During the 2019 NFL season there was no question that the Miami Dolphins struggled in the rushing game, to say the least.
As a unit, the Dolphins finished a league-worst in rushing yards with just 1,156. Going into the 2020 offseason, shoring up the running back position was important to be able to help whoever is under center at the quarterback position.
Dolphins Attack RBs in Free Agency, Draft
Miami mostly stuck with proven commodities when it came to running backs by both signing and trading for two experienced players and then drafting another in the seventh round as well. This will prove to be a high upgrade after using seven backs last season.
Not only will they need to name an official starter, but they’ll likely have to cut some of the backs they’ve accrued in the last year. Both have already made one RB cut, as the team released Samaje Perine on April 26. However, there are still currently seven backs on the roster.
Jordan Howard (1)
Howard is a recent arrival for the Dolphins as an unrestricted free agent signing. Howard signed a two-year, $9.75 million dollar deal with $4.75 million guaranteed. He has spent the better part of his four-year career in Chicago with the Bears, but also spent time up in Philadelphia with a committee-heavy Eagles team.
Howard wasted no time busting into the NFL as a rookie. He notched 1,313 total yards, averaging 5.2 yards per carry, and made the Pro Bowl in the process. Though as those three seasons went on in Chicago, Howard’s stats continued to fall. His time on the field also paralleled his sudden rushing decline.
From Chicago to Philadelphia to South Beach
Eventually, in March of 2019, he was traded to the Eagles where he found himself nagged with a shoulder injury that kept him sidelined for a good portion of the season. He already split time with rookie Miles Sanders and was quickly back-seated with the injury.
Leading to Howard putting up career-lows in almost every category began hurting his market value as well. However, the back has proven he can handle an aggressive workload successfully when healthy and was a steal when free agency opened.
By the Numbers
Despite missing six games in 2019, Howard would’ve been Miami’s leading rusher had he been a Dolphin. Even in a committee, he had 525 rushing yards and six rushing scores. The Dolphins could pair him in a similar situation with newly-acquired Matt Breida too and could expect this respectable production from him again.
Aside from last season, Howard only missed one game during his time in Chicago and will look to bring that stability to the Dolphins backfield who needs it. He should edge out Breida in this position battle, even if Miami uses the committee approach.
Matt Breida (2)
Breida is a speedy fourth-year back that spent his first three seasons in San Francisco. The 49er has proven to be a burst on the ground and reliable in the receiving game.
Like Howard, Brieda has fallen victim to a few injury woes, only allowing him to play a full season once. However, he has played double-digit games all three seasons– something Miami needs desperately.
New Deal, New Team
Breida was actually re-signed by San Francisco to a one-year, $3.26 million dollar contract just days before he was dealt in a draft-day trade with the Dolphins.
During his time in San Francisco, Breida was dealt a similar situation as Howard. He shared the backfield with Tevin Coleman, and later, Raheem Mostert. Toward the latter half of 2019, Mostert took over as the 49er starter, being a key reason why San Francisco was able to go on its Super Bowl run. His emergence turned its backfield into less of a committee approach and was a factor in the 49ers’ decision to “OK” a trade with Breida.
While Breida has struggled to prove his playoff reliability, Miami is looking solely for a lead back at this time. It can worry about regular and post-season success after establishing a plan. So, with Miami’s backfield completely up for grabs, he’s the candidate that’ll compete with Howard to be named the sole starter.
Malcolm Perry (Utility, 3)
Perry is an interesting rookie, drafted by the Dolphins late in the seventh round. He’s a utility player who saw snaps at multiple offensive positions during his college career at the United States Naval Academy.
Perry has spent most of his time running the ball in college, showing improvement each year. He broke the 2,000-yard rushing plateau his senior season and scored 21 TDs.
Perry has also taken snaps as a receiver. Although his experience at the position is minimal so far, catching only 22 passes during his four years at Navy, Miami may be looking to experiment with him. If nothing else, the Dolphins can use him as another reliable pass-catching back option.
He also saw time at QB for the Midshipmen as they used the run-option on nearly every play. However, with the addition of Tua Tagovailoa in the draft, and solid backups at the position, it’s unlikely Perry will be taking any snaps at the helm for the Dolphins. His versatility though makes him the strongest candidate to be the backup to the likely committee approach.
Kalen Ballage (4)
Ballage, a third-year, former fourth-round draft pick by the Dolphins is going to want to improve on his first two seasons if he wants to make the final roster. He hasn’t shown much growth in his two seasons, seemingly proving to be a better athlete than a football player.
With the running back position being wide open during the 2019 season, Ballage saw six more starts than he did during his rookie season but struggled to take advantage of those opportunities. During his second season, while Ballage more than doubled his total carries, he averaged just 1.8 YPC. He was the worst in the category in the league. Down from 5.3 YPC in 2018, he totaled just 135 yards to finish off the season before landing on injured reserve.
Ballage will be at a disadvantage, having to show up to save his job while recovering from injury. He shows to be a good option on the goal line, at best, because of his size alone, but with the emergence of Howard and Breida his snaps there are likely in doubt.
Miami’s running back depth chart is much stronger than it was last season, but it still leaves some guys lower on the totem pole. A lot of the guys are still very inexperienced at the professional level, making it tougher for Flores and Grier to make a decision on them.
Gaskin is coming off a short rookie season with the Dolphins, having only played seven games and totaling just 133 yards and one touchdown in the home finale. Miami selected Gaskin with a late pick in the seventh round of the 2019 NFL Draft.
Gaskin’s season was cut slightly short due to an ankle injury he suffered in late December. His late injury will likely make it harder for him to make the final roster with the shorter recovery period available to him. With hopes of seeing a return to how he looked during his productive college years at the University of Washington. Gaskin will be fighting an uphill battle in order to secure more snaps with the starters and even make the roster.
Laird, an undrafted 2019 free agent, will be looking to carve out a role that will suit him on the final roster with stiff competition in front of him.
The transition from a walk-on at the University of California at Berkeley to the pros has not been as smooth as hoped. Although, during the 2019 season when Miami was using a turnstile of running backs, the Dolphins showed him the most consistency with his starts and playing time. This allowed Laird to get four starts under his belt, and despite Miami minimally running the football, he was on the field for 27-percent of the offensive snaps.
However, Laird struggled in his time as the lead back, averaging 2.7 YPC. He added just 168 total yards on 62 carries for the season. Ballage, Gaskin and Laird are truly the three guys vying for one spot.
Turner was signed from Baltimore’s practice squad and played in just four games as a rookie in 2018. He found himself on IR and finished his rookie season with just one carry, leading to his cut by Baltimore.
Turner spent his college years at Alcorn State where he proved to be a growing back in the game. Each year he got better and found himself second in rushing out of all Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) players with 1,357 yards in 2017 as a senior.
During the 2019 season with the Dolphins, Turner doubled the number of games he played in for the Ravens, but still struggled to find a foothold with the offense. He did aid in special teams help, playing 29-percent of the snaps throughout the season. If Turner makes the 2020 roster, he’ll likely do so on special teams.