I live in Ohio which is smack dab in the middle of Big Ten country, so I am lucky to have a lot of Big Ten games broadcasted in my location. The conference is known for always having a large supply of talented running back prospects. In recent years the Big Ten has supplied the NFL with running backs like Le’Veon Bell, Melvin Gordon, Tevin Coleman, Ameer Abdullah and Montee Ball.
Draft enthusiasts have been salivating over Ezekiel Elliott. Can’t blame them, He’s the only bullet proof skilled player in this draft class. Even though he’s the only stud running back prospect it doesn’t mean there aren’t other running backs to enamor ourselves over during the draft process.
The Big Ten Conference has another running back that has potential to be one of the most productive skilled players in this draft class. Jordan Howard, running back from Indiana is a player that is not on a lot of people’s radar. He is currently ranked twenty-eighth in DLF’s overall rookie rankings and seventh amongst the rookie running backs.
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Howard was a two-star high school recruit from Gardendale High School which is just north of Birmingham Alabama. He was a three-year starter where he averaged 138.6 rushing yards per game. He rushed for 1,388 yards and 21 touchdowns in ten games during his senior season where he accumulated six multi-touchdown games. He then signed his letter of intent to play football for the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Howard broke out as an 18-year-old freshman by rushing for 881 yards and two touchdowns averaging 6.1 yards per attempt. He ranked second in the nation for rushing yards by a freshman, trailing just Alex Collins who had 1,026 yards. During his sophomore season he eclipsed the 100-yard mark during eight of the twelve games he played in. He rushed for 262 yards and one touchdown during the final game of the season against Southern Mississippi. He finished his sophomore season rushing for 1,587 yards and 13 touchdowns, finishing tenth nationally in rushing. After the 2014 season UAB disbanded their football program and Howard was able to transfer to the University of Indiana without losing a year of eligibility.
Howard started his tenure with Indiana off with a bang by rushing for four straight games with over 100-yards rushing until he injured his ankle during week five against Ohio State. During that four game span he was fifth in the nation in rushing while ranking first in the Big Ten. He also held a 36.49 percent market share of the team’s offensive output during those four games. The ankle injury he suffered against Ohio State slowed down his progress as he was on pace to become one of the top running backs in the nation. He finished his season with two impressive games against Iowa and Michigan; he torched Iowa for 174 yards rushing and two touchdowns and Michigan for 238 yards rushing and two touchdowns. Despite the bipolar ups and downs of his junior season, Howard rushed for 1,213 yards and nine touchdowns while catching eleven receptions for 106 yards and one touchdown.
Let’s take a look at Jordan Howard’s Mock Draftable Chart which entails his combine metrics and analytics compared to current and previous running back prospects.
The first thing you will notice is that he didn’t fully participate during the combine by not running in the 40-yard dash or the three cone drill.
One of the most encouraging things from this chart is his 6’0”/230 lb. frame which tells us he has the body structure to handle a full workload at the NFL level. His nine inch hand size is rather small and is ranked just twenty-second percentile amongst running backs.
His vertical jump of 34 inches is below average and is thirty-ninth percentile amongst running backs. On the contrary, he posted a 122 inch broad jump which was seventy-eighth percentile and well above average amongst running backs. Both metrics signify a player’s burst, from weighing the two jumps together you can make the inference that Howard has average acceleration while running with the football.
Howard didn’t participate in many of the drills at the combine, so there’s really isn’t much to work off of for his physical metrics. His breakout age, the age where he first achieved at least a 15 percent dominator rating, is in the ninety-second percentile amongst running backs. According to the site, players who break out before the age of 19 are considered “phenoms”.
His college dominator and college yards per carry are both considered average if you take in consideration of their percentile ranks. He has a 31.2 BMI which means he’s thick as a steak and can more than likely handle a lot of work between the tackles.
I spent a lot of time in the film room evaluating his mechanics and how he plays the game. Below is the Michigan game where he rushed for 238 yards and two touchdowns which is one of my favorite games that he played in. This game provides a great visual of his skill sets and gives you a good feel of what he can potentially do for an NFL team.
Howard is a human anvil because he likes to deliver as much force as possible during the point of impact. He is very good at getting his pad level low when meeting defenders in the hole. He is tough to tackle because he’s constantly driving forward and he doesn’t give up until the play is dead. Howard is a one-cut down hill runner who doesn’t mess around behind the line of scrimmage. He sees the open running lane and attacks it instantly. He allows his linemen to setup their blocks before he makes his move. Even when the play is dead and there is nowhere to go, he will try to gain the extra yard by lowering his shoulder and moving the pile. Howard’s ability to block linebacker and defensive linemen will get him playing time in the NFL. Like most rookies, he will miss assignments from time to time allowing the quarterback to take unnecessary hits.
One of the most glaring weaknesses to his game is his long speed. Defenders can chase him down from behind with ease in the open field. His lateral quickness is also suspect, but he’s quick enough to make one strong cut before hitting the hole. His potential would be optimized if he played at a lower weight, preferably five to ten pounders lighter. Dropping weight would make him faster and more explosive. Injuries are a concern, ankle and knee injuries kept him out of four games and parts of three others. His bruising running style allows him to take to many big hits. Although, he showed the ability to catch the ball on film, he wasn’t utilized in the passing game for Indiana or UAB.
Howard has the size and talent to be a three-down back for an NFL team. He would also serve well as the goal line or short-yardage back in a committee. He has the potential be drafted in the third-fourth round of the NFL Draft.
Where he lands in the draft could serve to be very important to his dynasty stock. If he lands on a team with a serious need at running back like Dallas, Denver or Philadelphia his stock could rise anywhere from an early second round pick to the middle of the first round of rookie drafts. Being part of a committee, which is highly likely, could kill his stock causing him to only be used for short yardage and goal line work. Howard could prove to be more of a solid football player than fantasy asset, but he has the potential of being a very productive player if he can obtain a three down role.