When I looked at the Chicago Bears' running back position last week in my Roster Turnover Series, the Bears hadn't made a decision on whether to bring Matt Forte back or not. Since that article published, Forte announced that his time was over in Chicago. From a financial standpoint the move makes sense, but it's yet to be determined if it makes sense between the lines.
Last week I wondered whether or not Jeremy Langford was ready to be the lead back for the Bears in 2016. I said his 2015 season was good enough to prove he could play at the NFL level, but I wasn't ready to anoint him the clear cut #1. Not after averaging 3.6 yards per carry and having a few key drops during his rookie season. Sure there were a few big plays from him where he flashed his speed, and yes, I think he can be a physical runner when needed, but to be The Man, I'm not sold quite yet.
I would absolutely love to see Langford attack the responsibility of being the bell-cow for the Bears' offense, but a couple stats I stumbled across gives me pause.
His overall 3.6 yards per carry is one thing, but did you realize that Langford only averaged 2.7 yards per carry when teams had their base defense on the field? What makes his overall average 3.6 yards per carry even worse, is when you realize that he faced a base defense only 34% of the time, which was among the league's fewest.
Pro Football Focus broke out a bunch of interesting stats in their article titled, How defensive packages impacted yards per carry in 2015. PFF's Mike Clay broke down the average yards per carry of every run in the NFL agaisnt defenses based on the number of defensive backs that were on the field. His premise is that the more DBs on the field, the more room a running back has to run.
This proved to be true.
Based on the number of DBs that Langford faced last season, he was expected to averaged 4.4 yards per carry, so his difference of -0.7 placed him among the worst in the NFL. Here's what PFF said about Langford.
Langford showed some flashes when Matt Forte was out of the lineup, but volume, not efficiency, was the driving force. Langford posted a 2.7 YPC against base defenses, which was worst in the NFL. This was a distinction held by Alfred Blue in 2014 and Ray Rice in 2013. Langford saw quite a bit of nickel and actually did okay (4.3 YPC) on those runs. This study, combined with his inability to break tackles, poor blocking, and drop issues, makes Langford's early-offseason ADP of 25th overall (10th RB) laughable.
Barring major improvements, neither Jones (Washington's Matt Jones) nor Langford are going to be able to hold down feature back duties in Chicago. They are two players to ignore the hype on in 2016 fantasy drafts.
For those not into fantasy football, ADP is Average Draft Position, and Clay is basically saying don't believe the hype on Langford. An improved offensive line will no doubt help Chicago's running game, but we've yet to see how GM Ryan Pace will address that.
The other stat I stumbled across is courtesy of SportingCharts.com. Among players targeted more than 20 times in the passing game, Langford's 16.7% was the worst drop percentage in the NFL.
He was targeted 42 times last year, catching 22 passes, but he had 7 drops. Like I wrote last week, maybe it's just a case of the rookie jitters, but until I see how he looks in 2016, I'll be cautious with my expectations for Langford.