By: Jesse Patterson - May 29th 2019
Jordan Howard has seemingly been the subject of trade rumors from the time Matt Nagy was named head coach of the Chicago Bears in 2018. Despite these reports being shot down repeatedly over the course of the offseason and regular season, they just never seemed to fully go away. In February of 2019 CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora once again reported that the Bears were shopping the one-dimensional runner, who just did not seem to be a good fit in Nagy’s system. On March 7th, ESPN’s Adam Schefter chimed in, stating Chicago was once again shopping Howard at the Combine. Finally, on March 28th, the saga came to a conclusion as Howard was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles for a conditional 6th round pick in 2020. Howard is entering the final year of his rookie contract and is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent at season’s end. In Philadelphia he slides into the vacated Jay Ajayi role and joins an Eagles depth chart filled out by former 5th rounder Wendell Smallwood and undrafted free agents Corey Clement and Josh Adams.
In 2018, Philadelphia’s 367 rushing attempts ranked 20th in the NFL, while it’s 599 pass attempts ranked 7th. In 2017 however, the Eagles ranked 6th with 472 rushing attempts while ranking 13th with 564 attempted passes. Doug Peterson has shown that he is willing to utilize both the pass and the run depending on game situation and personnel, and I suspect that the drop in rushing attempts in 2018 was based on the injuries suffered at the position. The Eagles lost Ajayi and Darren Sproles in early October, while Clement and Smallwood battled injuries throughout the year. Howard has never missed a game over his three year professional career, which may have been a factor for the Eagles in dealing for him. I envision an early-down and goal-line role for Howard in 2019, which should allow for similar statistical success to what he experienced in Chicago. Last season he finished as the PPR RB20, slipping slightly from his RB14 rank the previous season. Barring the Eagles using an early draft pick at the position, we can safely assume Howard will see somewhere in the 220-240 rushing attempt range, pushing for nearly 1000 yards and 6-8 touchdowns. Overall, the change in scenery should do little to affect Howard’s value as a solid RB2 on fantasy squads. Overall I see this move as a good fit for both player and team and expect the move to pay off in 2019. Prior to the trade ,Howard had an ADP of 96 overall as the RB37 according to DLF, as dynasty owners waited to see if and where he would be moved. I suspect this trade will result in a slight bump upwards into the late 20s or early 30s at the position, as his situation has cleared itself up.
Meanwhile, in Chicago, the Bears enter their second season under head coach Matt Nagy. In 2018 they seemingly came out of nowhere, riding a superbly strong defense to an NFC North division title and a playoff berth. Utilizing both Howard and electrifying second-year runner Tarik Cohen, the Bears actually ranked 6th in the NFL with 468 rushing attempts. Howard leaving vacates 250 carries, some of which will go to Cohen, though at 5’6 and 181 lbs he is unlikely to stand up to a full season of heavy between-the-tackles contact. Enter newly signed free agent, former Seahawk Mike Davis. Davis, originally selected in the 4th round of the 2015 draft by the San Francisco 49ers, enjoyed his most productive professional season in 2018, rushing 112 times for 514 yards and 4 touchdowns, while also snagging 34 passes for an additional 214 yards and a score. His versatility as both a runner and passing game weapon, compliment Cohen’s skillset very well, and seems to be more in line with Nagy’s preference at the position. Though he is entering his fifth season in the league, the 26-year-old Davis has very little wear on his tires, with only 234 career rushing attempts. Davis’ build is slightly better suited for the punishing between the tackles runs the Bears may be hesitant to give to Cohen. He is listed at 5’9 and 217 lbs and seemed to hold up fairly well last season in Seattle in that role.
Former undrafted free agents Taquan ‘Smoke’ Mizzell and Ryan Nall round out the current Bears depth chart. Of the two, Nall seems to be the more likely to vulture goal-line or short yardage looks, standing 6’2 and 232 lbs. While Davis did have 21 red-zone rushing attempts in 2018 to Cohen’s 13, Cohen out-targeted Davis 14 -1 inside the 20. The Bears also may continue to use Cohen in the return game, where he was named an All-Pro in 2018 for his punt return skills, though the addition of free agent Cordarrelle Patterson may be a sign that Chicago plans to lighten Cohen’s workload on special teams. The Bears may also look to the upcoming draft to add another runner to the backfield, but as it stands, Davis is in line for a significant boost in value in the short-term. Chicago does not have a first or second round pick, so any rookie selected would have to be in the later stages of the draft.
Free agency has some interesting options still available such as T.J. Yeldon, Spencer Ware, Ajayi or Doug Martin, but I believe that the Bears signed Davis with the intent of pairing him with Cohen and featuring both. Davis signed a 2 year, $6 million contract on March 13, though it is heavily front-loaded. Essentially the deal is a one-year prove-it contract, with Chicago able to move on after the 2019 season with very little financial repercussions.. In Chicago’s spread-out offense, Davis should see in the neighborhood of 200-215 carries, with another 25-30 receptions. He should easily challenge for 1000 all-purpose yards and 4-6 touchdowns, making him a high-upside RB3 or low-end RB2 in fantasy leagues. Prior to the trade, he was being selected as the RB90, 276th overall according to DLF’s ADP data, though I expect that number to climb significantly based on the Howard trade. If you were smart enough to buy Davis prior to this move, you should be feeling proud of yourself, if you are looking to shore up your running back depth, your window to acquire him at a discount may have just closed. Overall, Mike Davis is the biggest beneficiary of this trade, though Cohen’s role should also increase.