Philadelphia Eagles: Jordan Howard has outlasted Kerryon Johnson

(Photo by Al Pereira/Getty Images)
(Photo by Al Pereira/Getty Images) /

When the Philadelphia Eagles gave Jordan Howard the nod as their starter in the first game of the preseason, it was surprising.

Sure, incumbent starter Miles Sanders was a last-minute scratch – so much so that Fox’s graphics department didn’t have a chance to replace his picture in the starting lineup – but surely the Eagles would give the nod to a roster locks like Boston Scott or Kerryon Johnson over a 26-year-old on a veteran minimum contract with no guarantee to be on the team in time for Week 1, right?

Well, as it turns out, that wasn’t the case.

Call it a hangover from his time in Indianapolis where power rushers like Marlon Mack and Jonathan Taylor were king, but Howard was ultimately chosen to play the first two drives of the Eagles’ contest alongside Jalen Hurts and the rest of the 1s and rewarded that confidence with an absolutely brutal block on Robert Spillane that he’s probably still feeling to this day.

Was that block noteworthy? Most definitely. When asked about the running back depth during media availability, Nick Sirianni explicitly mentioned Howard – and his blitz pickup – and Kenneth Gainwell as highlights of the team’s preseason roster, but surely one play isn’t enough to secure the soon-to-be fifth-year pro a spot on the active roster, right?

Maybe not, but with Kerryon Johnson – his primary challenger for the power runner/pass blocker spot – officially waived with an injury distinction, Jordan Howard’s path to make the Philadelphia Eagles’ Week 1 roster just became a whole lot clearer.

The Philadelphia Eagles are reassembling their 2019 rush attack.

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When the Philadelphia Eagles claimed former Detroit Lions running back Kerryon Johnson off of waivers, it felt like the perfect final piece to a balanced offensive attack.

Mind you; this was May 7th. The initial wave of free agency was over, as was the 2021 NFL Draft, so the options to land a north-south runner with pass blocking prowess were rather slim, but after procuring Oregon State standout Jermar Jefferson in the seventh round, the Detroit Lions handed Howie Roseman a W in the form of the team’s 2018 second-round pick.

Could the Eagles have probably been fine without Johnson? Sure. They’d signed Jordan Howard to a one-year, $990,000 deal the month prior and, even though he’d never played for Nick Sirianni, had played alongside Jalen Hurts, Miles Sanders, and the entirety of the team’s returning offensive lineman. But Johnson was a full two years younger and was coming off of a better 2020 season. For the price of the final year of his four-year, $6.5 million deal, the Eagles could double-down on the position and let the best man win, if you will.

Pre-injury, it looked like that guy was probably going to be Howard if all things were equal, as he’d performed better both in camp and during the team’s initial preseason bout versus the Pittsburgh Steelers, but now, the choice isn’t really a choice at all.

No, with Johnson waived with an injury distinction – which would revert him to the team’s IR if he clears waivers – Howard is now the lone power runner on a roster loaded with east-west rushers. Assuming the Eagles want to keep a player who can pick up four yards in a cloud of dust between the tackles employed for short-yardage and endzone situations, Howard is sort of the defacto guy unless Roseman opts to execute a trade or claim another player off of waivers.

Remember, Howard did record four touchdowns on only 28 carries for the Miami Dolphins last fall, so he remains a viable short-yardage weapon even in a system that he reportedly didn’t fit in despite what his contract would suggest (more on that here).

Next. K’Von Wallace comes for the King of Checkdowns. dark

What will the Philadelphia Eagles’ rushing attack look like this fall? Will they largely rely on Miles Sanders as their RB1, with Boston Scott getting third-down nods and Jordan Howard utilized in short-yardage situations, or will we instead see Nick Sirianni rotate in a variety of different rushers regardless of down and distance and explicitly call plays to highlight each player’s strengths? Only time will tell, but a player can’t have any role whatsoever if they don’t make the roster, for obvious reasons. With Kerryon Johnson out of the way, Jordan Howard now has a clear path to a roster spot, which is more than he could say even one week ago.