Philadelphia Eagles: Jordan Howard could play a big role in Week 1

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

Once upon a time, the idea of a practice squad player filling a legitimate on-field role for an NFL team was impossible.

… like literally impossible. Up until 2020, practice squad players weren’t allowed to take the field for teams anywhere but the practice squad – hence the name – and could only be active on game days if they were signed to the active roster first.

In 2020, however, everything changed. Because of the pandemic, practice squads were expanded out to 16 players, a few veterans were allowed to sign on the squad sans the typical experience qualifier, and most importantly of all, teams were allowed to protect and call up four players each week to contribute on game days.

In Week 1 of the 2021 NFL season, the Philadelphia Eagles opted to protect wide receiver John Hightower, safety Elijah Riley, tackle Le’Raven Clark, and running back Jordan Howard. While, in theory, all four could be active on game day, only one has a chance to make a serious impact for the Birds on game day.

If you have Jordan Howard in a legacy fantasy football league, you might just get some action after all.

Jordan Howard could play a big role for the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 1.

During his tenure in Indianapolis, Nick Sirianni found consistent success running the ball between the tackles.

Granted, the Colts weren’t exclusively married to a power running game during the Frank Reich-era. Much like in Philly, where Reich served as an offensive coordinator from 2016-17, the Colts complemented their in-the-trenches truckers with speedy pass-catching backs like Nyheim Hines, who just signed a very well earned three-year, $18.6 million extension, but the team largely buttered their bread with power rushers like Marlon Mack and Jonathan Taylor.

And, to his credit, offensive coordinator Shane Steichen also relied on power rushers like Melvin Gordon during his previous stop with the Los Angels Chargers, even if they’ve fully transitioned over to a scatback style centered around Austin Ekeler (more on that here).

So naturally, when news broke that Jordan Howard didn’t make the Philadelphia Eagles’ initial 53 man roster, it confused many a fan expecting a recreation of 2019’s thunder-and-lightning attack.

But here’s the thing: The decision to waive Howard was tactical.

Because he already has three-plus years of NFL action on his resume, Howard was not subjected to waivers when he was cut by the Eagles. That allowed him to sign with the practice squad sans any sort of external shenanigans and remain with the team in the interim. Granted, Howard could have opted to sign elsewhere and may have even fielded offers as an unrestricted free agent, but after suffering through a horror show of a 2020 semi-season in Miami, something tells me it would have taken a really sweet opportunity to pass up a chance to revive his career in Philly.

Considering how good Howard looked back in a #24 midnight green uniform this preseason, I would imagine the decision was relatively easy.

Had the Eagles instead subjected a player like, say, sixth-round pick Tarron Jackson to waivers, he very well may have been claimed, as would most young players on the roster sans maybe ex-Army tackle Brett Troth. Because Howard was both committed to continuing his career in Philly and exempt from waivers, his release presented a unique two-for-one opportunity for a team looking to remain competitive now while they turn their eyes to the future.

But do you know what? Something tells me if Howard can put in work as a Week 1 call-up versus Atlanta, he might just find a home on the active roster soon enough.

While the Falcons do have a pretty good defensive line headlined by two-time Pro Bowler Grady Jarrett and dynamic hybrid rusher Dante Fowler, the Eagles have a clear advantage with their offensive line finally fully healthy. With Brandon Brooks cleared to go, Sirianni and Steichen should be able to impose their will in the trenches on both sides of the ball (more on that here) and be able to move the ball between the tackles without too much issue.

Could Miles Sanders, Boston Scott, and Kenneth Gainwell all benefit from this clear advantage? Sure, but I’d keep a particularly keen eye on Howard as his ability to contribute as a pass blocker should keep him on the field early and often versus ATL.

If that happens and Howard can average four-ish yards-per-carry, the Eagles should be in good shape to leave the Peach State with a win.

Next. Good luck with Fletcher Cox, Jalen Mayfield. dark

In a normal year, Jordan Howard would be on the Philadelphia Eagles’ active roster right now. He started the team’s first preseason game, was second on the depth chart above Boston Scott and Kenneth Gainwell, and looked primed to finally return to his pre-injury form the likes of which fans have been desperate to see since 2019. While his spot on the active roster still isn’t secured, a few strong performances could fix that right up in no time, even if keeping him on the practice squad presents an obvious competitive advantage.