Can Jeremy Langford Effectively Fill Matt Forte's Shoes?
With the NFL offseason in full swing, some players have already learned that they'll no longer play with the team they've played with throughout their careers.
One such example is Matt Forte, who was informed by the Bears that they were moving on.
As a result, other players hope to earn their first opportunities either on a new team or in a new role on the same team they were already on. In this case, Jeremy Langford is hoping to ascend to the starting running back role in Chicago in hopes of adequately replacing Forte.
In his eight years in Chicago, Forte amassed 8,602 rushing yards (4.2 yards per carry) and 45 touchdowns on 2,035 carries. Additionally, he was a threat in the passing game, where he racked up 4,116 receiving yards and 19 touchdowns on 487 receptions.
In five of his eight seasons, Forte rushed for over 1,000 yards. He also never caught fewer than 40 passes in any season and, in 2014, he caught 102 passes.
For the past eight seasons, Forte was the ideal workhorse back for the Chicago Bears. Now, Langford appears to be the heir apparent.
Just how well can he replace Forte?
A Look Back
In Langford's rookie season, he produced 537 rushing yards and 6 rushing touchdowns on 148 carries, giving him a paltry 3.6 yards per carry. As a receiver, Langford produced 279 receiving yards and 1 touchdown on 22 receptions for 12.7 yards per reception.
At a glance, Langford's rushing numbers look bad even though he scored the 12th most rushing touchdowns in the NFL. On the other hand, Langord's receiving numbers look great, as his yards per reception are on par with David Johnson's, and he outpaced noted receiving backs Giovani Bernard, Duke Johnson, and Danny Woodhead.
To help us contextualize what Langford did last year, though, let's use Net Expected Points (NEP) to tell us just how much value Langford added in both the pass and run game. If you're unfamiliar with NEP, make sure to learn more about it in our glossary.
There were 49 running backs who rushed at least 90 times last year. Only 16 of the running backs had a positive Rushing NEP -- rushing is far less effective than passing -- and Langford was 15th in Rushing NEP (1.93). Accordingly, he had the 14th highest Rushing NEP per play (0.01), and 13th best Rushing Success Rate (43.24%).
Not bad. Not bad at all.
Furthermore, 47 running backs saw at least 30 targets in the passing game -- Langford had 42 targets. Out of the 47 running backs, Langford was 13th in Reception NEP (22.53), and 4th in Reception NEP per target (0.54).
Again, this is great for a rookie back.
With a Rushing NEP showing the opposite of his yards per carry, and his receiving game appearing strong overall, how exactly do we assess Langford going forward?
The Big Picture
As Tyler Buecher recently wrote, Langford was the best short yardage back last year. This and his red zone success could help explain why his Rushing NEP was a positive value, while his yards per carry was so low.
There were 60 running backs who had at least 10 carries in the red zone, and 43 backs had at least five attempts from inside their opponents' five-yard line.
All six of Langford's rushing touchdowns came inside the red zone on only 17 attempts. This brought a touchdown success rate of 35.29%, ranking second to only Spencer Ware while in the red zone. Five of the touchdowns came on just seven attempts from inside the five-yard line. Here, his touchdown rate tied for first with Ware (71.43%).
Langford's red zone Rushing NEP was 9.48 (the touchdown's alone contributed 9.81 Rushing NEP). But outside of the red zone, his Rushing NEP falls to -7.74, which would rank 31st among the 49 backs who had at least 90 carries. Accordingly, his Rushing NEP per play also falls to 35th (-0.06), and his Rushing Success Rate falls to 28th place (39.69%).
This shows how dominant Langford was in the red zone, since most of his value came from there and short yardage situations. Away from the red zone, Langford wasn't nearly as competent.
In addition to all of this, there's a thought that Langford is a big-play back.
On the ground that's far from true, as his low Rushing NEP per play and Rushing Success Rate combine to show. Furthermore, he was below average in runs going over both 5 and 10 yards on the year, and he only broke one run for more than 20 yards.
Through the air, nearly half of Langford's yardage and his lone touchdown came on just two plays. This helps show why the big play bias is potentially prevalent. However, we can dispel the notion that Langford is a great receiving back without tossing out these plays.
While Langford had a great Reception NEP per target, both his 26th ranked Target NEP (4.66) and last-ranked Catch Rate (52.38%) among 30-plus target backs help detail his problems. The mean for Catch Rate this past year was 74% among the subset, meaning Langford was catching far fewer of his passes than the average highly-targeted runner.
To put all this another way, his relatively good Reception NEP per target is more than likely skewed by the fact that, when he caught the ball, he did a lot with it. The unfortunate part is that he wasn't efficient at actually catching passes.
While Langford could improve on his inefficiency outside of the red zone next year, there's also the chance that he doesn't. So in fantasy -- dynasty leagues -- selling Langford high right now looks like the ideal play, while people believe he is the heir to Forte's former throne.
As it stands, Langford appears best suited for a short yardage and red zone role in the offense going forward, rather than taking over as the team's true lead back. Instead, we could see Chicago form a committee with him and Ka'Deem Carey in 2016, or draft another back in this year's draft.