Where's the Respect for the Running Backs?

Alain Poupart

It's kind of a running joke to point out that Ryan Fitzpatrick led the Dolphins in rushing last season, though it was no laughing matter watching the running game struggle in 2019.

While the offensive line deserved a large part of the blame for the problems, the Dolphins also determined they needed some upgrades at the running back position and that's why they went out and signed Jordan Howard as a free agent and acquired Matt Breida in a trade.

But, if we are to believe ESPN's position rankings, the Dolphins have a running back group that's no better than 30th in the NFL.

Is that selling Howard and Breida short?

Well, let's look at some numbers:

Since he entered the NFL in 2016 as a fourth-round pick, Howard has the third-most rushing yards in the entire NFL with 3,895.

He trails only Ezekiel Elliott and Todd Gurley, and ranks ahead of most well-known running backs like Derrick Henry, Mark Ingram, Melvin Gordon and Christian McCaffrey.

Of the players in the top 20 in rushing over the past four years, Howard has the fifth-best average per rushing attempt at 4.34. He trails only Ingram (4.94), Henry (4.77), McCaffrey (4.69) and Elliott (4.62).

And then there's Breida, whose 4.99 rushing average is the third-best in the NFL since 2017 among the 34 running backs with at least 1,500 rushing yards.

Breida was part of a running back by committee with the 49ers and he's more of a change-of-pace back, so maybe it's more understandable that he be overlooked.

But it's a little strange when it comes to Howard, who had 1,000-yard performances his first two seasons in the NFL with the Bears.

“Yeah, I’ve definitely felt overlooked," Howard said. "When I was racking up a lot of those yards, I was on a losing team, so people didn’t really pay attention to that. I don’t really blame them; but yeah, I definitely feel like I’m overlooked.”

Howard now will be playing for his third team in three years after going from the Bears to the Eagles last offseason.

The Dolphins signed Howard to a two-year contract worth $9.75 million with almost $5 million guaranteed, according to overthecap.com, but the deal is structured in a way that the team easily could walk away from the contract next spring.

Breida, meanwhile, was tendered as a restricted free agent before the 49ers sent him to Miami.

He entered the NFL as a rookie free agent, something he's used as added motivation throughout his career.

“I’m always going to have that chip on my shoulder," Breida said. "I mean, I came into the league undrafted. That’s always going to be with me no matter where I go or what I do. That’s just my mentality. Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve always had a chip on my shoulder. That’s never going to change. However people view me, that’s how they view me. I just control what I can control and that’s how good I play on the field.”

Howard and Breida certainly look like an upgrade over what the Dolphins had at running back in 2019, even though Kenyan Drake was a talented runner.

Even with the same cast returning, improvement on the offensive line would have led to better production in the running game.

How much more production could well depend on what kind of play the Dolphins can get from Howard and Breida.

In the process, they could earn some of the respect they seem to be lacking.

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