2013 Forecast: Will D.J. Howard emerge from a crowded backfield?

Clemson running back D.J. Howard carries the ball during the Orange-White Spring Football Game at Memorial Stadium on Saturday.

Photo by Sefton Ipock

Clemson running back D.J. Howard carries the ball during the Orange-White Spring Football Game at Memorial Stadium on Saturday.

D.J. Howard just hasn’t had a full season to show what he can do. Going into his third year on the field, he is still very much an unknown.

The Alabama native tailback was second only to the departed Mike Bellamy in yards per carry in 2011 (5.6) among running backs, but both shoulder and ankle injuries last season held the rising junior to less carries (35) and only averaging 3.9 on them.

His seasons side-by-side…

2011: 149 snaps – 41 carries – 230 yards – 1 TD

2012 119 snaps – 35 carries – 138 yards – 2 TDs

The margin of error is thin for anybody that may fall to the back of the running back rotation in TigerTown this year.

There are two incoming four-star running backs (Tyshon Dye, Elbert; Wayne Gallman, Grayson), a semi-proven back in Rod McDowell leading the group and another four-star prospect in Zac Brooks waiting in the wings. Howard is an interesting case.

He certainly has the burst, when healthy, to get yards in bunches. Dealing with injuries, Howard made up just 5.6 percent of Clemson’s carries and 4.3 percent of the Tigers’ run of 10 yards or more.

Making up over 10 percent of attempts in 2011, he accounted for 7.7 percent of the 10-plus runs, and as a sub in the fourth quarter that season, he averaged 6.7 yards per carry (over half of his carries came in the fourth quarter).

Projection – Brandon Rink (O&W)

Breakout Season: 112 carries – 640 yards – 8 TDs

Bust: 56 carries – 218 yards – 2 TDs

2013 Outlook: 80 carries – 416 yards – 3 TDs (14 games)

I have him with a pretty even split with returning sophomore Zac Brooks in carries – if he can end up doing more per carry he may end up being one of the top running backs in the committee.

He ups his YPC from 3.9 to a closer to 2011, 5.2, on just short of six carries a game in a balanced attack.

Projection – Marty Coleman (Seldom Used Reserve)

This is a crossroads year for Howard’s career at Clemson. The only player in front of him on the depth chart is a senior. The lightly used Zac Brooks is behind him. And then there are the freshmen arriving this summer.

If passed on the depth chart, Howard could be looking at a career as a backup… It’s hard for me to sell D.J. Howard short. Even in an injury plagued season 6 of his 35 rushing attempts (17%) were for 10 yards or more and only 2 (6%) were for negative yardage.

Howard won’t win any awards for flash and probably won’t be the lead on SportsCenter, but he is a solid, stable backup that can provide a change of pace. Check out more of Coleman's analysis here.

More 2013 Forecasts

WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson tight ends (Jordan Leggett, Stanton Seckinger, Jay Jay McCullough), QB Tajh Boyd, WR Martavis Bryant, RB Rod McDowell, WRCharone Peake.

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