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Jordan Howard to Dolphins: Fantasy Impact

Lost among the quarterback shuffle of free agency and news of the G.O.A.T. heading to Tampa Bay is the fact that the other Florida team was busy making moves too. Since the new league year began on March 18, the Dolphins have signed Byron Jones, Shaq Lawson, Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts, Emmanuel Ogbah, and Ereck Flowers among others. None of those players will have any impact for fantasy football owners outside of deep IDP leagues, though.

There is one signing that does have fantasy ramifications, however, and that is the two-year deal given to tailback Jordan Howard. It's no secret the Dolphins were in the market for a running back after shuffling through players in their backfield all season long in 2019.

The fantasy community hasn't held Howard in high regard recently, so it will be intriguing to see if this moves the needle in terms of his draft stock at all. Of course, much of that depends on what else the Fins do this offseason at the position. For the time being, let's reflect on Howard's accomplishments and determine what his fantasy value is at the moment.

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Beginner's Luck?

Jordan Howard has been mostly dismissed by the fantasy football community over the last couple of years, largely due to the fact that he has continued to fail in living up to expectations set in his rookie year of 2016. Ironically, he entered the league with no fanfare as a fifth-round pick from Indiana University; he was undrafted by consensus ADP rankings that preseason and mostly unowned until Week 4 of that year when he went for 111 rushing yards against Detroit. He went on to post seven 100-yard rushing efforts and found the end zone seven times, good for an RB9 fantasy finish on the season.

In 2017, Howard was firmly on the fantasy radar and largely delivered. He tallied 1,247 scrimmage yards with nine touchdowns and followed up with 1,080 total yards and nine touchdowns in 2018. Unfortunately, his effectiveness waned as his rushing average dropped from 5.2 down to 3.7 over those three years. This dip in efficiency led to diminishing returns in the face of rising ADP. Howard then moved on to Philadelphia to see if he could recapture the magic of his rookie campaign.

The story of his tenure in Philly, short as it was, is mostly one of misfortune. Howard got off to a slow start, averaging 49.6 rushing yards per game in Weeks 1-7. Then, he came alive. Howard ran for 96 yards and a touchdown, chipping in another 15 through the air in Week 8 on the road in Buffalo against the second-ranked team defense. He then ran for 82 yards and a touchdown against his former team, Chicago, in Week 9 - another top-10 run defense. A shoulder injury would then knock him out until the final week of the season and allowed rookie Miles Sanders to emerge as the team's RB1 of the present and future.

Now, Howard joins his third team and looks for a fresh start. At the age of 25, he is far from old, even for a running back, so if healthy he could return to his hard-running ways. He managed 4.4 yards per carry last season and was among the most efficient backs in the league, according to NFL NextGenStats. With a good offensive line in front of him, Howard could still be effective.

 

Can the Dolphins Offense Be Trusted?

That's a tricky question since the NFL Draft will alter the trajectory of this franchise, potentially for the next decade. That assumes, of course, that they will select a quarterback such as Tua Tagovailoa or Justin Herbert with the fifth overall pick.

The Fins are coming off a season where they were dead last in team rushing yards with 1,156. Their leading ground-gainer was 37-year-old quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick with 243 yards on scrambles. The puzzling trade of Kenyan Drake for a meager return of a failed rotation of Kalen Ballage, Mark Walton, Patrick Laird, and Myles Gaskin (don't forget Samaje Perine!) This is why they were in desperate need to upgrade at RB, among other things. While the lack of a solid rusher was partly to blame, the entire team was a disaster from the beginning, other than Fitzmagic of course.

The earlier-mentioned signings on the defensive side of the ball could lead the team to keep scores closer rather than constantly playing from behind. That means less passing and more chances to establish the running game. It's unlikely the team will be in the upper half of the offensive standings, particularly in the running game, but we shouldn't assume they will dwell at the bottom again either.

 

Still Fantasy Relevant... For Now

Technically, Howard will serve as the Dolphins' top running back until they sign another veteran to compete with him or, more likely, select one in the upcoming NFL Draft. Our draft guru Brandon Murchison projects the Fins to take D'Andre Swift at the end of the first round. While Swift, or any other rookie, would have to show well in training camp and earn snaps, there is a good chance the exact same situation could play out as last year in Philadelphia.

While there's a very good chance the team spends one of its numerous draft picks on a running back early on, I don't personally believe they'll grab one in the first round. Instead, they are likely to opt for a pass-catching back like Clyde Edwards-Helaire on day two to complement Howard. This would make for an ideal 1-2 punch where Howard runs on early downs and their new pass-catching back plays on third down and obvious passing situations. This wouldn't be too different from Howard's second and third seasons in Chicago when Tarik Cohen caught a total of 124 passes and served as a change-of-pace back with 186 rush attempts. Although Howard declined in fantasy value from his rookie year under this new timeshare, his numbers were still solid.

If Miami does take a running back in the first round, then Howard is effectively stuck in a timeshare at best. The worst-case scenario is that he serves as a backup to a budding young star runner or simply can't stay healthy, both of which are real risks.

Howard is unlikely to return to his former glory or RB1 status in fantasy. Nobody is expected that, naturally, even with him landing in an ideal spot with an RB-starved team. His current ADP in best-ball drafts doesn't reflect a ton of confidence in him at RB44 (130 overall), although it has risen by 40 spots since before the free agency period began. He will be more valuable in standard leagues than PPR, but he does make for a smart pick in best-ball drafts as your fourth running back. His stock will be affected greatly by the upcoming NFL Draft, so monitor the team's moves closely.

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