL draft, impactful later-round selections on rookie-level contracts are a necessity for sustained excellence in the NFL, and it is a key reason why general managers are often judged by their draft records. Drafting well, which does not only pertain to the highest selections, year after year allows teams to build a foundation of cost-controlled players that can then be accentuated by appropriate free agent signings.

Bears GM Ryan Pace has had some success in the draft (young safeties Adrian Amos and Eddie Jackson were solid day three draft choices, fifth-round pick Tarik Cohen flashed some electrifying ability in 2017, and rookie tight end Adam Shaheen showed real potential in very limited action), but, coaching woes aside, he has failed to put together a truly competitive roster thus far in his tenure. Some of  that blame can be passed on to his predecessor Phil Emery, who left Pace a roster devoid of young talent worth resigning, but Pace’s 2017 free agent class left a lot to be desired, and included signings such as QB Mike Glennon, TE Dion Sims, WR Markus Wheaton, and CB Marcus Cooper, among others.

In short, if Bears fans expect new head coach Matt Nagy to turn the franchise around in year one of what is hopefully a long and successful tenure with the franchise, he’s going to need quite a bit of help from his general manager. The Bears showed flashes in 2017 of what the future might hold, but the fact remains that the team is still multiple key pieces, including the development of potential franchise QB Mitch Trubisky, away from being truly competitive.

Make no mistake, the arrow is pointing up in Chicago, but Pace, Nagy, and his rapidly developing staff will have their work cut out for them, and finding 2018’s equivalent to Jordan Howard would go a long way in keeping the momentum rolling. The NFL is a business, and finding value where others may not is a key to success.

You can vote for the Top Value Performer Award here.


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