Jordan Howard: Trade Fallout
There has been a lot of hype about the Jordan Howard trade to the Eagles. What does it all really mean? While it is a little too early to tell, this article will attempt to examine what the Eagles may be getting in return for their 6th round pick in 2020 and what this means for the Chicago Bears backfield.
The Good Howard
Howard burst on to the scene as a rookie out of Indiana when the Bears drafted him in the fifth round of the 2016 draft. He finished as the RB10 (PPR) in 2016 despite playing just 15 games. Howard is also the only other running back in the league to eclipse 900 yards rushing in the past three years besides Ezekiel Elliott. That is pretty impressive company. Howard was well above the positional average in all but two weeks in 2016.
Howard ran for 1313 yards (5.2 YPA) and reached pay dirt seven times in 2016. He also added 298 yards receiving (10.3 YPR) for good measure. The future was bright for the young rookie and dynasty owners were elated to get him at an ADP of 2.04 and RB9 (data courtesy of fantasyfootballcalculator.com).
The “Not as Good” Howard
Howard took a small step back in 2017 when he fell to RB14. This is still solid production but with a second-round ADP in fantasy, you were certainly hoping for more. Howard still broke the 1,000 mark but saw his yards per attempt drop over a yard to 4.1. His receiving yardage was also cut in half as he saw just 125 yards through the air. His yards per catch also was cut in half, dipping to 5.4 yards per reception.
The concerning part of this is that Howard played a full 16 game season in 2017 and every stat category besides touchdowns was down from 2016. He broke the plane nine times salvaging his fantasy year somewhat, but Howard was only above average in just over half of his games.
Reason for Concern
Howard fell all the way to RB20 in 2018 with the arrival of Matt Nagy and the departure of John Fox. The result was a career low in rushing yards. He did still score nine touchdowns to maintain some relevance for fantasy purposes. Again, with a second-round pick ADP redraft, you were expecting much more.
You can see below that Howard’s rank versus opportunity has steadily declined since his stellar rookie year.
There is some concern about the yards per attempt steadily dropping from 5.2 in 2016 to 4.1 in 2017 and all the way down to 3.7 last season. To put this in perspective, guys like Alfred Morris and Peyton Barber averaged more yards per attempt in 2018.
It is hard to know how Doug Pederson plans on using Howard. The Eagles have used a running back by committee approach since Pederson replaced Chip Kelly in 2016. The Eagles have not had a running back finish better than fantasy RB24. That was in 2016 and in fact, the highest running back finish in 2017 and 2018 was RB45 and RB42 respectively. The excitement in the fantasy community is understandable, but I think as a whole we need to temper expectations.
The Eagles already have two Howard type running backs on the team with Wendell Smallwood and Corey Clement. Howard is 6-foot and weighs 224 pounds. Smallwood is 5-foot-10 and weighs 208 pounds. Clement measures in at 5-foot-10 and 220 pounds.
The two of them were also more productive on a point per opportunity basis than Howard.
In fact, if you combine the touches of Smallwood and Clement from 2018, they far out produced Howard from a fantasy point perspective. Howard had 182 points on 277 touches. Smallwood and Clement posted an impressive 196.5 points on just 215 touches. That is 1.09 points per touch for the duo and just .66 points per touch for Howard.
You can find all of this great data here.
Impact on the Bears
What this means in terms of the Chicago Bears running backs is significant. The signing of Mike Davis led to the departure of Howard and Tarik Cohen was already a valuable fantasy asset before the departure of Howard. There is a lot of chatter about the Bears pursuing a running back in the draft. Let’s examine the possibilities before and after the draft.
Cohen finished as the RB11 in PPR in 2018. The arrival of Davis and the departure of Howard has his arrow pointing up. Cohen amassed an amazing 71 catches on 91 targets in Nagy’s offense. Cohen averaged an impressive .96 points per touch. This ranked just .08 points per touch behind James Conner.
With the departure of Howard, Cohen could see close to 100 targets and a certain bump in carries from the 99 he received last year. Davis has shown some chops as a receiver with a career-high 34 catches on 42 targets last year in Seattle, but I don’t think that is why the Bears brought Davis in. If the Bears don’t add a running back in the draft or free agency, draft Cohen as a low-end RB1 or high-end RB2.
Davis actually averaged more points per touch than Chris Carson (.94 to .67) in 2018. Davis quietly finished as the RB36 in PPR last year after finally playing in 15 games. The three years prior he only played in six, eight and six games respectively. The details in the contract show the Bears are somewhat committed to him. Davis signed a two-year, $6M contract with a $2M signing bonus.
Jordan Howard was scheduled to make $2M this year so this was not a salary dump by the Bears. Unless they draft or sign a free agent running back, Davis could be in the mix for a substantial workload.
Davis was a solid signing for the Bears but there are a lot of rumblings that the Bears are looking at a running back in the draft. This was also evident when they were rumored to have considered signing Kareem Hunt.
There are rumors that the Bears are looking for a three-down, two-speed back a la Miles Sanders. If they do draft a back or bring in another free agent, like T.J. Yeldon, the outlooks for Cohen and Davis will certainly change. Regardless, Cohen should get his share in the passing game.
Nagy has a penchant for getting his running backs involved either way. There is value to be had in the Bears backfield. Last year the Bears produced the 11th and 20th running back in PPR formats.
There is a reason for optimism that Jordan Howard can revive his career in Philadelphia. However, it is difficult to tell how Doug Pederson will use him. It is a crowded backfield with Smallwood, Clement, Josh Adams, and a possibly returning Darren Sproles. Adams has been rumored to be a cut candidate but that would still leave four backs to share the workload.
It is likely that Howard will serve as the goal line and short yardage back and will have some value. The hope is that Howard can return to his 2016 form. Time will tell.
As for the Bears, the draft or a free agent signing will go a long way in telling us where to go for fantasy production. My hunch is they go running back in the draft and Cohen stays heavily involved while Davis becomes a complimentary piece.