Is Jordan Howard another Ezekiel Elliott or Todd Gurley? No. Those guys are on a different plane athletically.
Do the Eagles need an All-Pro running back? Also no. They won a Super Bowl with a backfield comprised of Jay Ajayi, LeGarrette Blount and Corey Clement.
But those statements, while true, dramatically undersell Howard’s ability and the potential for him to excel in the Eagles’ offense.
Howard is only 24 years old. He averaged over 1,100 yards rushing and eight touchdowns over his first three NFL seasons. Only Elliott and Gurley produced more yards on the ground during that span.
Yet, some have been quick to downplay the Howard addition, pointing to declining numbers the last two seasons, his lack of impact as a receiver out of the backfield and the Eagles’ tendency to rely on multiple backs. Again, all of that is true.
It’s also a fact Howard was playing in an offense with a below average passing attack the past two years. The Chicago Bears ranked dead last in the NFL in passing yards in 2017, and 21st in 2018. Opponents knew if they stopped the run, they would force Mitchell Trubisky to beat them.
Is it a coincidence Howard’s yards per carry dipped from 5.2 as a rookie to 4.1 and 3.7 in ensuing seasons? Or is it a symptom of seeing a steady barrage of eight-man fronts as part one of the league’s most predictable ground attacks?
Howard finished second with 1,313 yards in 2016. In the right situation, he can flourish.
And the Eagles already proved they don’t need a do-it-all feature back who’s going to double as a receiving threat. In 2017, Wendell Smallwood led the team’s runners with 13 receptions. Clement emerged as a viable receiver in the playoffs, but his 10 catches matched his season total.
It’s not like Howard is incapable of catching a pass, either. He recorded at least 20 receptions each season with the Bears, topping out with 29 grabs for 298 yards and a touchdown in ’16.
The Eagles are probably a lock to take another running back early in the draft and don’t write off Darren Sproles returning quite yet. The expectation here is very much Howard will be part of a rotation of some sort.
The expectation here is also for Howard to post numbers — specifically yards per carry — more in line with his rookie campaign.
Ajayi averaged 4.9 yards in 2016 and 3.4 the first seven games of 2017 with the Dolphins, but his YPC jumped to 5.8 over his final seven with the Eagles. Blount averaged 3.9 for the Patriots in 2016, then 4.4 for the Eagles in 2017.
Like Howard, Ajayi and Blount are not known for their prowess as dual-purpose backs. Still, in the Eagles’ pass-first offense with an MVP-caliber Carson Wentz at the helm, and behind a star-studded offensive line, that tandem carried the team to a world championship.
Howard’s best NFL season to date tops both Ajayi’s and Blount’s, and it was as a member of a 3-13 Bears team quarterbacked by Jay Cutler, Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley.
Now imagine Howard in midnight green, as arguably the offense’s fifth most dangerous weapon behind Alshon Jeffery, Zach Ertz, DeSean Jackson and Nelson Agholor; with Dallas Goedert and maybe even Darren Sproles also in the mix; with Jason Peters, Lane Johnson and Jason Kelce paving the way; and with Wentz back at 100 percent, throwing the ball for miles or taking off whenever the mood suits.
Howard might not be on the level of an Elliott or Gurley, but in the Eagles’ offense, he should also do a lot more than his last two seasons in Chicago suggest.
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