How Good Has Jeremy Langford Been for the Chicago Bears?
Entering Week 10, the St. Louis Rams boasted the league’s most dominant defense according our Net Expected Points (NEP) metrics, which compare a team's performance to expectation-level.
They ranked fourth versus the rush and second against the pass.
Someone forgot to tell Jeremy Langford.
The Chicago Bears rookie ran roughshod over the super-aggressive Rams and totaled 182 yards on 27 touches. He scored twice, including an 83-yard catch-and-run late in the first half. That particular play was a thing of beauty: great play call, stellar blocking, and most importantly, world-class speed from the fourth-rounder.
Overall, Langford has been productive in his time as a lead back. Just how good has he been?
Langford’s Hot Streak
Well, he’s been excellent. Since Matt Forte hurt his knee in Week 8, the Michigan State product has assumed feature-back duties. He’s filled those massive shoes admirably, gaining 324 yards with 3 total touchdowns. When looking at NEP, we see just how efficient he has been.
In Week 10, Langford’s Total NEP (8.73) was third amongst all running backs. This, despite playing on the road against the league’s best defense. Only Matt Jones (11.70) and Adrian Peterson (9.16) were better.
In Week 9, Langford was equally impressive, albeit against a much less formidable opponent. San Diego’s defense has been a complete sieve, ranking 28th in Adjusted Defensive NEP entering Week 10. Langford showed us why, as he was able to amass an 8.48 Total NEP, good for fourth amongst Week 9 running backs.
Despite averaging only 3.5 yards per carry, Langford has helped propel the Bears to two straight wins. Although the sample size is small, everyone wants to know how Langford’s season compares to starter Matt Forte.
Over the past eight seasons, Matt Forte has been one of the most reliable, consistent running backs in the NFL. Never touching the ball fewer than 250 times in a year, Forte has developed a reputation as a true work horse. A dual threat out of the backfield, Forte is an increasingly rare species: a three-down, feature back.
Because of his reliable workloads, Forte is regarded as a premier fantasy contributor, one that is almost matchup proof. In terms of Total NEP, he’s finished as a top five running back each of the last two seasons.
In some ways, this season has been more of the same.
Before injuring his knee in Week 8, Forte was on pace for 311 carries and 57 catches. The 368 total touches would have matched his exact total from 2014. Seems like the same old Forte.
But NEP tells us a different story. In 2014, Forte amassed a Total NEP of 39.25, good for fourth among all running backs.
2015? Entering Week 8 (before his knee injury), Forte ranked last in Rushing NEP among running backs with at least 100 carries. In Target NEP, he ranked 10th among the 14 running backs with at least 25 targets.
We could speculate as to the reason for Forte’s decline in efficiency. But the bottom line is that Forte turns 30 years old next month, has been sidelined with a knee injury, and has been far less efficient this year compared to recent years.
A Running Back Controversy in Chicago?
The Bears have certainly overachieved this season. After finishing 2014 with a 5-11 record, some speculated that the Bears may finish 2015 as the worst team in the league. A new coaching staff, a resurgent Jay Cutler, and decent offensive line play have the Bears at an almost respectable 4-5.
But let’s not get carried away. Coming into Week 10, the Bears ranked dead last in nERD, our signature metric for measuring team success, and were given a miniscule 0.3% chance to make the playoffs.
So how will the running back touches be divided for the rest of the season?
In a contract year, there’s no doubt that Matt Forte wants to return to his starting role. He may be ready to do so as early as Week 11.
Most analysts agree that, when healthy, Matt Forte will remain the starter and work horse in the Chicago backfield. It’s fair to say that Jeremy Langford has earned some additional touches, regardless of Forte’s status. As the Bears' playoff hopes slip further away, it’s not unreasonable to expect a more even timeshare towards the end of the season.
Regardless of who’s carrying the ball, the Bears’ remaining schedule is somewhat favorable. They’ll only face one top-10 defense (in terms of NEP) the rest of the way (Week 11 versus Denver).
In the offseason, Forte will be looking to cash in on what could be his last NFL contract. With an explosive rookie waiting in the wings, it’s quite feasible that when Forte signs that contract, he won't be doing it in Chicago.