More questions than answers for Jordan Howard in 2019

It was quite the up-and-down season for Chicago Bears running back Jordan Howard. Fantasy owners were quite disappointed after investing a late-second or early-third round pick in him on draft day. On first glance it’s easy to see why.

You may be surprised to see that Howard finished as RB20 in total points in PPR leagues. His fantasy owners certainly didn’t feel like they got an RB2-like performance from him in 2018. Looking a little deeper into the numbers shows why. On a points-per-game basis, Howard finished as RB30, in the same range as players like Adrian Peterson, Matt Breida, Alex Collins and Isaiah Crowell.

Even that doesn’t tell the whole story.

At points in the season, it felt like Howard simply wasn’t a huge part of this new Bears offense headed up by Matt Nagy. It looked like Tarik Cohen was “the guy” in Chicago and Howard was a just solid complementary piece.

His five catches in Week 1 allowed Howard to have a solid 15.7-point opening week performance. He was under the double-digit threshold in Week 2 before his inefficient-but-productive Week 3 against the Arizona Cardinals. Then the trouble started.

Howard got a measly 11 touches and 2.5 fantasy points in Week 4 and came out of the early bye week with a 4.9-point performance in Week 6. He found the end zone the following week, but wasn’t very efficient with 39 rushing yards on 12 carries. It was the fifth straight game of Howard underperforming on a per-carry basis. That was a trend throughout the season as he averaged 3.7 yards per carry, the worst mark of his career.

Through Week 7, Howard was RB38 on a per-game basis. Three touchdowns over the next two weeks raised his profile to RB28, but he tumbled right back down by not reaching a double-digit point total for a month. At that point, a decent amount of fantasy owners dropped Howard and moved on. Then he transformed back to the old No. 24.

Over the final four weeks of the season, Howard was RB12 on a per-game basis. He had 362 scrimmage yards and 4 touchdowns in that span, propelling him back up to that low-end RB2 territory discussed above. So what gives? Who is the real Jordan Howard and where should he be drafted next year?

It’s hard to imagine the situation changing much for Howard in 2019. Both he and Cohen will occupy the backfield, and the instances will be rare that both backs will have strong fantasy days simultaneously. There is a possibility that quarterback Mitchell Trubisky takes yet another step forward and the offense finds itself in more favorable situations. Howard will also be in a contract year, so he’ll have every incentive to have a strong offseason and to put his best film out there during the season.

It’s really difficult to project running backs this far out because of player movement and rookies integrating into the league, but it’s hard to see anyone drafting Howard as anything more than a FLEX option. He’s a solid FLEX, but he will likely not be ranked among my top-24 RBs heading into drafts. That means he’s best taken somewhere around Round 6.