Barry Jackson

The specific Miami Dolphins need that becomes even more important after free agency

A six-pack of Miami Dolphins notes on a Monday:

New addition Jordan Howard gives the Dolphins a far better running back than anyone on their roster, a player who has the third-most rushing yards and seventh-most touchdowns since 2016. But his signing also accentuates the need to add a back who’s dangerous and reliable as a receiver, particularly on third down.

Though Howard has caught 82 passes for 637 yards in his career, Pro Football Focus said his “receiving ability is widely known for being poor. In his four seasons, Howard owns a whopping 16 percent drop rate and has generated only 0.79 yards per route run.” Only two his catches were touchdowns.

His 7.8 yards-per-reception average in his career is pedestrian. Darren Sproles, one of the best third-down backs in recent history, is at 8.8 in his career, Alvin Kamara at 8.5 and Kareem Hunt at 9.6. Damien Williams was at 10.8 per reception in 2016, his first year doing it for Adam Gase.

And that’s why two draft-eligible backs who have captured the Dolphins’ affection — J.K. Dobbins and D’Andre Swift — would be the ideal complement to Howard.

Dobbins, in three years at Ohio State, caught 71 passes for 645 yards (9.1 per catch) — including five for 57 against Michigan and four for 71 against Penn State. He also had five TD receptions.

NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein said Dobbins “has the efficiency, production and third-down value teams covet. He can make a sudden tackler miss.” The Dolphins love him, and he has as good a chance as anyone at being the pick at No. 26.

The Dolphins also like Swift, whose receiving numbers at Georgia are nearly identical to Dobbins’: 73 catches, 666 yards, 9.1 per catch and five TD receptions, including six catches for 121 yards in his career against the Gators and 8 for 70 against Alabama.

Zierlein calls Swift an “every-down back” whose “hands are soft and sticky as a pass catcher.”

The Dolphins opted for Howard over Melvin Gordon (who would have been more expensive), but Gordon would have been better in the passing game (224 catches, 1,873 yards, 8.4 per catch, 11 receiving touchdowns), though his 4.0 per carry career average is worse than Howard’s 4.3.

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The Dolphins did not pursue Gordon, who agreed to a two-year, $16 million deal with Denver on Friday.

It must be noted that Patrick Laird showed potential as a third-down back, but the need for another skilled receiving back on the roster is glaring.

Laird caught 23 of 28 targets for 204 yards, with three drops. Kallen Ballage was awful as a receiver, dropping four of the 19 passes thrown to him, including one taken back for an interception. Laird would seem to have more value if they’re competing for the No. 3 running back job.

Now let’s be clear: Howard was still a solid signing, because as a 1A, he’s fine. And one encouraging thing about Howard last season is he regained some of the elusiveness that fell off in 2018, his final season in Chicago.

As a rookie for the Bears in 2016, Howard forced 40 missed tackles on 252 carries.

That dropped to 23 on 276 carries in his final year with Chicago.

But last season, before a shoulder injury that sidelined him most of the final eight games, he forced 20 missed tackles on just 119 carries — a better ratio than even in his exceptional rookie season.

And his 4.4 per-carry average tied for 23rd of 47 NFL backs last season.

What has changed, however, is that he doesn’t produce as many long runs. As a rookie, he had 10 rushes of 20 yards or more, but just 11 in three years since.

What also changed, in his one season in Philadelphia, is that teams don’t load up the box as much against his offense — which is entirely a function of Philadelphia’s Carson Wentz earning more respect from opposing defenses than the Bears’ Mitch Trubisky.

According to Next Gen Stats, Howard ran against an eight-man front 43.1 percent of the time (seventh most in the league) in 2017, when Trubisky was a rookie.

Last season, he faced eight-man fronts just 17.7 times, on average.

The upshot of that? His per-carry average was 4.1 in 2017, 4.4 last season.

Some reaction on Howard: “I’ve always liked Howard,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said last summer. “He’s one of the top guys, up there with some of those big-time running backs. Powerful back, downhill runner.”

But he was somewhat limited when he returned from the shoulder injury late in the season, and Pederson didn’t play him in the Eagles’ playoff game.

Pro Football Focus rated Howard as the fifth-best free agent running back, noting: “Jordan Howard hasn’t been able to replicate his 2016 season with the Bears in which he posted the fourth-best rushing grade at 79.5, third-most explosive rushes of 10 or more yards and ninth-most broken tackles.”

But as a 1A, he’s fine. He’s strong in pass protection and reliable in short yardage. In his career, he has converted 37 of 50 third- or fourth-and short attempts (three yards or fewer).

One other running back note: The Dolphins did not strongly pursue Todd Gurley before he agreed to terms with the Atlanta Falcons. Miami inquired about Gurley when the Rams were looking to deal him — but that was before the Dolphins got a commitment from Howard on Tuesday.

Once the Dolphins got Howard, they were fine at running back, with the expectation that they will add a back or two in the draft. In the Rams scenario, Miami likely would have expected a draft pick back from Los Angeles to take Gurley’s contract, much like October’s Aqib Talib trade that landed the Dolphins a fifth-round pick from the Rams.

This speaks well of new Dolphins edge player Shaq Lawson’s work ethic: As a junior at Clemson, he joined the team’s offensive skill position players for cardio workouts, knowing he needed to get faster. And he did.

At Clemson, according to SI.com, he literally laughed when getting blocked or when he sacked the quarterback.“If you block him, he’ll just immediately start laughing,” Bengals and former Texans defensive tackle D.J. Reader, his former teammate, told SI.com a few years ago. “He’s basically telling you, ‘Next play, I got you.’

“ Then he’ll get off that block and start laughing, like, ‘I told you I was going to get you.’ That’s basically what he’s insinuating right there.”

How much did new Dolphin Ereck Flowers’ move from tackle with the Giants to guard with the Redskins help his career?

Per Pro Football Focus, Flowers allowed 24 pressures in 588 pass-blocking snaps as a guard in 2019; for comparison purposes, he allowed 38 pressures in 353 pass-blocking snaps as a tackle in 2018.

Flowers was especially good during the final half of last season and committed only one penalty during that time after committing five over the first half of the season.

The Dolphins will play him at guard.

Bill Callahan, the former Redskins offensive line coach who became their interim head coach after Jay Gruden’s firing last season, said late last year of Flowers: “He’s come a long way in a short period of time… He could be one of the top guards in the league. He’s physical. He’s been really good in pass protection. He’s a strong square force in that respect. I just love the kid. I like the way he works, how he goes about his business.”

Per PFF, Redskins runs behind Flowers last season averaged a robust 4.55 per carry.

Here’s my Monday piece on how the sports networks are filling air time without live sports, what’s now available to viewers for free and what sports fan can expect.

Here’s my Sunday piece on how much cap space the Dolphins have left.

Here’s our Friday piece with the latest on the Joe Burrow/Dolphins scenario and how Miami might be able to improve its chance of convincing the Bengals to trade the top pick to them.

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