As we arrive closer to the 2020 fantasy football season, everyone is desperately looking for the next “breakout star” or “sleeper” in their drafts. But one player often overlooked and undervalued (for no good reason) is Jordan Howard. In this article, we’ll explain that’s not only foolish but a mistake.
Jordan Howard gets a fresh start in Miami
Coming into his fifth season in the NFL, Howard finds himself with a new team. He signed a two-year, $10 million dollar contract as a free agent with the Miami Dolphins earlier this offseason. This is the same player who is third in the NFL in rushing yards since 2016 (when Howard was drafted) with 3,895 yards.
The Dolphins find themselves dealing with an identity crisis in their run offense after their leading rusher from 2019 was their 37-year-old veteran quarterback, Ryan Fitzpatrick (243 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 54 carries). On top of that, running back Kenyan Drake was traded last season and broke out with the Arizona Cardinals shortly after being acquired.
Miami has made some moves to help solidify their running back room in signing Howard and acquiring speedster Matt Breida from the San Francisco 49ers for a 2020 fifth-round draft pick. So one of the more frequently asked questions about the Dolphins and fantasy football is how to decipher the duo of Breida and Howard and how running back touches will be divided. While that answer may not be as clear as most would like, neither should be discounted.
Both players have been valued around the same in regards to fantasy football. The latest half point-per-reception (PPR) average draft position (ADP) data shows that Breida is being selected as the 32nd running back off the board, while Howard is being drafted as the RB34. So most fantasy football managers have struggled to figure out who will be the more valuable running back to own.
Most fantasy analysts (myself, included) have pointed to Howard’s lack of a pass-catching history and Breida’s explosiveness (he recorded the fastest time as a ball carrier in 2019, per NFL’s Next Gen Stats) when examining the two. In his first four seasons, Howard has only surpassed 25 receptions once, and that was in his rookie season (29). Breida, however, has only hit that mark once as well (2018, 27) in his first three seasons. So let’s dig deeper into Howard and put to bed some falsehoods about him.
Jordan Howard analytics – what do the numbers show?
In looking at PFN’s own Offensive Share Metric, Howard had a solid 2019. He had an OSM score of 13.71, good for 25th amongst qualifying running backs. He would finish ahead of other notables like Alvin Kamara (26th), Nick Chubb (32nd), Saquon Barkley (35th), Miles Sanders (40th), and Joe Mixon (46th).
Another PFN metric, the Consistency Score, measures how consistent a player is in fantasy when it comes to production. For 2019, Howard was just outside the top-25 (26th) for running backs. His actual CS was 4.25, which was an improvement over his last two seasons (3.42 in 2018, 4.20 in 2017). Meanwhile, Breida finished 42nd amongst running backs in 2019 with a 2.85 score.
Taking a look at Fantasy Point Differential, Howard was elite during the 2019 season in outperforming expectations. FPD looks at the difference between expected fantasy points and what a player actually scored. In 2019, Howard had the fifth-best FPD, in PPR leagues, of any running back with 22%. What that means is that Howard scored 22% more fantasy points over expectation last season.
Howard was productive in his lone season with Philadelphia
Howard played in nine games for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2019 and started in four of them before going down with a season-ending shoulder injury. In those nine games, Howard had 525 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns on 119 carries (4.4 yards per carry) with 69 receiving yards and one touchdown on ten receptions. Despite the injury-shortened season and sharing touches with Miles Sanders and Boston Scott, Howard was playing well before getting hurt.
In the seven games he had ten plus offensive touches, Howard had 513 yards from scrimmage and seven touchdowns on 112 total touches. So he was averaging 4.58 yards per touch (16 per game) and one touchdown per game. Over the course of an entire season at that pace, Howard would’ve had 256 total offensive touches, 1,172 yards from scrimmage and 16 total touchdowns. Those numbers would’ve had him 17th in offensive touches, 33rd in scrimmage yards, and fourth in total touchdowns amongst all skill players in the NFL.
Howard was a consistent fantasy RB in 2019, prior to the injury
Prior to his injury in 2019, Howard was performing extremely well. In half-PPR leagues, Jordan was the tenth highest-scoring running back from weeks three to nine (the seven games he received ten plus offensive touches), outscoring notable players such as Derrick Henry (13th), Mark Ingram (14th), Kamara (26th), Breida (29th) and Mixon (31st).
His 13.8 fantasy points per game during that span was 17th best among running backs, placing him as a mid-tier RB2 in 12-team half-PPR fantasy football leagues. This was also with his now-former teammate, Sanders, sharing touches with him as he was the 16th-highest scoring RB during that span. While he finds himself on a completely new team, it’s a squad that has prioritized improving their offense as a whole this offseason.
2020 fantasy expectations for Jordan Howard
The Dolphins selected quarterback Tua Tagovailoa with the fifth overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. They also selected offensive tackle, Austin Jackson, with the 18th overall pick, offensive lineman Robert Hunt with the 39th pick, and guard Solomon Kindley with the 111th pick.
In addition, Miami signed guard Ereck Flowers to a three-year, $30 million contract as another part of their massive overhaul of the offensive line. With so much invested in the offensive line, it should symbolize a change in philosophy towards the run game. A run game that the Dolphins missed after finishing with a league-worst 349 rushing attempts (22 per game) and 1,156 rushing yards (72 per game).
On a new team with a re-investment in their offense, Howard finds his situation improving heading into the 2020 season. While he will be competing with Breida for snaps and touches, there is reason to believe that Howard not only will be a valuable fantasy football asset but even a more valuable one than Breida.
Prior to his injury-shortened 2019 season, Howard had started off his career with at least 900 rushing yards and 1,000 scrimmage yards in every season. Breida, on the other hand, only has one season of 1,000+ scrimmage yards to his name thus far. Breida also only has six rushing touchdowns through his first three seasons, while Howard has scored at least six in EACH of his four seasons.
Howard is fully expected to be the relied upon running back at the goal line, which is expected to be more plentiful with a re-tooled offense. Howard shouldn’t be counted out in getting some receiving work, either. With Albert Wilson and Allen Hurns opting out of the 2020 season, and Preston Williams working his way back from a torn ACL, the Dolphins find themselves with less-than-ideal depth at wide receiver. While Breida is expected to get more looks than Howard in the passing game, Howard is absolutely capable and should see a solid amount of targets after seeing 25+ in each of his first three seasons.
Howard is currently being drafted as a low-end RB3 (34th running back taken) in half-PPR leagues, heading into the 2020 season. Some (including myself) would argue that is likely his floor for the upcoming season. Playing in an offense as the primary goal line and early-down runner, sprinkled in with a healthy dose of targets, should allow Howard to easily outplay his draft position. Howard has shown time and time again to not only be productive as a fantasy football asset but being consistent in his NFL production. Despite the new offense, Howard is in a very good spot to put up a plentiful amount of fantasy football points. Don’t make the mistake of being afraid to draft him and miss out on reaping the rewards.
Doug Moore is a fantasy football writer for Pro Football Network. Follow him on Twitter at @DMooreNFL.