In a perfect world, the only running back the Chicago Bears need in 2017 is Jordan Howard.
Unfortunately, that perfect world doesn’t exist and there’s a crowd sitting behind him on the Bears’ running back depth chart as training camp opens this week.
Jeremy Langford, Ka’Deem Carey, Benny Cunningham and Tarik Cohen all bring a different game to the table as they look to secure the two or three roster spots sitting behind Howard, but could familiar names be headed for the door?
The answer is yes, and an emphatic one at that.
It’s all but a given that Cohen, aka “The Human Joystick”, will make the squad after the team spent a fourth-round pick on the small, versatile back.
Cunningham meanwhile brings an electric game of his own: the return game. Last season, the 27-year-old posted a 27.2 yards per return average on kickoffs, good for 6th in the league last season.
For as much as Chicago struggled to find that special teams spark, his ability to set up the offense with good field position is not something John Fox will send to the chopping block.
With Howard, Cohen and Cunningham virtual locks on the roster, that leaves one spot between Langford and Carey – and the choice isn’t so cut and dry.
Looking back over the past two years since they became teammates, the Arizona and Michigan State products have been mediocre at best when looking at their lines:
Langford – 537 rushing yards on 148 attempts (3.6 ypc), 6 TDs; 22 receptions for 279 yards, 1 TD
Carey – 159 rushing yards on 43 attempts (3.7 ypc), 2 TDs; 3 receptions for 19 yards, 1 TD
Langford – 200 rushing yards on 62 attempts (3.2 ypc), 4 TDs; 19 receptions for 142 yards
Carey – 126 rushing yards on 32 attempts (3.9 ypc); 5 receptions for 55 yards
Carey has spent his first three years in the NFL learning the special teams game to help him stay in the league, yet the fact he has yet to eclipse the 200-yard mark in any of his three seasons may have finally caught up to him.
With such weak stats, many would imagine he would be the odd man out, however, the injury bug may save him in his fourth year.
Langford went under the knife following his rough 2016 campaign to repair a nagging ankle injury and the initial reports as we head towards August have not been promising.
According to several reports, the third-year back has been slow to recover and his availability to start training camp is in question. If the injury does indeed continue to nag him, costing him valuable time with the team, he could find himself as the odd man out if Carey takes advantage of the situation.
Regardless of recovery, Langford will need to rebound from posting the fourth worst RB grade in the league, according to Pro Football Focus, along with his NFL-low 1.94 yards per carry after contact among backs that carried the ball at least 50 times.
The positive leaning in Langford’s favor is his style of running which looks more like Howard than it does a quick, pass catcher, something we can assume the Bears will already have two players capable of doing. Having a variety of talent carrying the rock can only benefit his case for a spot.
So which back will be sent packing come the end of August? Carey is probably the best bet to not be wearing the orange and blue in 2017.
Yet with a crowded room of running backs, anything is possible — especially when the answer could lie in a surgically repaired ankle.