The best running back on the Eagles’ roster isn’t even on the Eagles’ roster.
With Miles Sanders out for the game Sunday against the Lions, there’s only one guy who makes sense to get the bulk of the carries.
It’s Jordan Howard, who's been in mothballs for most of the past two years and is currently toiling in obscurity on the Eagles’ practice squad.
After a quick start, Sanders hurt his ankle last Sunday in the loss to the Raiders. Boston Scott and Kenny Gainwell, the only other running backs on the roster, got the remainder of the carries, but neither is ideally a lead back. Even in this offense, where the carries have been few and far between.
Scott and Gainwell are both talented players, late-round picks who have their strengths. Both are skilled receivers, capable runners and undeniable goal-line weapons.
But both are best suited to be change-of-pace backs, third-down receivers, situational guys.
If you want to give a running back a dozen or more carries - and granted, that’s a rarity in this offense - Howard is Nick Sirianni’s only option.
First of all, you have to hope Sirianni finally understands the importance of a balanced offense. He’s spoken a lot this week about that first drive in Vegas, when Sanders got five carries for 30 yards, the Raiders’ defense was on its heels, Jalen Hurts hit a few big passes and the Eagles drove down the field in under four minutes and scored a touchdown.
It was the Eagles’ best drive since opening day, and it was run-heavy and maybe - just maybe - that’s a sign of things to come.
If it is - and it better be - Howard’s your guy.
You want a running back who can handle whatever you throw his way? Howard was one of the NFL’s best running backs from 2016 until his injury two years ago this week. He’s bounced around from the Eagles to the Dolphins and back to the Eagles since then, but he’s gotten just 35 carries in two years.
He’s rested, he’s experienced, he’s healthy and he knows this offense.
Howard is so consistent and steady. He’s had 32 career games with at least 15 carries, and he’s averaged at least 4.0 yards per carry in 25 of those games.
He’s a workhorse, he’s a tough blocker and he’s literally had two years to rest his body from nearly 900 carries from 2016 through the middle of 2019. Even though he’s a two-time 1,000-yard rusher and a former Pro Bowler who's been watching from the sideline for two years, he’s still only 26.
And he had a good enough training camp that most of us who saw him every day this summer felt like he deserved to make the team out of camp, although it’s understandable why he didn’t – this offense was supposed to feature lots of passing to the backs, and Sanders, Scott and Gainwell are natural receivers.
But if you want a guy to carry the load – if there is a load – it has to be Howard, who we all expect the Eagles to either sign from the practice squad to the 53 or make a game-day elevation in advance of the Lions game.
“We’ve got a guy, Jordan Howard, who I think is a very underrated player, who can offer a lot for a football team,” Jason Kelce said Wednesday.
Incredibly, despite missing nearly two full seasons, Howard is in the top 10 in the NFL in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns since he entered the league in 2016
In his last six games as a bellcow runner – the last six games he played in 2019 - Howard averaged 15.7 carries, 71.0 yards and 4.5 yards per carry.
That's who he is. You want to extend drives? You want to move the sticks? You want to convert third downs? He's your guy.
I don’t know if Howard is what Howie Roseman and Sirianni are looking for, but he’s exactly what they need.
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