LaRod Stephens-Howling: Projecting Cardinals RB's Fantasy Output vs. 49ers

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LaRod Stephens-Howling: Projecting Cardinals RB's Fantasy Output vs. 49ers
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The two weeks since becoming the starting back have seen two polar opposite results for Arizona Cardinals running back LaRod Stephens-Howling.

After looking relatively unusable in his first extended look two weeks ago, Stephens-Howling blossomed last Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings, compiling 149 total yards in the Cardinals' 21-14 loss. 

Unfortunately, it's that type of inconsistency that is horrifying to fantasy owners, especially with a matchup against the San Francisco 49ers coming up on Sunday.

Nonetheless, there are four teams on bye this week, and considering the dearth of solid options available, some owners may be forced to play Stephens-Howling on Sunday.

With that in mind, here is a look at what you should expect from the Cardinals back in Week 8. 

 

Rushing

Despite being in his fourth season in the NFL, there is nowhere near enough of a representative sample size to know what kind of player Stephens-Howling can be as the featured back.

Mostly viewed as a third-down guy and a special teamer, the 25-year-old has just 115 career carries coming into this week. 

Nonetheless, Stephens-Howling has had three career games with 10 or more rushing attempts, and he's performed admirably in two of those contests. In fact, 197 of his 422 career yards on the ground have come from two games—last week against the Vikings and Week 17 in 2011 against the Seattle Seahawks.

Where we can try to draw some conclusions is through advanced metrics. Though the sample size is once again limited, Stephens-Howling has been a below-average running back this season. Using Football Outsiders' DVOA metric, the Cardinals running back produces 8.9 percent less yardage than a replacement-level player would against similar competition. 

If you factor in the fact that San Francisco gives up 98.9 rushing yards per game, that would theoretically give Stephens-Howling 90 yards if he gets every carry on Sunday.

That won't happen. Using last week's splits (wherein he got 82.5 percent of the yardage) as a model, we can safely predict that Stephens-Howling will gain 74 yards if he reaches the 20-carry mark.

As for a touchdown? I'm not buying it. The 49ers have been insanely stingy against opposing running backs this season in that category.

Rushing Stats Projection: 20 CAR, 74 YDS, 0 TDs

 

Receiving

There is no need for any complicated statistics or talk about limited sample size in this area because Stephens-Howling has been and will stay a strong part of the passing game.

All that stands to question is how many opportunities he'll get on Sunday.

San Francisco comes into Week 8 with the best pass defense in the NFL, giving up a minuscule 173 passing yards per game thus far. 

Couple that with the fact that Arizona is 26th in the NFL in passing offense, and this seems like a recipe for a disappointing performance in this category.

Look for Stephens-Howling to connect on a few check-down throws from John Skelton, but nothing that should get you into a tizzy.

Receiving Stats Projection: 3 REC, 25 YDS, 0 TDs

 

Overall

As a flex play, there are a ton of worse options than Stephens-Howling this week.

However, if your team is ravaged by injuries or in a bye-week state of desperation and you need a big performer, it may be best to take your chances somewhere else.

Stephens-Howling will have value, but a nine- or 10-point projection is about as high on the Mary Poppins scale of optimism as I can get. 

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