The Miami Dolphins made quite the impression during the NFL’s 2020 legal tampering period. While a flurry of moves were made on the defensive side of the ball, there was one particular signing on the offense that could provide the Dolphins with an instant upgrade. On Tuesday, March 17th, 2020, the Dolphins signed former Philadelphia Eagles running back Jordan Howard to a two-year $10 million contract. At a relatively low rate, Howard’s value in Miami should be much higher than his previous stint with the Eagles.
Last season, the Dolphins’ rushing attack was in shambles. While some blame could be attributed to the horrific state of the offensive line, that is still no excuse to allow starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to be the leading rusher in terms of yards gained. Fitzpatrick would join the Arizona Cardinals rookie QB Kyler Murray and Baltimore Ravens QB Lamar Jackson as the only QBs in 2019 to lead their teams in rushing yards.
Miami needs Howard
Including Howard, Miami currently has four RBs on the roster: Kalen Ballage, Patrick Laird, and Myles Gaskin. None of those three received enough snaps to qualify for PFN’s Offensive Share Metric. Within the season, Ballage played in 12 games, received 74 carries, and qualified once for an OSM grade in Week 10, where he received a 3.31. Ballage’s yards per carry came in at a whopping 1.8 yards.
Laird’s injection into the offense came in the Dolphins’ Week 13 win over the Eagles. He qualified for an OSM grade in 4 of the 5 weeks in which he was heavily featured with his highest grade coming in Week 17 with a 12.1. Finally, Gaskin only saw substantial action in Miami’s Week 16 overtime thriller against the Cincinnati Bengals. Still, Gaskin had the best weekly OSM performance of any Dolphins RB this season, earning a 20.42.
Two other running backs occupied some time in Miami’s backfield during the 2019 season. First was the four-year fin Kenyan Drake who has had quite the up and down stay with the Dolphins. Miami finally traded Drake during the season after a couple of years of heavy speculation. On October 28th, 2019, Miami sent Drake to the Arizona Cardinals for a 2020 fifth-round pick (153rd overall).
Miami also signed former-Bengal RB Mark Walton in the offseason. With many questions off the field, Walton saw some success on the ground; however, after being arrested and accused of domestic violence, the Dolphins cut ties with the troubled RB who has since been charged with domestic violence a second time since his release.
So with a visible hole in the offense, Miami filled a need and at a reasonable price to boot. Howard earned an overall OSM grade of 13.71 for the 2019 season. Right off the bat registering, a grade is an upgrade over the current RB room, and while the score might seem low, for a running back, that grade is pretty solid. While it isn’t the 21.27 of Tennessee Titans back Derrick Henry, it does put Howard ahead of backs like Saquon Barkley, Alvin Kamara, and Melvin Gordon, just to name a few.
Howard averaged 4.4 yards per carry in 2019, the closest he’s been to his rookie year where he set his career-high at 5.2 YPC. He did see a considerable drop in production, going from 935 rushing yards in 2018 to 525 rushing yards in 2019. This drop was due in part to a crowded RB room in Philadelphia last season, and Howard only playing ten games in 2019. Howard also brings a very physical and tough running mentality to a Dolphins team that needs a running back who can fight through contact and gain yards after.
— Matthew Lucci (@LucciSportsGuy) September 22, 2019
While that six-game absence looks troublesome, Howard suffered a nasty stinger after getting hit late in a Week 9 clash against the Chicago Bears. Howard was not cleared for contact until December 26th, 54 days after the hit. In what seems like an unusual incident, this was the first time in Howard’s career that he has missed games due to injury.
With plenty of carries available for taking, Howard’s value in Miami should only increase once he hits the field. Just two seasons removed from the latter of back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, becoming the feature back in a system might be what Howard needs to return to his dominant form. Even with two down years, Howard has the third-most rushing yards since 2016, trailing Dallas Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott and Atlanta Falcons RB Todd Gurley.
With resources being invested into the offensive line through free agency, the Dolphins are also expected to bolster the unit through the draft. Improvements along the line should bring some cohesion back to Miami’s offense and awaken a rushing attack that was just about silenced last year. At a respectable price point of $5 million a season, Howard’s experience and skills should give the Dolphins offense consistent production from the running back position.