1. Chicago Bears
No, this isn’t a misprint: The Bears are indeed tops in the division in one specific area.
Drafting Jordan Howard in the fifth round last year may go down as GM Ryan Pace’s ultimate shining moment as the organization’s head decision maker in the personnel department.
Howard’s rookie season couldn’t have gone any better considering that he finished second to only Ezekiel Elliott as the league’s second leading rusher with 1,313 yards on the ground despite playing on a 3-13 team.
The 230-pound rolling ball of thunder is a no-nonsense competitor with the vision to immediately identify running lanes and will lower the shoulder and usually blast through any one defender that obstructs his path.
In his second meeting versus the Packers last December, Howard overpowered the visiting team’s front seven by averaging over 5 yards per carry on his 17 totes even though Green Bay had been gearing up all week to key in on him.
The Big-Ten product won’t win many foot races, but is the kind of punishing force that will keep hammering away at an opponent’s front seven until he busts a big one, as evidenced by his gains of 69, 57, 36 and 31 yards.
Howard’s backfield sidekicks, include holdovers Ka’Deem Carey and Jeremy Langford. The former is a hard-charging contributor that lacks the size and strength components to be anything more than an accessory piece while Langford has quick feet and the ability to bounce it outside, but struggles creating yards on his own and is a poor blocker.
Both running backs will have to fight for their roster spots with newcomers Joel Bouagnon, Tarik Cohen and veteran Bennie Cunningham on board.
Bouganon is a big back in the Matt Forte mold that routinely dragged defenders along for the ride while picking first downs at the University of Northern Illinois.
The rookie is more than just a piledriver that runs through contact in that he can cut back to daylight while also showing the ability to serve as an excellent blocker both in the running and passing game.
Cohen is your classic mighty mite at 5-foot-6, 179 pounds. He’s known as “The Human Joystick” for the ease with which he makes spectacular cuts against helpless tacklers that also have to contend with his balance, acceleration and lower-body strength.
The undersized rookie may only be built for a handful of weekly touches, but he has the tools to make the most out of his opportunities.
Cunningham has been around for a while and specializes in getting open as an underneath weapon in the passing game. There’s a strong chance he makes the team if he demonstrates enough quickness and agility during the preseason.