Matt Forte now wears the green and white of the New York Jets. That's a reality with which Chicago Bears fans are still coming to terms.
In the wake of Forte's departure, the conversation concerning Chicago's backfield has swung to Jeremy Langford, who had 816 total yards his rookie season, and Jordan Howard, this year's fifth-round selection. Many, like myself, still consider Ka'Deem Carey a viable option, giving the coaching staff a three-headed pool from which to choose this season.
Yet very few are discussing Jacquizz Rodgers, whose impact this season could match or exceed each of the other running backs on the roster.
Rodgers played four-plus games for the Bears last season before breaking his leg in Week 5 against the Chiefs. On offense, he was used as a No. 3 change-of-pace back, rushing the ball 2-4 times each contest. He finished the year with 14 carries for 41 yards and 1 catch for 10 yards.
At 5-6, 199 pounds, Rodgers does not have the size to be a bell cow back. In his five-year career he's never had more than 96 carries in a season. As a ball carrier, he's little more than a No. 3 option.
While he only caught one pass last year, that was due to the prowess of Forte - the NFL's all-time single season leader in receptions for a running back - as a pass catcher. Yet Rodgers is very reliable out of the backfield.
With the Falcons in 2012, he caught 53 passes for 402 yards and 1 TD, while in 2013 he had 52 catches for 341 yards and 2 TDs. Langford led all NFL running backs last season in drops (8) and Howard has little value on passing downs. That makes Rodgers by far the best option on third downs.
With Forte gone, Rodgers is also now the best pass-protecting running back on the roster, giving him further value in passing situations. As a result, don't be surprised if he serves as the club's primary third-down back in 2016.
Beyond his skill set on offense, Rodgers is a core piece of Chicago's special teams, particularly in punt and kick coverage. At the time of his injury last year, Rodgers led the team in special teams tackles.
"[Rodgers] did a nice job for us in the first five games," special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers said after Jacquizz broke his leg. "Filled multiple roles, veteran player, one of the leaders. A couple guys are going to have to step up in that role not only on the field, but off the field in the meeting room."
When your coordinator says it's going to take multiple players to fill your shoes, then you know you're important.
Rodgers only returned one kickoff for the Bears but in 2012 and 2013, he combined to return 47 kicks at 24.3 yards per return. He's been in the kick return rotation this off-season and will battle in training camp for that role as well.
For the Bears, Rodgers wears a lot of hats. They aren't the flashy hats but they are important for both special teams and the passing attack.
Langford and Howard will likely end up the primary one-two punch in Chicago's backfield this year but in terms of overall value, Rodgers could surpass both.null