Dynasty Draft Profile: Jordan Howard
April 19, 2016 | Rich Hribar
* = Pro Day Results
After UAB shutdown their football program, Jordan Howard wasn’t forced to sit through the collegiate transfer rules and delivered a fine season at Indiana. The bump up in competition didn’t have any effect on his output as Howard ran for 140 or more yards in six of his nine games played last season, including a 238-yard rushing game against Michigan, who was a top-20 rushing defense in the nation last season.
Howard actually likely benefited from the jump to a Power Five conference due to overall surrounding environment as Indiana had one of the better offenses in the country, a far cry from their 2014 season. The Hoosier offense ranked 24th in points per game (36.5) and 14th in total yards per game (504) after ranking 90th and 64th in those marks a year ago. It’s not a major dent in what Howard accomplished, but it’s worth noting that Indiana didn’t miss a beat when he was absent from the lineup, averaging 167.5 rushing yards per game and scoring 38.5 points per game with him out.
Howard potentially being aided by environment also shows up when looking at his performance in Football Study Hall’s Highlight Yards data from last season.
|Player||Att||RuYd||YPC||Hlt Yds/Att||5+ Yd Att%||HltYd%|
Out of the top backs in this class, Howard ranked second overall in percentage of runs that went for five or more yards, but of the same group ranked third from the bottom in percentage of yardage that came afterwards. This suggests that not only isn’t he a splash play runner that isn’t going to tack on major yardage on the second and third levels, but also one that was playing in a system that may have boosted counting stats. Going back to his 2014 output against lesser competition, it’s something that lingers in the back of my mind, but isn’t overly pressing as a full proof knock.
The lack of producing that extra yardage on the end of could be monster runs in space lends itself to the type of archetype that Howard is facing entering the league as a runner. At 230 pounds, he’s the fourth heaviest back available in this draft class. Big backs are rarely great measurable athletes, and Howard is right around par or better in every measurable category for all backs that have entered the league at 225 pounds or heavier. His 40-yard time and agility marks are right at the 4.63 (40-yard), 7.13 (3Cone) 4.34 (shuttle) and 34” (vertical) average marks from that group, but Howard is packing a little extra explosion in the broad jump (116”) scoring compared to his average big bodied cohorts.
Given those marks in measured athleticism and final year production, we get these objective comparisons for Howard entering the league.
You can already see the picture being painted here with Howard fitting the mold of a traditional two down back that will be reliant on volume and scoring opportunities at the NFL level.
Howard caught only 24 passes in his college career, but he does have competent hands when it comes to the standard level of receptions required to make at the position. Getting those opportunities will be a stigma he’ll have to overcome, though. As mentioned when looking at the same hurdle that Derrick Henry may face in overcoming that stereotypical role matched with profile, 86 percent of the top-12 scoring backs over the last 10 NFL seasons caught at least 30 passes during the season.
Running backs that fit the profile as big bodied, two down bangers that are pedestrian athletes have shown they can increase their initial fantasy value recently in players like Eddie Lacy, Jeremy Hill, Carlos Hyde and Matt Jones, but we’ve also seen high end draft capital used on backs like Montee Ball, Terrance West and Daniel Thomas that ended up fizzling out quickly.
I know I’ve started to coat this outlook with a negative tint based on overall profile, so let’s get on a more positive track for a bit on Howard the individual player. For the role that he’s going to play, Howard is still a strong prospect and brings a lot to the table.
Despite his objective profile, Howard also isn’t your run of the mill gap scheme runner. In fact, he’s an outstanding zone runner. Although he’s very rigid, he does a tremendous job of staying balanced in knowing when to press a hole for a cutback or staying on the hips of his blockers and keeping the run to the perimeter. He made two outstanding touchdown runs in the same game versus Iowa last season that showcase how comfortable he is handling these types of designed runs.
Howard’s patience and manipulation of second level defenders is one of his main strengths and as you noticed from the above runs, if you’re an outstanding runner with persistence and vision, you can boost your lack of measured athleticism quite a bit during a given a play.
Howard runs with a narrow base for a big back, but unlike a back like Henry who will often go down on lower body contact, Howard is finishing runs with contact. Per Pro Football Focus, he led the country in yards after contact per attempt at 3.7 yards per carry. You’re not going to arm tackle Howard in any capacity and even if you’re bringing pad your pads, that’s not always going to get it done, either.
There are some traits that separate Howard from being typecast as a traditional plodder, but I also find him to be a heightened version of David Cobb from a year ago. I have a phobia about one gear runners because they tend to get worked out of the NFL quickly, even if they find spouts of success in a given year because that is largely centered on running into a perfect offensive climate.
While Howard is inherently not the type of back I pursue when constructing rosters from the ground up, the good news is that he is currently very cheap. Pre-Draft Rookie ADP at Dynasty League Football has him at 18th overall and the sixth running back off the board. That’s extremely fair value for a player that could end up being arbitrage on Derrick Henry if he falls into the right place. Howard isn’t the type of running back that I often pursue from a profile stance, but he is one that has double digit touchdown upside in a good offense, which at his cost makes him a good pick up in hopes of him starting off hot and increasing his initial value immediately which can lead to an open door of future transaction options for an owner. Howard won’t be a player I’m aggressive on in rookie drafts, but I won’t ignore his range of outcomes when they sync up with a palatable price tag, especially if he lands on a roster where he can have a line on an early role.