Each week throughout the season, I’ll cover one or two rookies in the Rookie Report Card and try to always include the biggest performers from that particular week. On top of reviewing my expectations for each player coming into the league and covering how he’s performed at the NFL level to this point, I’ll actually give him a grade in three categories. Those categories are performance to date, 2015 potential and long term upside.
The series continues with a look at Jeremy Langford.
Jeremy Langford, RB CHI
Week Nine Stats: 20 carries, 73 rushing yards, one rushing touchdown, seven receptions, 109 receiving yards, one touchdown reception
As a fan of Big Ten football, I watched a lot of Langford while he was playing at Michigan State. He bounced around from cornerback to wide receiver before settling in at running back, which was obviously his strongest position.
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He improved with each season that passed while in college. A speedy runner with good size (6’-0”, 208 pounds), he showed good acceleration at the point of attack to burst through running lanes and into the second level. When holes weren’t there to run through, he displayed the vision and lateral quickness to slide into the opening before exploding through the crease.
Because of that foot speed, Langford was most dangerous in the open field on the perimeter or at the second level. Showing a sick spin move on multiple occasions while in college, he has the ability to leave defenders in his dust. Once he reached the secondary, his 4.42 speed made him incredibly difficult to catch.
What may have made him most attractive to NFL general managers was his prowess in the passing game. No surprise due to his ability to play wide out earlier in his college career, he has excellent hands. Showing the ability to catch the ball and seamlessly transition to a runner, he’s strong after the catch and showed the ability to turn dump offs and check downs into big plays.
Despite his strengths, I entered the draft season feeling like Langford had a nice NFL upside, but that his fantasy upside may be capped. Having watched him multiple times in each of the last few seasons, I was convinced Langford lacked the ability to consistently break tackles. Taken down by arm tackles far too often, he appeared to lack the physicality to play full time at the next level.
The other weakness to Langford’s game while at Michigan State revolved around his insistence to bounce runs to the edge when there wasn’t anything there. Although he made some of his biggest plays by extending runs to the outside before racing down the sideline, he also routinely took negative yardage instead of lowering his head and churning his legs for as many yards as possible. With the increased speed of NFL defenders, this was sure to be an even bigger problem on Sundays.
Before he was taken by the Bears early in the fourth round of the draft, I was convinced Langford’s future lied as a third down tailback that could develop into a nice change of pace runner and quality backup, but lacked the skills to be a true workhorse. Despite some quality fantasy performances over his first couple starts, nothing has changed.
Through the first 65 carries of his NFL career, he has looked good at times but still suffers from the same things that made him a question mark as a potential full time runner at the NFL level. Averaging just 3.46 yards per carry, he’s struggled to get free from breakable tackles and still insists far too often on trying to get to the perimeter rather than slamming the ball between the hashes.
If you happened to catch the highlights of the Bears-Rams game on Sunday, you probably came away thinking Langford had an incredible game and that we may have seen the breakout performance of the next dynamic young tailback. If you watched the game however, you should have come away with a different perspective.
Don’t get me wrong, he had some impressive moments and certainly proved that he belongs in the league. For example, the 83-yard touchdown catch on a screen pass in the second quarter where he leaked out of the backfield and brought the ball in before turning on the jets and streaking down the left sideline for the score. On the play he showed his savvy in the passing game, selling that he was a blocker just long enough before sneaking outside.
Another highlight came in the third quarter when he took a pitch to the right and accelerated around the corner for a 23-yard gain. The play was blocked perfectly and featured an impressive seal block by Kyle Long but also showed just how quickly Langford can get the edge.
In the fourth quarter with the Bears milking the clock and nursing a three score lead, he did a majority of the heavy lifting on a drive that was capped by a nice run up the middle that went for a six-yard score. Shooting through the wide hole, he displayed quick decision making and a good burst.
Again, a stat line that includes 182 yards from scrimmage and a pair of touchdowns which translates to 37.2 fantasy points in PPR is nothing a scoff at. Those looking only at the stat line will likely be impressed. If you watched the game however, you might not be quite as awestruck.
In his 20 carries in the game, Langford gained more than three-yards just five times and was stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage on five more of those carries. While I won’t take the time to go into detail on each of his runs, I will say that often it was his stubbornness to take what was there rather than extending outside on runs between the tackles that caused the negative plays. More than once he decided to go east and west rather than lowering his shoulder on such runs.
Looking even closer at his performance on Sunday, there were also a few instances where he missed relatively easy opportunities to break tackles or make defenders miss. The most glaring instance that comes to mind came on Chicago’s drive late in the game when they were nursing a 17-point lead. He ran a dive between the center and right guard and popped into the second level. With only a safety to beat and a full head of steam, he got tripped up despite having the entire field to work with. Although he scored a handful of plays later, top tailbacks would make that dropping safety miss either by changing directions or with a stiff arm or shake move.
Overall on the day, the truth is that he did a majority of his damage in the role he’s most suited for – as a passing game tailback. The touchdown on the screen pass, a 14-yard catch on a play action pass on fourth-and-one and a handful of check downs were a majority of his best plays. It was obvious to me that he best fits as a part-time specialist and that his future in the NFL is in that role.
The point of all of this isn’t to warn Langford’s dynasty owners of his impending doom. Instead, it’s to highlight that his fantasy upside most likely lies as a third down back in the mold of Danny Woodhead or Shane Vereen. Although such players have proven at times to be incredibly useful to fantasy owners – particularly in PPR leagues – they’re production has also proven to be incredibly erratic at times due to game flow and other factors.
All things told, I strongly feel that Langford is not a lead NFL tailback. While many are likely to be encouraged by a strong showing against a quality defense and hoping he inherits the job from the free agent to be, Matt Forte, I highly doubt he has what it takes to handle those duties on a regular basis.
If I owned him, I’d be looking for the opportune moment to cash in on his value. Whether that’s now to the Forte owner or somebody else desperate for running back help, or in the off-season after the future of the Chicago backfield is figured out, I’d be looking for somebody to pay RB2 prices for a player with RB3/flex upside.
Find Dan on Twitter at @dmeylor22
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