“If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”
Put a different way, if a 230 pound back runs for 1,500 yards in his age 20 season and then his program is quasi-disbanded, did that performance still happen?
This is the existence of Indiana running back Jordan Howard, who has been a stud since 2013, first at UAB and now at Indiana. As the successor to Tevin Coleman, Howard currently leads the nation in rushing yards and is gaining some buzz in advance of this weekend’s showdown against Ohio State.
Let’s take a look at Jordan Howard’s career compared to Tevin Coleman and this weekend’s foe Ezekiel Elliott. I think there’s a significant NFL Draft storyline unfolding before our eyes.
Jordan Howard vs. Tevin Coleman
One good thing about Howard’s status as a transfer is that his opportunity to perform wasn’t blocked by his predecessor. What that means is that we can compare the two players’ careers on a fairly level surface. The following is a plot of age and production (rushing yards per game) for the two Indiana runners. The tiny dots represent the college careers of the top career AV NFL rushers since 2000.
Across the board, Jordan Howard is basically telling Coleman “anything you can do I can do better.” For the entirety of their college careers, Howard has had the superior age/production profile. Maybe there’s something to be said for level of competition, with the first two years of Howard’s career being played in CUSA, but I haven’t found any quantitative evidence that conference affiliation matters. Generally, I think that, regardless of level, offensive and defensive lines tend to be similarly skilled, which leaves the running back’s talent as the main differentiating factor. If there’s one area where Coleman wins out, it’s in the receiving game, where Coleman averaged 11.6 yards for his career compared to Howard’s 8.3 yards. Pretty negligible.
I mentioned earlier that Indiana plays Ohio State this weekend. Just for fun, let’s compare…
Jordan Howard vs. (blasphemy!) Ezekiel Elliott
I wrote earlier last month about Ezekiel Elliott’s young dominance and what it probably means for his NFL future. To be clear, I think Ezekiel Elliott is phenomenal. That said, I also think Jordan Howard is pretty fascinating. Here’s how their careers compare.
Ezekiel Elliott’s age 20 season is still in progress, but so far, it looks like the two sort of traded places in their age 19 and age 20 campaigns. In the receiving game, Elliott has averaged 9.8 yards-per-game for his career, which just a fraction better than Howard. Overall, In terms of dominant age-adjusted performances, I think it’s fair to say that Howard has been in a similar class to Elliott.
Physically, Howard is a bigger back than both Coleman and Elliott, and while I don’t expect him to be as athletic as those two, I think he’ll be athletic enough for his size. Mix in the age-production profile and I don’t see why Jordan Howard can’t be drafted in the top 75 picks of the draft, whichever year he decides to declare.
There’s not much footage available from his Indiana game’s yet, but here’s one run from this year and a video from his Southern Miss game in 2014 while playing for UAB.