Who are the Sharks? They’re self-made fantasy football players who are also savvy dynasty owners and traders.
Mike Randle (@RandleRant) made his name as the co-host of the Pickin’ up the Blitz podcast.
Riley Bymaster (@DTC_RileyB) is a ranker for Fantasy Pros and co-host of the Dynasty Wall Street podcast.
Travis Teschner (@TravisTeschner) is a thought leader and dynasty expert who built his fantasy knowledge on evaluating NFL Draft prospects.
And Meng Song (@FFA_Meng), perpetual dynasty trader, and the co-host of the Fantasy Football Addicts podcast.
The following are actual evaluations and analysis from the fantasy “Sharks.” The Sharks submitted their opinions independently without any prior knowledge of each other’s stances on the selected player.
Entering the tank today is Chicago Bears running back Jordan Howard.
Hey, Sharks. The Bears drafted me in the fifth round of the 2016 NFL Draft, and I’ve averaged over 1,200 rushing yards in the last two seasons since entering the league. My current market valuation is around the 1.04 rookie pick, and you should definitely invest in me. What do you say, Sharks?
Howard has quickly become the Rodney Dangerfield of 2018 fantasy running backs: no respect. In 2017, he finished as the RB10 in standard and the RB14 in PPR formats following a 2016 season finish as the RB9 in standard and RB10 in PPR. Factor in the plethora of negative game scripts that Chicago experienced during those back-to-back losing seasons, and it would appear that a top-10 RB finish is all but guaranteed for Howard in 2018.
But not so fast. When measuring dynasty value, Howard falls short. He is the quintessential between-the-tackles grinder, an abundant commodity in today’s NFL. While he projects to have a solid fantasy season in 2018, a running back barely measuring 6’0 and 230 lbs, running a 4.57-second 40-yard dash, is not worth a high level of investment. Would the Bears offense really skip a beat if their starting running back were C.J. Anderson instead of Howard?
The crutch to Howard’s future fantasy value is his lack of passing game involvement. In his last college season at Indiana, Howard was nearly invisible in the passing game, totaling only 11 receptions in 2015. Before that, he tallied just 13 total receptions during his first two seasons at UAB. Howard truthers will point to his 23 receptions on 32 targets last season as a sign for optimism, but that usage should be attributed to poor coaching, and those targets would’ve been better allocated to Tarik Cohen.
With new Bears head coach Matt Nagy bringing in his affinity for the short passing game, look for Cohen to steal even more work from Howard. 2019 signals the end of Howard’s rookie deal, and a long-term commitment from Chicago is uncertain. Given the high-potential rookie running backs available at 1.04, I’d much prefer Derrius Guice, Rashaad Penny, or Nick Chubb to Howard. I just can’t justify investing that much in a replaceable NFL asset. I’m out.
Howard is one of the more interesting cases heading into the 2018 season for several reasons. Even with zero offensive talent around him last season, he ran well, managing 4.1 yards per carry despite running into consistently stacked defensive boxes. Howard enters this season with a new head coach and innovative offensive mind who looks to carry over the offensive firepower from his days in Kansas City.
The change from John Fox to Nagy is a definite improvement for the Bears offense and Howard’s fantasy outlook. Howard is locked in as Chicago’s early-down back and is likely to be the focal point of the offense with sophomore quarterback Mitchell Trubisky still learning the ropes of leading an NFL offense. Because Trubisky is still extremely raw, expect Nagy to run the ball to set up the pass. I’d project Howard to take the vast majority of first and second down snaps with Cohen likely handling most of the third-down work due to Howard’s inability to catch. While Cohen’s presence will limit Howard’s value to some extent, it shouldn’t significantly impact his ability to score fantasy points on the ground.
Howard’s price point is most definitely in the early-to-mid first round range. There is only one instance in which I would not buy Howard at the 1.04 price, and that is if somehow Guice were still on the board at that point in the rookie draft. In that scenario and that scenario only, I’d take the 1.04 pick and draft Guice instead. Barring that situation though, I’d take Howard over other rookie running backs such as Chubb, Ronald Jones, and the massively overrated Royce Freeman. Howard will outproduce all three with ease in 2018 and beyond. Count me in.
Full transparency here that I am a lifelong Bears fan–MJ over LeBron, deep dish pizza for all three meals, and Ditka could beat your favorite coach in a fight; I am a bit biased. That said, we are talking about investing significant fantasy capital if we are buying Howard for the 1.04 rookie pick. After a spectacular rookie year during which he racked up 1,313 yards on the ground and 298 yards through the air, he came back down to earth a bit last season with 1,122 rushing yards and just 125 receiving. While he’s a very good runner, and his 2017 stat line was still good enough to return low-end RB1 or high-end RB2 production in most leagues, the knock on Howard is his inability to catch the ball consistently. Does his strength as a runner outweigh his weakness as a pass-catcher to make him worth an early rookie pick?
Late into the 2017 season, the Bears lost their identity. The emergence of Cohen and injuries to Chicago’s interior offensive linemen caused the Bears to seemingly abandon some of the inside zone schemes that Howard thrived on. Fans watched in frustration as Howard would try to turn the corner but fail to find space to get downhill. His efficiency fell off, and he ended up being a very volatile and inconsistent fantasy running back over the final six games of the season, though two rushing touchdowns each in Weeks 14 and 16 helped fantasy owners in the playoffs.
This offseason, the Bears have made significant investments to revamp the offense and surround Trubisky with offensive talent. So what does it mean for Howard and his value? During Nagy’s tenure in Kansas City, the offensive play-calling split was 58% pass and 42% run. Andy Reid drove much of that split, but it’s interesting to note that once Nagy took a more active role in play-calling, the rate increased to a 59% passing split. While some of that was dictated by game flow and Kansas City’s issues with their secondary, Howard stands to cede even more snaps to Cohen this year if this trend continues. The bright side is that Nagy will also employ an offensive scheme predicated on run-pass options and use inside zone and shotgun run plays that will allow Howard to explode downhill. The Bears should also be a more efficient scoring offense, raising Howard’s ceiling for rushing touchdowns. But even so, Howard’s inability to be a reliable receiver out of the backfield likely strips him of his RB1 upside in PPR formats.
In all likelihood, one of Chubb or Sony Michel will be available at 1.04, and I’m going to plant my flag on Chubb instead of Howard. Chubb’s 2018 upside may be capped barring an injury to Carlos Hyde or Duke Johnson, but his talent makes him a high-potential running back in 2019 and beyond. Chubb’s ability as a runner makes his floor similar to what Howard has produced, but his ability to play on all three downs makes his ceiling far higher. For that reason, I’m sorry, but I can’t invest in Howard at such a high price.
Since entering the league, Howard has had a phenomenal first two seasons for both the Bears and his fantasy owners. And yet, despite back-to-back season as a low-end RB1 or high-end RB2 in both standard and PPR formats, the dynasty community seems to consistently undervalue Howard. However, this may be your last chance to buy Howard at such a discounted rate.
Last season, Chicago was horrendous on offense for many reasons, but the state of the offensive line certainly didn’t help. Per Football Outsiders, the Bears had the fifth-worst run-blocking line in the league last year with only 3.65 adjusted line yards. Despite this, Howard still managed a healthy 4.1 yards per carry while rushing for over 1,100 yards and nine touchdowns. A healthy Kyle Long returning at right guard should be a boost, and the Bears also drafted James Daniels in the second round to fill the vacancy at left guard due to Josh Sitton’s departure. Though Daniels will be moving to guard, Pro Football Focus had him as their highest graded run-blocking center, and he should find those run-blocking attributes transferrable.
But Meng! Howard can’t catch, which drops his value in PPR formats! As Mike so kindly pointed out, Howard was the RB14 last year and the RB10 in 2016 in PPR scoring. I’ll be the first to admit that Howard looks awkward catching the ball, and receiving is not his forte, but that hardly matters for fantasy purposes. The important thing is that he will have a continued abundance of opportunities on the ground, especially near the goal line. In 2017, the Bears defense ranked ninth in points allowed and tenth in yards allowed. With first-round draft pick Roquan Smith anchoring Vic Fangio’s defense, expect continued efficiency on defense, which should in turn help give Howard some run-heavy game scripts. But that’s not all. Per Pro Football Focus’ Scott Barrett, Chicago has the easiest strength of schedule for running backs this coming season (note the great match-ups below for the fantasy playoffs as well):
2018 just may be the perfect storm of talent and opportunity for Howard to showcase a truly elite performance on the field and in fantasy. A lot will depend on the success of Trubisky in Nagy’s new scheme, but the Bears offense seem poised to take a big step forward with the addition of weapons like Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Anthony Miller, and Trey Burton. So what if Howard can’t catch? Expect another productive fantasy RB1 or RB2 season purely from his production on the ground. I’ll happily invest in him for the 1.04 rookie pick.
It appears we have a split decision here, Jordan. Mike and Travis are out, but Riley and Meng are in at your 1.04 valuation. Let’s see how your 2018 season plays out!
Alright, Riley and Meng, we’ll show them! Bear down!