By: Jesse Patterson April 25 2020
A collective sigh of relief could be heard around the fantasy community on Saturday afternoon as one of the most frustrating situations in the sport got slightly clearer. The San Francisco 49ers backfield was highly effective during their 2019 Super Bowl run but was a confusing mess for fantasy players. The Niners deployed one of the busiest and most muddled backfields in recent memory, giving carries to a platoon of players including Tevin Coleman, Raheem Mostert, Jeff Wilson, and Matt Breida. While efficient in real life football, the constant rotation and ‘hot hand’ approach left fantasy owners scratching their heads trying to figure out which player was worth starting on a week to week basis. With all players involved set to return in 2020, including Breida who signed his restricted free agent tenderjust a few days prior to the NFL Draft, all indications pointed towards this being another headache situation in 2020 fantasy leagues.
Meanwhile, in Miami, all eyes were on coach Brian Flores and general manager Chris Grier as the lowly Dolphins looked to begin their rebuild after a thoroughly disappointing 2019 campaign. With a plethora of draft picks and substantial salary cap room, the Dolphins were expected to be aggressive in their roster overhaul. One area in particular that needed an upgrade was the running game. Last season the Dolphins finished dead last in the league in rushing attempts with 349, and the team leader in yards was, laughably, veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. Following the trade of Kenyan Drake to Arizona, the Dolphins deployed a cavalcade of ‘J.A.G.’ runners including Mark Walton, Kallen Ballage, and Patrick Laird, a group which will never be hailed for their high level of skill, or speed. It was clearly an area that would need to be addressed and as free agency kicked off, Miami stepped up and signed former Eagle and Bear Jordan Howardto a two-year contract reportedly worth north of $10 million. Howard has had a steady and serviceable career, but has seen his best success as a member of a committee backfield. The NFL draft kicked off this week which featured an abundance of talent at running back. The Dolphins were predicted to be suitors for a number of the highly-regarded runners, as they had several early picks thanks to some trades in 2019. As the first, second, and third rounds came and went, Miami shockingly did not select any of the talented backs, choosing instead to address the variety of other weaknesses on the team. As Day Three rolled along with rounds 4 and 5, it looked as though Miami may be content with Howard to lead the backfield with Laird and company to compliment him.
Finally, some good news broke as NFL Network’s Mike Garofolo reported the Dolphins and 49ers had agreed to a trade, sending running back Matt Breida to Miami in exchange for the Dolphins 5th round pick, 153rd overall. Fantasy owners who have any of the other Niners backs on their roster were happy that there is one less mouth to feed. Matt Breida owners are ecstatic with the news that the 4th year back will finally be free and able to carve out his own role in a wide-open Miami backfield, while Howard owners have to be relieved that Miami didn’t add one of the big-name workhorse backs in the draft.
It is difficult to predict what the snap share will look like between Howard and Breida, as the offense will be very different from the one Miami employed in 2019. I imagine it would be a fairly even split, as both players have shown the ability to be three-down players at various points of their careers. Both will be 25 years old when (if?) the season gets underway, and should have no problems getting up to speed with their new system. At 6’0 224lbs, Howard would seem better suited for the between the tackles and short-yardage work, while Breida at 5’11 195 has shown the ability to handle the pounding this type of play dictates, has also shown an ability to work well as a pass catcher or in open space, as evidenced by his 67 career receptions, 561 yards, and 4 touchdowns through the air. He also possesses some home run speed and agility, breaking off plays of 20+ yards ten times during his most productive statistical season in 2018. The former undrafted free agent does have 381 career carries, for 1902 yards rushing, 6 touchdowns, and an average of 5.0 yards per carry, so he certainly has shown the durability and skill to be trusted in an every-down role going forward. I envision a 1A-1B situation between Howard and Breida with both being viable fantasy starters on a weekly basis. The traditional ‘workhorse’ running back seems to be a dying breed in the modern NFL, as fantasy owners we need to adapt and accept the fact that these multi-headed committees are here to stay. Identifying multiple backs from the same team that can be trusted in weekly lineups will be crucial to success and with no other viable competition on the roster, both Jordan Howard and Matt Breida should have enough work to be successful in fantasy lineups as back end RB2/3 or FLEX type players on a weekly basis.