Dolphins RBs Jordan Howard, Matt Breida aim to 'shock' NFL

Shortly after getting traded to the Miami Dolphins on NFL draft weekend in late April, Matt Breida heard a stat about the 2019 Dolphins offense that he simply couldn't believe -- quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, 37, led the Dolphins in rushing with 243 yards. An astonished Breida couldn't help but laugh.

"I just told him that, 'hey, you can still run 'Fitz,' so you're going to have to give me a run for my money this year,'" Breida said. "We've got a great group of running backs this year, so I'm looking forward to all of us getting out there and just picking up the running game."

Miami brought in two veteran running backs this offseason -- Breida and Jordan Howard -- who are expected to carry the rushing load. It's a new beginning for two backs who were discarded by their original teams and now look to prove their worth in the offense.

Their first goal is simple: beat out Fitzpatrick for the team's rushing title.

Beyond that goal, it is dramatically improving a Dolphins running game that finished last in 2019 in rushing yards (1,156) and yards per carry (3.3 average).

"We're going to shock a lot of people this year," Breida said.

Breida, an undrafted free agent who played three seasons for the San Francisco 49ers and has averaged 5.2 yards per carry over the past two seasons, is full of confidence. He calls himself the NFL's fastest player citing NFL Next Gen Stats, which recorded him as the fastest ball carrier in each of the past two seasons (22.3 mph in 2019 and 22.09 in 2018).

"I got a Lamborghini not too long ago. I like going fast. I run fast. I just like doing everything fast," Breida said. "Until someone beats my time -- beats me out in that same year -- then I'm still the fastest guy."

His main backfield partner, Howard, doesn't lack for confidence, either. Howard's game is built on power, vision and consistency. Since he entered the league in 2016 as a fifth-round pick by the Chicago Bears, Howard is third among all backs in rushing yards (3,895) and seventh in rushing touchdowns (30). He doesn't believe people give him enough credit for his early-career success.

"When I was racking up a lot of those yards, I was on a losing team, so people didn't really pay attention to that," Howard said. "I don't really blame them; but yeah, I definitely feel like I'm overlooked."

Dolphins running backs coach Eric Studesville says it's too early to conclude how his room will share the workload given they haven't even practiced in pads. But Breida looks to be the lightning of the room while Howard can be the thunder. The key for both backs will be staying healthy, as each dealt with injury issues last season.

Incumbents Kalen Ballage, Patrick Laird and Myles Gaskin seem set for depth roles, though Studesville stressed he isn't giving up on Ballage, who was the Week 1 starter last season before being passed on the depth chart by others because of his 1.9 yards per carry average.

For fantasy purposes, one could see Howard, the bruiser, getting 50% of backfield touches, Breida taking 35% and the other running backs sharing the remaining 15% this season if both lead backs stay healthy and play up to expectations. The difference comes in how the Dolphins might split those touches with Howard a better fit on early downs while Breida is likely to be the third-down and passing-down back who should lead this room in receptions. Breida could even line up at receiver to get him more action in the passing game.

"Jordan Howard, his experience being in two different places and what he brings here, he's a smart guy," Studesville said. "He's been able to pick things up so far, what we're talking about, you love his size, he's got good feet for a big back, he's got good vision. I think he'll have a chance to be a physical presence for us, as well as effective in the passing game with what we're asking for. Matt Breida, obviously with his experience, his speed, you see his burst and quickness early on as soon as he touches the field."

Dolphins offensive coordinator Chan Gailey prides himself on running the ball well, and that played a role in him getting the job this offseason. A beefed up offensive line, which could have four new starters in 2020, should also go a long way in helping the run game be more productive.

A look back at Gailey's last time running a NFL offense -- in 2016 as the New York Jets' offensive coordinator -- could paint a picture of what to expect. The Jets finished 12th in rushing with Matt Forte (218 carries, 30 catches) and Bilal Powell (131 carries, 58 catches) leading a two-back system. Each back eclipsed 1,000 total yards. Maybe Howard plays the Forte role and Breida is the Powell presence?

Either way, the Dolphins expect to have a much-improved run game in 2020.

"A running game is definitely a quarterback's best friend. It makes our job a lot easier," Fitzpatrick said. "There aren't a whole lot of things that we can be certain of this year, but I would put a lot of money on me not being the leading rusher."