A year ago at this time, Jeremy Langford was primed to be the heir apparent to Matt Forte.
Langford filled in admirably for Forte during his rookie season. A fifth-round pick out of Michigan State in 2015, Langford flashed enough speed and ball-carrying skills to make the Chicago Bears feel comfortable about letting Forte walk away in free agency. But things have changed in what feels like a blink of an eye, and they aren’t looking any better for the former starting running back.
Dan Wiederer reported that Langford had offseason ankle surgery, which could keep him from being ready for the start of the preseason. Unrelated to the injury, but worth underlining as we approach training camp, Lorin Cox of Pro Football Focus takes note of Langford’s sophomore slump. His 1.94 yards per carry after contact ranked as the lowest among NFL rushers who carried the ball at least 50 times last season. On the other side of the coin, rookie Jordan Howard – who supplanted Langford as the team’s starter and feature back – averaged 2.98 yards per rush after contact, which was the 10th best average among backs. Langford’s 46.4 grade from PFF ranked 68th of 72 backs who played 150 snaps, which represents a step back from a rookie season grade of 71.7.
Things weren’t totally bad for Langford. For example, he increased his catch percentage from 52.4% to 70.4%. That might not be the most important factor in returning to form as a running back, but it’s an aspect that was missing from the Bears’ offense last season that could help diversify the team’s options.
That Langford was expected to emerge as the lead back this time last year is a prime example of how fickle the sport of football can be, and how quickly things can change – especially at the running back position. One year after essentially being handed a starting job, Langford’s standing in the Bears’ backfield is up in the air going into training camp. And the picture didn’t get any clearer after the front office added free agent Benny Cunningham, fourth-round pick Tarik Cohen, and undrafted free agent Joel Bouagnon to compete with Langford and Ka’Deem Carey for roles behind behind Howard.