Pressing Questions: The Bears Backfield

Chicago Bears running back Jeremy Langford runs past St. Louis Rams free safety Rodney McLeod, left, on his way to an 83-yard touchdown during the second quarter of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 15, 2015, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Tom Gannam)

The NFL regular season kicks off in less than 15 weeks. Between now and then, fans of the virtual game will closely watch quarterback competitions, mull muddy backfields, and ruminate over rehab related timetables. To honor this summer-long quest for clarity, each week I’ll be highlighting one of fantasy’s most pressing questions. First up… the Bears backfield.

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Per the Chicago Tribune, John Fox recently intimated that he’d likely use a “hot hand” approach at running back. An RBBC enthusiast since the early 2000’s, Fox’s comments aren’t particularly shocking, but they do bring into question the values of Jeremy Langford and Jordan Howard.

After Matt Forte’s official departure from the team, many had assumed that Langford would inherit the vet’s touches. A wrench was thrown into this supposition, however, when the Bears selected Howard in the fifth round of last month’s draft. A physical player with excellent vision and power, Howard appears to have everything that Langford lacks.

Yet, according to current ADP data, Langford is the fifteenth RB coming off of the board, being drafted in the latter half of the third round (3.10). Ironically he’s going just after Forte, and ahead of players like DeMarco Murray and Carlos Hyde. That’s awfully high for a guy whose coach is already admitting he’s aiming to employ a tandem.

After Forte returned from injury in Week 12, both he and Langford were in a near 50-50 timeshare through the end of the season. Over the ensuing four weeks, Forte averaged nearly 49 percent of snaps. Whereas, Langford was on the field for 46 percent of snaps (Note: I did not include Week 17 in my calculation as Forte was allowed a final bow of sorts, and given 90 percent of the offensive snaps.)

In that time, Langford wasn’t particularly good. While he did flash some receiving ability in Week 10 with an 83-yard score against the Rams, he also dropped eight balls (the most of any RB in 2015) and posted a catch percentage of just 55 percent. Drafted in part due to his previous experience as a wide receiver, those stats are far from stud status.

Furthermore, Langford’s rushing production underwhelmed, as he averaged just 3.6 YPC. His after contact numbers were even worse at just 1.8 yards, placing him among the bottom fifteen players at the position for that statistical category. These stats suggest that scouts who dinged the Michigan State product for his lack of physicality and toughness between the tackles were indeed correct.

It’s no wonder then that the Bears went out and got a guy who weighs twenty more pounds and doesn’t shy away from contact. While there’s likely to be a learning curve for the rookie, and admitting that Coach Fox has a tendency to defer to experience over youth, Howard is still the back to own in Chicago. With fantasy managers dubious about the unknown, the former Hoosier presents absurd late-round value. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him handle 10-12 touches per game, mixing in on early-downs and at the goal line.

Attempting to craft a next-gen version of Stephen Davis and Deshaun Foster in the Windy City, Fox is revving the run in 2016. Howard owners are going to enjoy being along for the ride.

Which FF dilemma is making you go Hmmm? Follow Liz on Twitter @LizLoza_FF and suggest future editions of Pressing Questions.