It hurts. It stings. It sucks.
Jordan Howard ran with everything he had in Chicago. He provided a reason to tune in during two very dark years of Bears football.
Unfortunately, a new coach came in, and Howard didn’t fit his offense. It hurts to watch a guy who ran in a way that embodied the city to get shipped off for next to nothing. It’s more than reasonable to view the move as an insult.
Here’s the unfortunate truth: That’s about all Howard is worth.
Don’t like it? Here are the facts to prove it.
They rest in the last 11 Super Bowl champions. Let’s run it down by year.
2008 – Pittsburgh Steelers: Willie Parker took the bulk of Pittsburgh’s carries as an undrafted free agent with Mewelde Moore spelling Parker on a lot of third downs. Moore was a fourth-round pick.
2009 – New Orleans Saints: Mike Bell and Pierre Thomas were both UDFAs and combined for 319 rush attempts. Reggie Bush was a second-overall pick and rushed 70 times.
2010 – Green Bay Packers: Brandon Jackson carried the load during the regular season as a former second-round pick. However, he was supplanted in the playoffs by James Starks. The sixth-round pick accounted for all but 12 carries in the postseason for Green Bay
2011 – New York Giants: Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw functioned as a classic power and finesse running duo and were picked in the fourth and seventh round respectively.
2012 – Baltimore Ravens: Ray Rice. One of only two true lead backs on this list who functioned as the team’s bell cow for the entire season. He was the 55th overall pick in the 2008 draft.
2013 – Seattle Seahawks: Marshawn Lynch. The other true feature back you’ll see on this list. Lynch is one of three first round picks on this list.
2014 – New England Patriots: This one is very interesting. Easily the biggest “run by committee” team in this list, the Patriots featured three runners who all had over 60 carries, but none of them eclipsed over 100 picks during the regular season. Shane Vereen was taken in the second round, Steven Ridley in the third round, and LeGarrette Blount was an undrafted free agent.
2015 – Denver Broncos: Ronnie Hillman and CJ Anderson carried Peyton Manning’s offense to a Super Bowl. Though Hillman was drafted in the third round, Anderson stole the show as a UDFA.
2016 – New England Patriots: Blount featured heavily again with this Patriots team, but James White did feature enough to earn a mention here. He was a fourth-round pick.
2017 – Philadelphia Eagles: Hey, it’s Blount again! He was assisted by Jay Ajayi (fifth-round pick) and Corey Clement (UDFA).
2018 –New England Patriots: Though White lined up as a running back a lot, the Patriots leaned on a rookie first-round pick Sony Michel to lead their rushing attack.
See a theme?
Super Bowl winning teams rarely feature high-round draft picks at running back. In fact, they hardly use feature backs at all. Out of the last 11 years, only three of the most recent Super Bowl champions used a “feature back.”
There might not be a back on Chicago’s current offense that looks capable of carrying the ball 20 times a game, but that’s not a reason to panic because it’s not even close to being a producer of success. Winning teams generally don’t trot out one feature back.
Another thing … Outside of Blount, how many reoccurring names were on that list? None. And it’s not like Blount was a priceless commodity who was being signed to blockbuster deals or being traded for high draft picks.
The turnover rate at running back is quicker than ever. Believing that a long term solution at tailback will lead to sustained championship success is a myth that isn’t supported by history.
Running backs are not the key to long term success in the NFL. That era has come and gone.
That’s not to say running backs don’t have value. However, claiming that Ryan Pace botched this trade by trading Howard for what seems like pennies on the dollar is a decisive and foolish choice to not acknowledge the landscape of NFL football in 2019.
Viable running backs are more or less a dime a dozen in today’s NFL, and the last 11 Super Bowl champions prove that to be the case.
If you average the draft position of every running back who played a prominent role on a Super Bowl winning roster in the last 11 years, you would find that average is the 148th* pick in the NFL draft.
Howard was drafted with the 150th pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.
Talented backs will always be available late in the draft or even in undrafted free agency. Howard wasn’t the first. He won’t be the last. His absence definitely won’t keep the Bears from winning a championship in 2019.
*Average draft position found by 1) counting UDFAs as the 255th pick in the draft. 2) Averaging the draft position of running backs by committee together [i.e. the Saints were Thomas 255 + Bell 255 + Bush 2 all divided by 3 to give them a draft position of 171 on the year].