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Jordan Howard - This Year's Todd Gurley?

Let's not beat around the bush here. You've for sure heard about the parallels between the 2018 Bears and the 2017 Rams, of which there are many. The Rams brought in a new, offensive-minded head coach in Sean McVay to replace one of the worst head coaches in NFL history, Jeff Fisher. The Bears brought in a new, offensive-minded head coach in Matt Nagy to replace one of the worst head coaches in NFL history, John Fox.

The Rams had a sophomore QB that struggled as a rookie, leading many to question his selection as the first QB off the board in the draft. The Bears have a sophomore QB that struggled as a rookie, leading many to question his selection as the first QB off the board in the draft. The Rams brought in some new offensive weapons in Robert Woods via free agency, Sammy Watkins via trade, and Cooper Kupp via the draft. The Bears brought in some new offensive weapons in Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, and Trey Burton in free agency and Anthony Miller via the draft.

After struggling in his second season, Todd Gurley exploded in his third year under the new regime en route to an overall RB1 finish. No one is suggesting Jordan Howard has that sort of upside. But Howard has been immensely productive over his first two seasons, rushing for 2,435 yards and 15 touchdowns despite playing for a bad offense. I do think Howard is a much better football player than he gets credit for. Unfortunately, being good at football and good at fantasy football are two very different things. Is Jordan Howard this year's Todd Gurley?

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Gurley 2.0?

I won't leave you in suspense. The answer is no. Now let me tell you why.

The first and most obvious reason Howard has no chance at coming even close to Gurley's 2017 production is Howard's hands of stone. The man cannot catch passes. It's truly astounding to watch. He looks like he has flippers for hands. Howard dropped a whopping 18.8% of his targets last season. Without the ability to bolster his fantasy output via receptions, Howard's weekly production is too reliant on rushing yards and touchdowns.

Another important distinction between Howard and Gurley is the secondary running back in each offense. Gurley had no one behind him. The only time Gurley came off the field was when he was too tired to continue. He posted an 83.9% snap share and led the league with 15 goal line carries. Howard only saw a 61.5% snap share and received just five goal-line carries. Howard's problem with volume stems from Tarik Cohen, who is a dynamic satellite back capable of lining up as a receiver. Coach Nagy has described Cohen as a mini Tyreek Hill and seems intent on using Cohen all over the formation. While Cohen will certainly be on the field at the same time as Howard, he will also take snaps away from Howard, particularly when the team is throwing.

And that's the thing with the 2018 Bears - they look poised to be a much more pass-oriented offense. Howard is going to heavily dependent upon game script and situation. Perhaps the Bears are much improved and he does see a lot of carries with the team leading in the second half. Even so, there are scenarios where could find himself on the bench whereas for Gurley, there were none.

Finally, we have the talent. Gurley is just flat-out a better player. Even if you swapped out Gurley and Howard and gave Howard all of the work Gurley gets in the same situation, Howard simply isn't capable of producing at the same level.

The Bears should be a better team and I am a believer in Mitch Trubisky. Howard may very well be a back-end RB1 this season and if the Bears take a step forward like the 2017 Rams, Howard has 15-TD upside, but he does not have top-five upside and is not this year's Todd Gurley.

All of this is not to say Jordan Howard should be off your draft boards. He's severely undervalued as a runner. Unless you think Tarik Cohen will do to him what he did to Jeremy Langford, you should have no concerns about Howard's role on the offense. You're going to see him on first and second down and at the goal line. He could be like a poor man's version of 2013 Marshawn Lynch. In standard leagues, feel free to grab around around the 2/3 turn. Any later than that is a value. In PPR leagues, even though the official Rotoballer Rankings have him just one spot lower at the RB15, I would be much more hesitant, but that's largely because I simply have no interest in RBs that don't catch passes in PPR formats. He would have to fall to the late third/early fourth round before I'd consider it worth it.


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