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Pushing the Pocket - Allen Hurns and Jeremy Langford

Fahey takes a look at two of the league's younger, less celebrated players.

Allen Hurns' performances this season have been startling.

The second-year wide receiver overachieved as a rookie after going undrafted. Just making the Jaguars roster meant he surpassed expectations, but his contributions last year saw him catch 51 passes for 677 yards and six touchdowns. Hurns showed off a wide skill set, only struggling to consistently catch the ball.

It's taken Hurns' just seven games this season to encroach on those numbers. On 31 receptions, Hurns has accumulated 513 yards and five touchdowns. All five of those touchdowns came over his past five games. Most importantly, Hurns isn't struggling at the catch point as much this season. In fact, he's not struggling at the catch point at all this season.

Hurns has just one drop on the season and that came in Week 1. Since then, he has consistently got open and given his quarterback opportunities to complete passes downfield. Blake Bortles is a quarterback who aggressively pushes the ball downfield. Hurns is averaging 16.5 yards per reception, but already has eight 20+ yard receptions on the season after having 11 in 16 games last year. 

Because he is an undrafted player, there will always be skepticism surrounding Hurns' ability to sustain his production over longer periods. There shouldn't be though. A big reason for Hurns' inconsistency at the catch point during his rookie season was the service he was getting from his quarterback. Bortles still struggles to place the ball consistently, but he has shown improvement to the point that Hurns isn't being asked to consistently make difficult adjustments.

When he is tasked with making difficult adjustments, he isn't found wanting.

Against the Buffalo Bills during the Jaguars' most recent outing, Bortles couldn't find Hurns for most of the game. The receiver had just two receptions for 53 yards with one other reception that went for seven yards that was negated by penalty. Hurns' biggest play of the game came late in the fourth quarter. He was running towards the pylon deep down the field after Bortles extended the play into the flat.

Bortles threw a catchable pass to Hurns, but only just.

During his rookie season, there was always reason to be optimistic about Hurns because even though he was struggling to catch the ball as often as he should have, he also regularly showed off outstanding ball skills. Those outstanding ball skills were put on show on this play also as Hurns showed off athleticism to catch up to the ball before making a full extension catch while diving towards the sideline.

Hurns' ball skills are his greatest strength. He stands at 6'3" and 205 lbs, but he is a fluid mover. He can bend and reach low while also high pointing the ball at an angle to beat defensive backs in different ways. Those ball skills allow him to adjust more easily to poorly placed throws from his quarterback. However, ball skills alone aren't hugely valuable. To sustain success in the NFL, you can't be so one-dimensional.

Even though he went undrafted, Hurns isn't one-dimensional.

He isn't a creative runner or even an elusive one. He does carry a threat with the ball in his hands though because of his well-rounded athleticism. The 23-year old receiver is well built. He carries his weight very well and possesses impressive straight-line speed, strength through contact and quickness in his feet. While he's not as physically imposing as Dez Bryant, his dimensions and wide athletic skill set makes it easy to draw comparisons between the two.

In the above play against the Tamp Bay Buccaneers, Hurns shows off his comfort catching the ball on the move before bouncing off of contact to continue downfield.

His fluid athleticism and comfort on the move is what gives him the potential to be a great route runner. Despite his size, his lack of unecessary weight means that Hurns can play light on his feet. In the above play, he is able to set up the defensive back covering him to the outside before breaking back infield and accelerating down the seam.

When Hurns catches the ball, he is able to shift his weight again with a cut to evade the incoming tackle attempt and continue downfield for the long touchdown.

He may not be fully refined in terms of his route running technique, but all of the tools are there for Hurns to develop into one of the better route runners in the NFL. It's rare that you can find a player with his kind of comfort moving at the speed he moves, that alone should have made him more attractive to teams during the draft.

There are short-term concerns with Hurns' production.

Playing for the Jaguars means that he will be playing in a pass-heavy offense. The Jaguars don't look set to be consistently competitive this season, so they will be trying to catch up on a regular basis. However, playing in a pass-heavy offense can be offset by how big of a percentage of the targets you receive. In Jacksonville, Hurns looks set to be the third option for the offense moving forward.

Allen Robinson was selected in the draft that Hurns fell out of. Robinson has 34 receptions for 586 yards and six touchdowns so far this season despite struggling at the catch point early on. Inside of the two Allens is Julius Thomas. The former Denver Broncos tight end has struggled to make an impression in Jacksonville so far because he has been sideliend through injury. However, his talent is such that when he is healthy he could be the team's number one option.

The Jaguars are entering an interesting place for their fantasy outlook. Their offense is very young across the board, with players at the skill positions who are establishing themselves as quality players. The only significant question mark at this point is Bortles.

Even if Bortles doens't develop into a quality starter for the Jaguars, his style is such that he will continue to give his receivers opportunities to make plays. Bortles' problems aren't that he can't complete passes or that he isn't aggressive enough, his problems stem from his inconsistency and tendency to turn the ball over. So long as he is creating big play opportunities, Hurns (and Robinson) should continue to take advantage.

 

Jeremy Langford

The status of Matt Forte moving forward is going to be unclear until he gets back on the field.

As a running back, any kind of knee injury is an issue because even if you are active it's never going to be clear how big of a role you can play until you prove your health. At the time of writing, reports suggest that Forte is likely to have an MCL injury rather than an ACL injury. The severity of that injury is unclear, but it could range from a few days to a few weeks.

If Forte misses any time, Jeremy Langford should be pushed into the starting role. Even if Forte doesn't, Langford is in position to assume Forte's role when he inevitably moves on. Forte is 29 years of age, his days of being a feature back are numbered.

Against the Minnesota Vikings, Langford ran the ball 12 times for 46 yards. It was his heaviest workload of the season and brought his carries for the year to just 27. Langford is a 23-year old rookie who played at Michigan State. He measures 6'0" and 208 lbs while running a 4.42 forty. The running back was picked in the fourth round of the draft.

Even though his numbers against the Vikings weren't overly impressive, his performance stood out.

Langford's burst immediately stands out. His short-area acceleration allowed him to be extremely quick to and through the line of scrimmage whenever he touched the ball. For his longest gain of the day, a nine-yard run up the middle, he made a good decision to swerve infield as a defender penetrated past his blocker before cutting back upfield at speed.

He didn't hesitate and look for an outside run, he put his head down and attacked the space in front of him. Faster backs can often be too tempted by the sideline, so discipline is the first thing you look for from them. Throughout this game, Langford ran with discipline.

Eight of Langford's 12 runs went for at least four yards. That was because of his speed to and through the line of scrimmage, but more because of his wililngness to finish runs through contact and follow his blocking. He had opportunities to try and cut to space against defenders, but trusted the design of his plays and was productive because of it. He may not be a powerful back, but his aggressiveness to contact will help him finish plays moving forward.

It's still way too early to gauge what Langford can or will be. In Chicago, he's not going to be the first choice back for a while. He isn't even guaranteed that he ever will be.

However, if Langford does get an extended opportunity in the offense over coming weeks, he will be worth monitoring. He isn't likely to blow up like Devonta Freeman, but that is because the Chicago Bears have a limited offensive line and offense as a whole. Matt Forte is able to create yards and is a more established, versatile player, so situation is less of an issue for him. Langford may not be able to overcome the same conditions.

If he can't, it won't be time to give up on him. Instead it may be a good time to consider buying him low in dynasty leagues. Langford looks like he has some potential, even if it will take some time for us to realize one way or the other because he's trapped in a tough spot.