Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Breaking down the 2020 roster: Running Backs

After a disastrous 2019 season, Chris Grier and Brian Flores set about adding depth and playmaking to the running backs room. With the additions of proven NFL talent, along with help along the line, this group is expected to have a much better season.

Other than the offensive line, this group was probably the one that most disappointed in 2019. With Ryan Fitzpatrick leading the team in rushing yards, with just 243, this group was in heavy need of investment this offseason and it got it.

There’s a long way to go until we hit the opening weekend, so there could be some churning at the bottom end of the roster. But for now, let’s take a look at how things break down.

Jordan Howard is running backs go-to guy

The Dolphins running backs room got much better with the addition of Howard © Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
The Dolphins running backs room got much better with the addition of Howard © Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

If the Dolphins lacked an every-down pound the ball back after the loss of Mark Walton then Jordan Howard will step into those shoes perfectly. Entering his fifth year in the league, Howard has racked up 897 career rushes and 82 receptions on his way to 4,532 all-purpose yards.

With more than 200 carries in his first two seasons, Howard is a workhorse back that will bang you out four yards per carry every game. His lack of threat in the passing game is a slight concern as defences will key on the run that much more when he’s on the field.

However, part of the reason for his lack of receiving stats is the way he has been used in the past and his numbers aren’t terrible. His primary role will be first and second down and expect him to see the bulk of carries as the season progresses.

Adding Howard as a focal point for the running game was pivotal in the approach the Dolphins were able to take in the draft. It allowed them to pursue other opportunities, and not have to use a late-first or early-second pick on the position in the draft.

Matt Breida adds explosiveness to running backs group

“Matt Breida is a very explosive young running back, with good vision who can create a lot of big plays. He’s also tough, he’s also smart. He has a lot of the qualities we’re looking for in our players.” So said Brian Flores in the Dolphins post-draft press recap.

Acquired for just a fifth-round pick, Breida is a huge win for this staff and the process they have used through this off season. In three seasons in the league, the 25-year-old has amassed 1,902 yards rushing, and 561 receiving with 10 total touchdowns.

Breida was acquired for a 5th round pick in the 2020 draft
Breida was acquired for a 5th round pick in the 2020 draft

He adds an explosive home-run ability that was sorely lacking from Dolphins running backs in 2019. The longest gainer by a rusher for the Dolphins last season was 27 yards (Patrick Laird), a figure Breida has beaten in each of his three seasons (33, 66, 83).

While Breida is an explosive, change of pace, dual threat, don’t sleep on him taking on more of the load in 2019. He has at least 100 rushes in each of his NFL campaigns and averages 5.0 yards per carry for his career.

Breida is a great pick up, and when coupled with Jordan Howard he gives the Dolphins running backs room a much need boost, and a great one-two punch.

Patrick Laird added some fight in 2019

Of the 2019 running backs Patrick Laird was the one that created the most excitement, finishing as the leading rusher (168 yards), and receiver (204 yards) of the runners. Hardly impressive numbers by the undrafted rookie came from the back of the pack to put up those numbers.

Laird flashed his abilities in all four preseason games with his toughness on special teams, and his direct aggressive running style. He turns upfield and is direct as soon as he gets his hands on the ball, and always finishes his plays with power.

The kid is fun to watch, and while his ceiling is probably not as high as someone like Ballage, he has shown the ability to fight on the field and never give an inch. These are attributes that will earn him a lot of goodwill with HC Brian Flores.

For me he is ahead of Ballage in this battle because of that fighting, never say die, team first attitude. His added value on special teams is also not to be underestimated.

Kalen Ballage is on the bubble

Ballage burst onto the scene in a big way in his rookie campaign with a 75-yard TD run in Minnesota against the Vikings, finishing the year with 36-191-1. Following the departure of Frank Gore and Kenyan Drake, he was expected to be the feature back but things really didn’t go well for him in 2019.

In 2019 he failed to top 50 yards in any game, and amassed over 10 carries just once in a game. He finished with very anemic numbers of 74-135-3 with a long of just 8 yards.

In fairness to Ballage, all the running backs put up poor numbers last season, behind what was an infamously bad line. With the additions of several mauling big bodies, he will be expecting to get back on track this season.

However, with the additions of Howard and Breida, his touches will be further reduced so he will need to show that explosive play ability he flashed in his rookie campaign. While Ballage is on the bubble, he still has a good shout to make the final roster as his overall skill set is higher than that of Patrick Laird.

Myles Gaskin and Chandler Cox fill out the roster

Gaskin and Cox joined the team in 2019 and started their careers behind one of the worst lines imaginable. Gaskin is a bruising runner and the lack of a line didn’t affect him as much as it would a finesse runner.

Gaskin would barrel his way to a 36-133-1 line. Averaging 3.7 yards per clip would tie him for second on the team for running backs, only behind the now-departed Mark Walton (3.8 ypc).

As the lone fullback on the roster, Chandler Cox showed his worth with very good blocking and stellar work on special teams. He didn’t notch a single carry or catch, but his value wasn’t really meant to be in those areas.

Chandler Cox will likely make the roster, but it’s a toss-up between Gaskin and Ballage for that final spot among the running backs and it’s a battle that could go all the way. the fact Gaskin was drafted by the current regime might just give him the edge.

We’ll take a look at the Dolphins’ latest buzz sensation Malcolm Perry when we cover the wide-receivers group in a few days. Until then stay tuned to Aqua Thirteen for all the latest news and opinions.

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