The 2015 college football bowl season is underway. On Saturday, December 26, we will see the New Era Pin Stripe Bowl, which features Indiana (6-6) and Duke (7-5). Without a doubt the most intriguing draft-eligible player on either of these teams is Indiana junior running back Jordan Howard. Unfortunately, Howard has been dealing with a knee injury for the second half of the season and is questionable to play in this game.
Howard isn’t present at all in the 2016 RotoViz Scouting Index, but that’s likely because he is a true junior and isn’t yet on the draftnik radar. If he declares for the 2016 NFL Draft, Howard will immediately be in the mix to be one of the top running backs selected. As blasphemous as this is to say, Howard might even be a better prospect than Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliot.
Howard just turned 21 in November, and what he has done in his three seasons of college football has been impressive. Even though Howard has missed three full games and substantial portions of two other games, he is still second in the Big Ten in yards rushing, and last year — at Alabama-Birmingham before the program was terminated — he was second in Conference USA in yards rushing.
Here are the numbers for Howard’s three collegiate seasons:
Remember, what Howard has done this season, he has done while playing at a higher level of competition and with a lingering knee injury that he suffered in the fifth game of the season against Ohio State. And what he did last year at UAB he did in a program that was receiving little support from the school’s administration and was on the verge of folding.
But even if you don’t take those external factors into account, the fact is that any running back who in his first two seasons as a starter averages over 100 yards and a touchdown rushing per game is pretty good.
As a producer, Howard looks like a future NFL player, especially when one takes into account his physical profile.
The Physical Profile
Indiana lists Howard at six feet one inch and 230 pounds. Last year, UAB listed Howard at that same height and 228 pounds, so his measurements probably aren’t greatly exaggerated.
Frankly, with that size and history of production, it almost doesn’t matter how Howard performs in his pre-draft workouts. As long as he doesn’t prove himself to be a horrendously subpar athlete, Howard has an excellent chance of being drafted with a top-100 pick — whenever he decides to enter the NFL Draft.
And if he is a top-100 pick, he will have an excellent chance of being a significant NFL RB at some point in his career — again, given his size and college production.
For Howard, the big question is whether he will choose to enter the NFL after this season. As a college running back, he has nothing more to prove and should probably enter the NFL now so as to avoid a draft-destroying injury and to give himself more time to make money as a professional.
As a prospect, Howard is absolutely the “real deal” and if he declares for the 2016 NFL Draft I suspect that because of him the fourth pick in rookie drafts will be worth much more that it ordinarily is in comparison to the first three picks, which will probably be (in some order) Elliot, Alabama running back Derrick Henry, and Mississippi wide receiver Laquon Treadwell.
If Howard does well in his pre-draft workouts, he will have something like Le’Veon Bell upside, although he isn’t nearly as good as a receiver. He would also be fairly comparable to running backs such as David Johnson and T.J. Yeldon.
If Howard doesn’t do well in his pre-draft workouts, he could still have Arian Foster upside, and he would be comparable to other larger running backs such as Jeremy Hill and Carlos Hyde.
As a big-and-tall producer, Howard really could be one of the next running back stars in the NFL — as early as 2016.
Matthew Freedman is a football writer for RotoViz, Pro Football Focus Fantasy, Fantasy Insiders, and DraftKings Playbook. He is (not) the inspiration for the character in The League who shares his name. He hosts the various RotoViz podcasts and PFF Radio’s College Daily Slant. He is the creator of the Workhorse Metric. You can follow him on Twitter @MattFtheOracle — but I don’t know why you would.