In the second of a nine-part series, ChicagoBears.com takes an in-depth look at the Bears' running back position heading into the 2017 offseason.*
During an otherwise bleak 3-13 season, a shining star arose in the Bears backfield.
Selected in the fifth round of the draft out of Indiana, Jordan Howard opened the season third on the depth chart at running back and closed it as the leading rusher in the Pro Bowl.
Howard joined Hall of Famer Walter Payton as the only Bears players to rush for at least 1,300 yards and average more than five yards per carry in a season.
Although he didn't make his first start until Week 4 when Jeremy Langford and Ka'Deem Carey both were unable to play due to injuries, Howard finished second in the NFL in rushing, setting Bears rookie records with 1,313 yards and seven 100-yard games.
Howard joined Hall of Famer Walter Payton as the only Bears players to rush for at least 1,300 yards and average more than five yards per carry in a season, something Payton did it just once in his illustrious 13-year career—with 1,852 yards and a 5.5-yard average in 1977.
"Jordan had a heck of a year, especially when you think about what happened and how the year played out for him with Jeremy being the starter early on and Jordan coming on Week 4 the way he did," said Bears offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains. "He's a hard-working kid. He's quiet. He's a humble kid. You want success for guys like that. He's earned everything he got."
Howard broke the Bears rookie rushing record of 1,238 yards that Matt Forte took 316 carries to set in 2008 on his 240th attempt of the season.
Howard's team rookie record of seven 100-yard games were two more than Hall of Famers Payton (2) and Gale Sayers (3) had as rookies combined. The previous record of five was set by Beattie Feathers in 1934 and matched by Rashaan Salaam in 1995.
Howard closed the year with a flourish, earning NFL offensive rookie of the month honors for December/January after rushing for 547 yards and four touchdowns in five games. During that span, he averaged 5.3 yards per attempt and had three 100-yard games.
"I exceeded my expectations, but I didn't really surprise myself," Howard said when asked about his breakout rookie season. "I always knew I was capable of this, but coming into the season I just wanted to help the team the best way I could."
Langford started the first three games, rushing for 57, 28 and 31 yards in losses to the Texans, Eagles and Cowboys. He finished the season with 200 yards and four touchdowns on 62 carries and 19 receptions for 142 yards. Carey added 126 yards on 32 carries and caught five passes for 55 yards.
The Bears have a new running backs coach this year in Curtis Modkins, but they should have some continuity at the position given that Howard (signed through 2019), Langford (2018) and Carey (2017) all remain under contract.