Dolphins Position Preview: Running Backs
With the start of training camp on the horizon, let's break down the running back position by examining the 2019 performance, the offseason changes on the roster and what to expect this summer.
PLAYERS AT POSITION ON THE ROSTER: Jordan Howard, Matt Breida, Kalen Ballage, Myles Gaskin, Patrick Laird, Malcolm Perry, FB Chandler Cox
2020 TRANSACTIONS: Signed Jordan Howard as an unrestricted free agent from Philadelphia (March 21) ... Acquired Matt Breida from the San Francisco 49ers in exchange for a 2020 5th-round pick (April 25) ... Selected Malcolm Perry in the seventh round of the 2020 NFL draft (April 25) ... Released Samaje Perine (April 26) ... Waived De'Lance Turner (May 16)
KEY 2019 STATS: Kalen Ballage 74 carries, 135 yards, 1.8 average, 3 touchdowns; Patrick Laird 62 carries, 168 yards, 2.7 average, 1 touchdown; Myles Gaskin 36 carries 133 yards, 3.7 average, 1 touchdown
2019 RECAP: The Dolphins began the 2019 season thinking they had good depth at running back with Kenyan Drake, Ballage and former University of Miami standout Mark Walton, who appeared ready to make the most of his another chance. To say things didn't go well for the running backs would be an understatement. Drake was the subject of trade rumors until he indeed was sent to the Arizona Cardinals for a fifth-round pick; Walton was arrested while serving a league suspension and immediately dismissed; and Ballage was on his way to setting a dubious record for lowest rushing average before his season ended when he sustained a torn Achilles tendon in the Dec. 1 game against the Eagles. Laird and Gaskin each eventually got a chance to run the ball as rookies, but it was quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick who ended leading the team in rushing. Although the sub-par performance of the offensive line no doubt played a large role, it was not a season to remember for any Dolphins running back.
THE TOP SUMMER STORYLINE: The first thing that stands out here is Perry and how the Dolphins end up using him. Let's face it, he may be listed as a running back on the roster, but there's no way he'll be a pure running back for the Dolphins. The best guess is he'll be used as a gadget player on offense, whether he's lined up in the backfield, in the slot or even taking the occasional snap as the quarterback under center or in the Wildcat formation. It's also going to be interesting to see, first, whether Ballage is fully recovered from his Achilles injury and how he can bounce back from a painful season in more ways than one — and whether he'll be able to convince the Dolphins to keep him on the active roster.
PROJECTED OPENING-DAY STARTER: There's little question that Howard and Breida will end up getting the bulk of the work at running back, and it might not even matter who is the one in the lineup at the start of the game. Because Howard is better physically equipped to handle more carries, the best guess is that he'll be the one starting more often than not, including the opener at Gillette Stadium.
Alain Poupart has covered the Miami Dolphins on a full-time basis since 1989. You can follow him on Twitter at @apoupartFins.