After an underwhelming Week 2 performance by Jeremy Langford, the Bears’ starting RB position appears to be up for grabs and 5th-round selection Jordan Howard is really making a case for himself.
When the Chicago Bears decided to let Matt Forte walk into free agency on February 12, 2016, they negligently created a massive hole in their backfield. After a half-hearted attempt (maybe it wasn’t even that) to keep the 2-time Pro Bowler and second best rusher in Bears history (8,602) in Chicago, second-year tailback Jeremy Langford and company see themselves confronted with having shoes to fill worth 1,590 all-purpose yards per year — and I don’t think I have to tell you that those are some big a** shoes.
I’m still not entirely sure what led GM Ryan Pace to believe that Jeremy Langford could replace the workhorse Matt Forte. Maybe it was John Fox’s proven system of rotating his backs. Maybe he thought Matt Forte simply asked for too much money, considering the circumstances (with a rebuilding plan in place). Or maybe he wasn’t so sure himself when April rolled around, considering the fact that he drafted — and thank God he did — a running back named Jordan Howard, who I regard as one of the biggest steals of this year’s draft.
I could go on talking about how sloppy and rash the Bears front office was operating when they decided not to give Forte a 2 to 3-year deal, and to have the audacity to think that a gazelle-like and versatile running back like Matt Forte doesn’t have considerably more snaps left in his body than most half backs after they’ve hit age 30 — but that’s a story for another day (I also think I’ve made my point).
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At the end of 2015, the Bears were 6-10 and Jeremy Langford finished the season with 537 yards, 3.6 average yards per carry, and 6 touchdowns. And don’t get me wrong, those are by now means bad stats for a No.2, who didn’t miss a single game all year and started in two games for a banged up Matt Forte — but the emphasis is, and should be, on No.2.
It’s a common misconception amongst fans that your No.2 rookie running back should automatically be promoted when your former starter — and provided he produced like one — leaves, gets traded, retires (whatever the case may be).
By no means am I saying that Langford is a bad running back. All I’m saying is that a backup role would be much more fitting for his skill set than the No.1 spot.
Let me give you a comparison of Jeremy Langford and Vikings running back Jerick McKinnon to further explain my point:
Both running backs are 24 years of age. Langford is 6-0, McKinnon is 5-9. They both weigh between 205 and 211. Lanford’s 40-yard dash at the combine was 4,42. McKinnon ran a 4,41. They can both catch a little out of the backfield and have great burst around the corner. Sounds good, right? But qualitatively, they’re both not every-down backs and here’s why:
They are not tackle breakers. Langford’s AVG of last year (3.6) proves it. And after two games as a starter in 2016, his AVG is even lower (3.0) and was rated worst RB in Week 2 by Pro Football Focus (which only supports my argument). Now, Jerick McKinnon’s AVG was at 5.2 last season, but merely for the simple fact that Adrian Peterson started all 16 games. Mike Zimmer and company undoubtedly did their homework on how to utilize McKinnon’s speed and gave him the chance to pick up yards in situations that suggested that he would indeed pick up 5+ yards.
My point is that both McKinnon and Langford can be weapons — when used correctly (meaning from the No.2 spot).
After Adrian Peterson’s meniscus surgery, he’s likely to be out for at least 3-4 months. Even with the recent addition of Ronnie Hillman, McKinnon is next in line to receive some snaps as a starter. I encourage you to keep an eye on his AVG. If they use him as a true No.1/every-down back or in similar fashion the Bears have used Langford thus far, there’s no doubt in my mind that his AVG will turn out to be similarly low to Langford’s.
Let’s talk about Jordan Howard, shall we?
Howard should have been picked way higher than 150th overall. In my humble opinion, he should have been the second running back taken (only behind Cowboys rookie Ezekiel Elliott). Maybe he would have, had he not missed four games in 2015 and noticeable playing time in 2014 due to various injuries.
Howard rushed for 1,587 yards, had a 5.2 AVG, and 13 touchdowns at UAB, before the program announced it would shut down after the 2014 season.
In 2015, Howard rushed for 1,213 yards, boasting an impressive 6.2 AVG, and 9 touchdowns in only 9 games as an Indiana Hoosier.
When I look at the stats, Howard’s AVG (or Y/A) jumps out to me right off the bat. And his 3.7 yards after contact downright scream starting RB.
Howard is a relentless runner that will force missed tackles galore. He has rare vision, patience, and an exceptional feel for timing his moves, allowing him to recognize holes more quickly and take advantage of them with at times Forte-esque cuts. Here’s some game film to support my premise:
Especially with a struggling Bears O-line and a QB situation that’s shakier than Jay Cutler’s hands when he signed that ridiculous 7-year/$126M contract, you need to start a running back that can break tackles and consistently pick up yards, in order to take pressure off of your quarterback and offensive line.
I am not saying Jordan Howard is the next Matt Forte, but he’s the only Bears RB that fits the label “Workhorse”. And isn’t that exactly who the Bears are hoping to replace?