There is no question Matt Forte lost a step and little disagreement about the Bears decision to let him go. But the reality of the situation is that by exiling Forte the club has created a big hole at the running back position. Forte, even after injury and the emergence of Jeremy Langford, was getting nearly 60 percent of the carries and was the team’s best back by every conceivable measurement.
Langford is most known for his speed and explosiveness but Forte led him in runs of fifteen yards or more by the staggering total of 10-3. Ka’Deem Carey is known for running hard and breaking tackles but — according to Pro Football Focus — Forte averaged more yards after contact (2.24-2.05) and broke a tackle once every 9 touches. Carey did once every 9.2 touches.
Even if you were to combine Langford and Carey into one back, they weren’t as good as Forte. Langford averaged 1.76 yards after contact and broke a tackle once every 17 touches and Carey has never had a run longer than 15 yards. (He’s had runs longer than 10 yards just twice.) Forte also averaged about a half-yard more per carry overall than the other two combined.
Carey is what he is and the Bears seem to know that. He might not have made the team if Senorise Perry wasn’t injured late in the preseason. Carey didn’t play 10 percent of the snaps in any game both Forte and Langford were healthy. He doesn’t provide anything in the passing game as either a blocker or receiver and there just aren’t many 210-pound power backs in the league.
Langford could certainly get stronger, which would help him break more tackles, but I’m not sure he can develop the kind of vision elite backs have. Running back is considered a plug and play position and many believe running backs are what they are when they enter the league with improvements coming in areas such as pass protection and receiving.
Langford’s potential is obvious and he proved he could be productive as a starter, although not necessarily as a runner. In his three starts, he didn’t reach 75 yards or have over four yards per carry. According to PFF, Langford averaged fewer yards per carry against base defenses than any other back in the league. One year in, Langford just seems more like a guy who can make plays when they’re there versus being a guy who makes plays for himself. Which is fine with a great supporting cast, but not ideal.
He did make big plays as a receiver.
If Langford can handle 60 percent of the team’s carries next year, they still need someone else to take the other 40 percent. Fox has liked to pair speed backs with power backs (Deshaun Foster/Stephen Davis, DeAngelo Williams/Jonathan Stewart, Ronnie Hillman/Montee Ball). The Bears could target Alabama’s Derrick Henry early or Indiana’s Jordan Howard in the middle rounds to either complement Langford or have Langford complement them. The thought that they can just find one as a UDFA is mostly a myth. 16 of the top 20 rushers in the league last year were drafted within the first four rounds.
It’s hard to doubt the Bears for moving on from Forte. His burst is gone and the mileage was piling up. There is no reason to think he would be as productive going forward as he was even last year. But they have to replace the production they got from him. The guys they already have might be able to help, but the Bears need to continue to add talent to the position. They wouldn’t regret having more than one great running back.