By Steve Klasskin (@klazk)
Jordan Howard put himself into some very select company with his rookie campaign last year. After being selected by the Bears in the fifth round, he took over as the starting running back for the Bears in week four and never looked back.
When the dust settled, Howard had become one of only 26 rookie RBs in NFL history to accumulate more than 1,500 yards from scrimmage. (Filter courtesy of pro-football-reference.com http://www.pro-football-reference.com/play-index/psl_finder.cgi#results::none)
I decided to look at Howard in relation to others in this group and see if it would give me any hints at what owners should do with their shares after his breakout rookie campaign. Most owners have already seen a significant return on investment from the second round rookie pick they likely spent on him last offseason. Howard’s dynasty value has increased since he first appeared at 152 in February 2015 to this offseason when he has become a consistent third round start-up pick.
The first thing that jumped out is that of the 24 backs on the list (excluding Howard and Zeke), only two never had another season with at least 1,200 yards from scrimmage (Steve Slaton and Don Woods). Over 50% of this list surpassed 1,500 yards from scrimmage again in their sophomore campaign and 70% finished with over 1,200.
Those odds, combined with the fact that nothing has really changed for Howard in Chicago, paint a very positive picture for Howard in 2017. He has the same coaching staff, a solid interior offensive line and the Bears only invested in Tarik Cohen (fourth round pick) and Bennie Cunningham during the draft and free agency.
However, when you dig a little deeper, what those players did in subsequent seasons brings to light some concerns worth noting. When looking at the average production of the group over the next 3 seasons, especially factoring in draft position, the trend is not promising.
Acknowledging the fifth round and later sample size is small (only four players), the graphs still highlight something that is important to remember before we get carried away with Howard’s value. He lacks draft capital. The split in the list between top 10 and not top 10 overall picks is close to 50/50 (14/12). Late round RBs are often viewed as replaceable in the NFL. A coaching change as soon as next year (Fox’s job is far from secure) or an injury combined with a breakout by someone else on the roster could potentially lead to Howard losing his job and never being given the opportunity to reclaim it. The drop-off in the graphs above not only occurred for late round RBs, but for the RBs that were not top 10 overall draft picks.
When you revisit the positive sophomore results mentioned early and look only at the non-top-10 NFL draft picks, the results are not as encouraging. For those RBs, only 27% surpassed 1,500 yards again in their second year and 64% topped 1,200.
Unless you love Howard’s skillset as an RB and think he was extremely under-drafted by the NFL, I would seriously be considering moving Howard this offseason. With his current situation, you might want to wait until you are in season and he is producing again if you think you will be able to get more in return. If he is like his late round compatriots in this list, however, his value is likely never going to be higher than it is today.