Jordan Howard was the running back surprise of the 2016 season. What else would you expect from a rookie who totaled over 1,600 yards, seven scores and averaged 5.2 yards per run and 10.3 yards per catch?!
It's safe to say he'll be a surprise no longer.
Many Fantasy owners were taken back to see Howard land at 10th overall in our first mock draft of 2017 -- a first-round choice. Almost immediately the debate started over whether he was worth the early pick.
Why is Howard worth it?
High statistical projection: The 1,313 rush yards, 298 receiving yards and seven total touchdowns were earned with Howard missing basically the Bears first two games and a portion of a third. Given the big workload reserved for backs who can run and catch on every down, Howard has room to exceed these numbers.
Good offensive situation: The common belief is that Chicago will save $14 million against the cap and let Jay Cutler go, replacing him with a younger option. Pair that with John Fox's typical offensive conservatism and we should see the Bears run even more in 2017.
The Bears' 2017 opponents seem mostly favorable. And for all the fuss we made about the Bears O-line being a weakness, the guards and centers played just fine. Improvements this offseason should flip Chicago's offensive line into a position of strength.
Position scarcity: There just aren't a lot of running backs with 1,500-yard, 10-touchdown potential. Once Fantasy drafters realize Howard can hit that high threshold in 2017, they'll quickly figure they can beat the rush in Round 2 and take him in the back half of Round 1 and land a safe receiver in Round 2.
Cheap handcuff: It's a selling point that Howard's backup -- considered to be Jeremy Langford for now -- can be found in Round 10 or later.
Risks to weigh
Can he do it again? Much has been made about the success rate of second-year running backs -- Todd Gurley became the poster boy for this fear in 2016, as opposed to David Johnson, who shattered the stigma. There's always a chance of regression for any rookie coming off a big year, but Howard should have the opportunity to be the Bears' lead back.
Not a speedster: Howard had a bunch of solid runs but had only 10 carries and four receptions good for 20-plus yards. He was caught from behind on runs of 31, 36, 57 and 69 yards and didn't run for a touchdown from any further than 9 yards. Howard must maintain a very heavy workload, keep breaking tackles and push for extra yards while staying healthy to keep Fantasy owners happy.
Who's the quarterback? Not that Jay Cutler was the answer for the Bears, but at the very least his strong arm kept defenses from focusing on stopping the run play after play. If Cutler's gone, is the Bears quarterback a legit threat to keep defenses honest? The future of their receiving corps is also important.
Howard's the right guy in the right place at the right time. Much like former Bears rusher Matt Forte, Howard looks like a hard-nosed carrier capable of taking on a lot of work and turning it into positive stats.
He's also hitting his stride at the right time for Fantasy Football fans. The consensus first-round running backs can be counted on one hand, so anyone who wants a stud workhorse and doesn't have an early first-round choice will have to consider Howard.
Given his current situation, skill set and schedule, he's worth the risk of a teeny-tiny reach toward the end of Round 1.