Jordan Howard has reportedly agreed to a two-year contract with the Miami Dolphins for more than $10 million. The 10th back selected in the 2016 NFL Draft, Howard has wildly outperformed those original expectations, but his career immediately entered a downward trajectory after a fantastic rookie season. Can he do more than play spoiler to the Dolphins eventual selection in the 2020 affair?
Back in the summer of 2016, Howard was a favorite of RotoViz draft guru Jon Moore. His collegiate age-adjusted production was impressive and pointed to him as a top sleeper. The Bears rookie immediately paid dividends with an overall RB10 finish. He backed that up with a solid RB15 finish in 2017.
As 2018 dawned, new coach Matt Nagy promised to use him more in the passing game and unlock his full potential. Instead, Tarik Cohen emerged and Howard was traded to Philadelphia. The big back looked rejuvenated in the Eagles offense, putting 32.5 fantasy points on the board in Week 4. Unfortunately, a mid-season injury ruined his bounceback season.
Howard is now four years removed from that dynamic rookie campaign, but his accomplishments in that window are better than many realize. Only two RBs have rushed for more yards in that span.
Howard wasn’t a pure plodder either. Over those four years he averaged more yards per carry than either Todd Gurley or Melvin Gordon. You’ll notice that his fantasy point total is similar to that of Derrick Henry, the back taken with the No. 45 pick in the same draft. Howard hasn’t scored as many touchdowns, but he leads Henry in receiving yards as well.
An enthusiast could argue that the biggest difference between Howard and Henry or Mark Ingram is simply the initial draft cost and how that informs future decisions. Sure, Henry and Ingram have been better recently and deserve higher 2020 ADPs, but they only got to where we are now by traversing downturns worse than what Howard’s endured.
Howard isn’t on his third team in three seasons without reason. His numbers have declined, and we can illustrate this with weekly fantasy finishes.
From 2016 to 2017, Howard finished at the RB2 level or better 65% of the time. That dropped to only 39% over the last two years. His RB1 finishes declined from five to four to two to one.
Howard’s struggles can be traced to a simple cause all fantasy owners recognize. In the contemporary NFL, RB1s must catch passes. We live in a world where Henry can average 5.1 yards per carry, win the rushing title by almost 200 yards, and start the following season in a dead heat with Joe Mixon to be selected as the RB6.
Despite offseason promises from multiple coaching staffs, Howard hasn’t been active as a receiver since his rookie campaign. He earned a 10% target share that season but has averaged only 6% since.
A Spoiler in Miami or the Perfect Camouflage for a Zero RB Rookie?
Howard will likely be tasked with the same role in Miami that he filled in Philadelphia. He gives the Dolphins a legitimate early-down grinder while allowing them to bring a rookie along slowly. The Eagles used this approach with Miles Sanders, and the rookie struggled in limited early reps before exploding after Howard’s injury.
How this plays out for fantasy owners largely depends on which back they select. The Dolphins have been connected to Jonathan Taylor, D’Andre Swift, J.K. Dobbins, Cam Akers, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, and Zack Moss. Everyone, in other words.
If they select an all-around wrecking ball like Taylor, the Howard signing is mostly insurance. If they select Swift or Dobbins, Howard’s presence is likely to siphon valuable touches without providing much ADP relief. You’re still going to have to pay.
But once we get a little further down the pecking order, the Sanders scenario becomes a little more likely. We argued for Sanders as the 2019 Nick Chubb, and a similar opportunity could arise again in 2020 with Akers, Moss, Ke’Shawn Vaughn, or even Eno Benjamin.