The Chicago Bears are excited about the potential of rookie running back Jeremy Langford. Drafted in the 4th round (106th overall) out of Michigan State, Langford has carved out a significant role in Chicago's offense.
“I like his football character. [The game's] not too big for him," head coach John Fox said. "He’s very willing. So his mindset is to learn. I think Stan Drayton, his position coach, has done a tremendous job with him. And a lot of it is he’s very receptive. I call it football character. He picks things up very well for a young player.”
Langford started in place of Matt Forte in weeks 9-11 and produced at a high level. He had 142 total yards in Week 9 against the Chargers and 172 yards from scrimmage the following week against the Rams. Despite just three starts - two, technically, as Ka'Deem Carey was on the field for the first offensive snap against San Diego - Langford ranks 9th in the NFL in rushing among rookies, while his 6 TDs are tied with Todd Gurley for fourth most among first-year players.
“Approach-wise, he’s developing into a professional pretty quickly," Jay Cutler said. "He knows what we are asking of him. He knows protections. He obviously knows the run game and is picking up the pass game very quickly. He makes it comfortable on the quarterback. If you tell him something, he already knows it. He already knows what he is supposed to do. He’s developing into that role pretty quickly.”
After demonstrating his prowess as both a runner and receiver, Langford has earned a 40-percent share of the backfield with Matt Forte, a percentage that could rise over the final five weeks of the campaign. With a soid veteran and an explosive rookie, the Bears have a solid one-two punch for the stretch run.
Yet there are concerns about Langford and his ability to be a full-time running back next year and beyond.
First, he's averaging just 3.3 yards per carry, which is Trent-Richardson low. That's a red flag.
Second, according to Pro Football Focus, Langford is averaging 1.49 yards after contact, while forcing just four missed tackles. Those numbers rank 50th of 50 qualifying running backs. In essence, he's done very little on his own and has needed good blocking to execute chunk gains.
Third, Langford has dropped five passes on 26 targets. PFF ranks 21 of those targets as "catchable", giving him a 23.81 drop rate, which also ranks 50th out of 50 qualifying running backs.
Fourth, Langford has allowed five total pressures in pass protection, per PFF, on 25 pass-block snaps. His 85.0 Pass Block Efficiency ranks 58th of 63 qualifying running backs.
Finally, while Langford has an 83-yard touchdown reception, he has not shown breakaway ability as a ball carrier. He has just two runs of 15-plus yards, totaling 39 yards. Per PFF, his 13.9 breakaway percentage is 44th out of 50.
This is not to say that Langford is a bad running back. On the contrary, Langford has a lot of potential as a workhorse running back in Chicago's backfield for many years to come.
But, as a first-year player, he's flawed. I did my research having no idea what I'd find and the results are not pretty. It's relatively surprising, as Langford looked like an NFL running back the past month, but it's clear he has a lot of room for improvement.
Langford will get there eventually but there are sure to be some growing pains along the way.