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Jeremy Langford risky but also a potential steal

There's a fine line in fantasy football drafts between a bargain and a bust, and sometimes it's difficult to tell the difference. My recent FLEX Cup draft in New York City hammered this home.

Every selection carries a certain expectation. The player you pick in the first round, you figure to finish at least somewhere near first-round value.

In general, as the rounds fade away, so does risk. It's easier to find inseason replacements for middle- and late-rounders. Big-profit sleepers are born. During a predicament in the FLEX, I found an opportunity I wouldn't have thought possible this spring.

Chicago Bears running back Jeremy Langford has experienced a wild swing in 2016 average draft position. He scored seven touchdowns on only 170 touches last year, and he thrived while replacing Matt Forte. When Chicago announced in February that they wouldn't re-sign the veteran, Langford gained immediate hype in the "way too early to draft" window for those mocking in February. He was called in Round 2 or 3 at times.


Luckily, clearer heads took over. As more research came out on Langford's inefficiency, which led to just 3.6 yards per carry last year, the fantasy football world soured on him. Rookie Jordan Howard or changeup back Ka'Deem Carey – not outstanding players themselves – suddenly were predicted to render Langford irrelevant eventually. Thus, Langford's market dwindled, pegging him recently with an ADP in the much more digestible sixth round of a 12-team league.

In my half-point-per-reception draft, I started off with three straight wide receivers (Allen Robinson, Mike Evans, Julian Edelman), leaving myself in the precarious but perversely fun position of collecting running backs. After plucking DeMarco Murray and Giovani Bernard – and a Round 6 "My Guy" pick of Tyler Lockett – I needed a third back.

There's the sweet spot.

Anyone with a shot at majority backfield duty, especially for a John Fox run-first club, stands out in Round 7 – assuming his recent ankle injury remains minor, as expected. He received all the first-team snaps last weekend and the heavy majority this past weekend, so it's clear he's leading the pack. especially because he's also a steady pass-blocker.

Last season, the Bears' offensive line finished as one of the NFL's best for the run game. It helped Langford thrash the New England Patriots two weekends ago for 55 yards and a touchdown on eight carries. The biggest development, however, is Chicago mixing in more outside zone blocking schemes:

"We've been practicing that since OTAs," Langford said. "... I think it gives you more of a variety of cuts and more options in that style once the offensive linemen are doing as good as they are. I like running that outside zone scheme."

It appears to fit him much better than the man/power style that made him more of a square peg in 2015. Reminder: A similar change helped produce Devonta Freeman's fantasy MVP-level 2015.

Even with his imperfections, Langford ranked fifth in Football Outsiders' DVOA rankings (value per play) among running backs with 100-plus carries, better than his predecessor Forte (seventh), Todd Gurley (ninth), LeSean McCoy (11th) and Freeman (24th). Learning how to hit holes more effectively in his second season, in a friendlier offensive design, could propel Langford to the next level.

Saying "I will not draft 'Player X' regardless of price" is one of the biggest mistakes you can make in fantasy football. Any player can look great at a certain price point.

As my third running back and flex consideration (there are two flex lineup spots in this aptly named FLEX league), Langford carries a minuscule burden of proof for fantasy production. If he loses ground in a committee or altogether ... whatever, the commitment was so small that I'm not burned by it. If he pops off, however, it turns out to be a steal in, say, a zero-RB strategy.

Going against the grain is fun and often helps you win. Embrace risk when the time is right?