Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen set to become Bears' thunder and lightning

Bryan Perez
NBC Sports Chicago

Jordan Howard is the Chicago Bears starting running back. There's little debate about that. But there's also little debate about the game-changing talent of Tarik Cohen, the smaller yet electrifying change-of-pace option.

Howard finished 2017 with 1,122 yards and nine touchdowns, a good season by any standard. It was his second-straight year with 1,000 yards, something no other running back in Bears history can say they've done to start a career. Still, there was something special about Cohen every time he touched the ball. He's a touchdown waiting to happen and one of the best offensive weapons on the Bears roster. 

Cohen finished his rookie season with 370 rushing yards, 353 receiving yards and three total touchdowns. He added 855 yards and a score on kick and punt returns. 

Howard and Cohen have completely different styles. They complement each other well, but it may be Cohen who ends up the preferred option for Matt Nagy.

Cohen proved he can have success on inside running plays last season and was a much better receiver out of the backfield than Howard. In fact, Cohen is something of a smaller version of Kareem Hunt, the running back Nagy coached to the rushing title in 2017.

But can Howard's workmanlike production really be ignored?

Guys like Howard never get the respect they deserve. He's not a flashy running back; he's not going to juke a defender en route to a 65-yard touchdown. Instead, he wears defenders down through a combination of hard yards and chunk plays. It isn't pretty, but it works.

Cohen was the more effective all-around running back in 2017, according to Pro Football Focus. He ranked 29th at the position with a 76.8 grade while Howard was 34th at 73.6. 

Cohen finished in the top-10 among running back receiving grades, too.

Howard and Cohen established last season that they can co-exist. But that was with a different offensive coaching staff calling plays. In Kansas City last season, Nagy called Hunt's number 272 times on the ground. Charcandrick West was second on the team in carries with only 18. 

The Bears are likely headed for a true thunder and lightning situation next season, and that's not a bad thing. Defenses won't be able to prepare for one style of running back and that should give Nagy, who's been praised for his innovative playcalling, a significant advantage on Sundays.

With Howard thundering through would-be tacklers and Cohen electrifying fans in the passing game, the Bears' backfield may quickly become the most feared in the NFL.

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