The Philadelphia Eagles retooled on offense in the spring, adding four-year veteran running back Jordan Howard in a trade with the Chicago Bears and bringing DeSean Jackson back into the fold, also via trade. D-Jax last played for Philly in 2013 before signing with the Washington Redskins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The pair of transactions gives fantasy footballers a familiar faces to ponder in the draft season. Howard was on track to be one of the most promising fantasy backs in Chicago after a strong rookie season in 2016. He has rushed for 18 touchdowns in two years since, and Howard mustered a respectable 1,122 yards on the ground as a sophomore prior to last year’s letdown. In each season since his rookie year, Howard’s explosive plays have decreased, with his rushing average plummeting from a career high of 5.2 down to 3.7.
In 2018, the Bears changed offensive systems and employed more of Tarik Cohen, which not only cut into Howard’s role but made him look out of place on the field. As the year progressed, Cohen flourished. Howard rarely seemed to fit the system, as illustrated by him averaging 2.4 yards per carry in Weeks 2-4. He would tote the rock more than 20 times only three times (half as many as 2017). Chicago utilized him more evenly as the season wore on, however. Howard finished the year with 53 carries over the final three games, adding four scores in that time.
Howard is a better receiver than his career stats suggest, and he has sung praises of the coaches involving him in the aerial game in organized team activities. The Eagles under Doug Pederson tend to require backs to be multifaceted. Pigeonholing Howard as a run-only type could be a mistake in 2019 drafts.
Entering a contract year, Howard could be quite motivated, since it’s pretty clear he won’t be the future of this backfield following the Eagles’ second-round selection of Penn State back Miles Sanders — another dual-action back capable of playing all three downs. Look for a true committee approach, and there’s a decent chance Sanders could carve out a larger role than Howard would like to see as the year moves along. Gamers are expecting it, given the way both players are being chosen in early drafts. Nevertheless, Sanders is a backup, and he will have to earn time. Corey Clement is also in the mix to spell Howard.
Fantasy football outlook
Howard is going, on average, in the early stages of Round 8 in PPR scoring. He has a hint more value in non-PPR thanks to a nose for paydirt. Sanders is usually going a few spots ahead, in the late seventh round. Handcuffing them is an option but not ideal. Barring an injury to one, look for many weeks of nearly even splits, and it’s tough to safely bank on either player as being truly better than the other.
Philadelphia barely ran two-back sets in 2018, and while that could increase slightly this season, don’t bank on it. Philly ran the ball 39.9 percent of its snaps last year, which ranked tied with — no surprise, KC — for the ninth-lowest share. Pederson comes from the Andy Reid tree, utilizing offensive designs that love to put the ball into the hands of running backs via short-area passing to create an extension of the ground game.
Howard goes as the 38th running back chosen, per ADP figures, which provides room for value in adding him as an underappreciated RB3 or flex. Gamers will flock to Sanders — let’s face it, people love the shiny, new toy over the established commodity. Use this to your advantage, albeit a small one. Howard can nicely fill out a backfield for gamers who opt for two running backs early and then load up on WRs and tight ends, even adding a quarterback before turning to a third back.
Even at 32 years old, Jackson still has his wheels. He averaged 18.9 yards per grab in 2018 with the Bucs. He turns 33 on Dec. 1, so even a slight regression is still much better than average.
Alshon Jeffery is mostly locked into his role in this offense as the chain-moving, red zone guy. Injuries are a given at this point, though, for both Jeffery and Jackson. The latter will see more work if the former goes down (the reverse isn’t as likely). Philadelphia added rookie JJ Arcega-Whiteside in the NFL draft, whose career outlook is bright, even if it takes a year or so before he gets a legitimate shot. Inconsistently productive, Nelson Agholor remains on the roster but could be moved during the season if the Eagles’ brass is turned on by AAF star Charles Johnson, JJAW or Mack Hollins.
This offense loves to spread the ball around, and quarterback Carson Wentz has his favorites (Jeffery, Zach Ertz). At this stage of Jackson’s career, he’ll be even further relegated to a one-dimensional role: Get down the field. That’s not to say this screen-happy offense won’t put the ball into D-Jax’s hands in close-quarters action and ask him to motor through a defense. Last year, he saw the second-greatest average target distance (18.9) and ranked a modest 20th in average separation.
Should Wentz suffer yet another serious injury, the offense will be turned over to the mostly untested hands of Nate Sudfeld. The drop-off could be catastrophic for receivers.
Jackson is barely draftable at this point, and he’s bound to get injured at some point. He has played 16 games in a season just twice in his career. His ADP is the turn of Rounds 10 and 11 in PPR, as the 48th receiver chosen — fair placement for roster depth. He’s WR45 in standard scoring, and that is the better system for his skills anyway. There’s little reason to target Jackson, but he isn’t totally avoidable, either. … Just understand what you’re getting out of him.