Bears' RBs outlook: Jeremy Langford or bust in fantasy

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Just a few weeks ago, the outlook for the Bears' running backs in fantasy football was grim. The crowded backfield situation was so unattractive that it was referred to as "hell for fantasy owners" by Rich Campbell of the Chicago Tribune.

But after just two preseason games, things seem to be clearing up. It's looking more and more like Jeremy Langford is going to get every shot at being Chicago's primary runner despite knocks against his talent and efficiency as a rookie.

Jeremy Langford


When the Bears parted ways with Matt Forte in free agency back in March, the natural reaction for fantasy enthusiasts was to assume that Jeremy Langford would immediately slot in as Chicago's primary running back. After all, the rookie succeeded as the team's feature back with finishes as fantasy's RB4, RB1 and RB18 each of the three weeks Forte missed with an injury. In my second-year RB study back in June, I noted that Langford remained a significant part of the Bears' rushing attack when Forte returned in Week 12, logging double-digit carries in every game for the rest of the season (save for Week 17).

Langford's ADP on Fantasy Football Calculator crept as high as 2.09 following Forte's departure from Chicago. Then, fantasy analyst Mike Clay (formerly of ProFootballFocus, now with ESPN) flamed Langford with an article arguing that it's a "no-brainer" to avoid the second-year back in upcoming fantasy drafts (due to his inflated ADP). Clay's reasons included Langford's inefficiency as a runner, poor receiving skills, poor blocking skills, touchdown dependency, and a running-back-by-committee approach in Chicago, among others. It was a tad harsh for a kid who got limited action last season and was clearly still developing his skills at the professional level ... but it also wasn't necessarily wrong.

Since that article was published, Langford's ADP has plummeted all the way into Round 7 on average according to FantasyPros.com. Many have questioned Langford's ability as a three-down runner. His lack of physicality as a runner and ability to gain yards after contact was one of the main knocks against him as a prospect, but we've seen him display big-play prowess which gives him an interesting outlook as a fantasy player at his current value.

And while Clay cited Langford's dismal 3.6 yards per carry average, it's not exactly fair to factor in the games early on when the rookie saw just one or two carries. Of the nine games in which Langford received double-digit carries, he recorded fewer than 4.0 yards per carry in just four of them and three of those four games were against formidable defenses (Broncos, Vikings, Rams).

Per FantasyData.com's snap count metric, among 34 running backs who averaged between 25 to 31 snaps per game last season, Langford ranked seventh in fantasy points per 100 snaps with 26. He also finished 2015 ranked third among rookie backs in total fantasy points, and ranked fourth in both rush attempts and rushing scores among first-year backs. And despite seeing two or fewer targets in the first seven games of the season, Langford still finished fifth among rookie running backs in terms of total targets (42).

Langford's performance in the preseason has him being heralded as the "clear-cut featured back" by Around the NFL's Chris Wesseling. And when Wess preaches, he's not to be ignored. Adam Levitan of DraftKings pointed out that in the Bears' first preseason game Langford was on the field for all 10 snaps that Jay Cutler played on. Following the Bears' second preseason game, Levitan noted that of the 39 first-team plays Chicago's offense ran, Langford was on the field for 36 of them. That "clear-cut featured back" designation now seems even more realistic despite all of the RBBC talk. Add to it the fact that all the talk about coach John Fox's historical preference to employ a committee backfield was basically shut down by Aaron Butler of RotoViz.com and Langford's arrow continues to point upward.

At this point, it seems like the primary running back gig in Chicago is Langford's to lose.

Bears RBs not named Jeremy Langford


Behind Langford are career secondary backs Ka'Deem Carey and Jacquizz Rodgers, and rookie Jordan Howard. None of these running backs are being drafted right now inside the top 150 players on average according to FantasyPros.com. Howard has the highest ADP as the RB59 despite the fact that he remains behind his veteran teammates on the depth chart. Carey is third in ADP as the RB82 while Rodgers isn't listed.

In a combined seven pro seasons between Carey and Rodgers, they have logged 398 total rush attempts so it's probably a savvy move to leave these guys on the waiver wire for now. Rodgers, who logged 50-plus receptions when he played for Atlanta in both 2012 and 2013, may have a role as pass-catcher, but as mentioned above we saw Langford heavily utilized in that role last year.

Howard, a fifth-round pick out of Indiana, doesn't project to have a huge role out of the gate either. Because of his size, 6-foot, 230 pounds, some thought he might work in as a short-yardage or goal-line power back. But he hasn't flashed in the preseason and it seems like Langford, who scored from inside the 5-yard line in preseason Week 2, will be that guy for Chicago (at least early on). In fact, according to Tyler Buecher of numberFire.com, Langford was 2015's most efficient short-yardage back.

Conclusion


When given a high-volume workload both as a runner and pass-catcher, we have seen Langford make the most of his opportunities. With solid proof that he can produce and the lack of a threat from the backs behind him on the Bears' depth chart, it's probably safe to assume Langford is going to handle the bulk of the Bears' workload early on. Even if he falters as a rusher, he will provide a viable floor as a pass-catcher, and Chicago is somewhat lacking in that department. His best attribute, his speed, will lend itself to big plays and if he stays on the field for goal-line work as well, consider it a major bonus. He's a huge value at his Round 7 asking price and unless we see any red flags in Chicago's remaining preseason games, fantasy owners should feel comfortable with him as an RB2 or RB3 to begin the season with breakout potential.

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