Spotlight: Matt Forte

posted by Jeff Haseley on Jun 15th


Jeff Haseley's thoughts

Failed Expectations in 2009

Matt Forte failed to meet expectations in 2009, after having an impressive rookie season in 2008 that saw him finish as the 4th ranked RB. Forte was the centerpiece of the 2008 Bears offense, totaling 379 touches which included 63 receptions. The 2009 season brought change to Chicago, not so much in their RB corps, but how the offense moved the ball and how they scored their points. Enter high-flying, pass-happy Jay Cutler onto the scene. The arrival of Cutler had many people guessing how Matt Forte would be used and how effective he would be in a Cutler-led offense. Forte still managed to finish in the Top 20, but it was a far cry from the expectations set the year prior.

More Change is expected in 2010

Looking ahead to 2010, there's more change coming in Chicago. Offensive-minded guru Mike Martz was signed to be the team's offensive coordinator. He brings a system that is known for it's attacking style of offense that caters to Jay Cutler's strengths of passing the ball to all corners of the field. In addition to the Martz signing, the Bears also added eight-year veteran RB, Chester Taylor, who will assuredly see plenty of action in 2010, perhaps even unseating Forte as the team's go-to RB. Regardless of who earns the title of primary ball carrier, the Bears running game will feature at least two backs, who are both very good fits in Mike Martz style of offense.

When looking at Forte's stats from 2008 and 2009, there's not many differences when you really take a look inside the numbers.

2008: 316 carries, 1238 yards, 8 TDs, 63 receptions, 477 yards, 4 TDs
2009: 258 carries, 929 yards, 4 TDs, 57 receptions, 471 yards, 0 TDs

He had 58 less carries in 2009, but his yards per carry only dropped from 3.9 to 3.6. He also still managed to reach 50+ receptions for the second year in a row, which indicates the Bears didn't abandon Forte as a receiver, despite Jay Cutler's history of seldom utilizing his RBs on pass plays out of the backfield. What did drop off were his total TDs. The 2008 Bears had 20 TD passes and 10 rushing TDs as a team. The 2009 Bears had 27 TD passes and 5 rushing TDs. The presence of Jay Cutler definitely brought a change in how TDs were scored. Cutler simply had more drives end in passing scores than rushing scores. That's his nature, that's probably not going to change. The same can be said for Mike Martz. When you put it all together, it looks like Forte has an uphill battle to repeat or exceed last year's numbers.

Passing vs. Rushing TDs

2008 Bears with Kyle Orton: 20 TD passes, 10 rushing TDs
2009 Bears with Jay Cutler: 27 TD passes, 5 rushing TDs

Cutler's splits (as a starter)

2008 DEN: 25 TD passes, 13 rushing TDs
2007 DEN: 21 TD passes, 9 rushing TDs

Mike Martz splits (dating back to 2002)

2009: out of football
2008 SF: 21 TD passes, 7 rushing TDs
2007 DET: 19 TD passes, 12 rushing TDs
2006 DET: 21 TD passes, 7 rushing TDs
2005 STL: 23 TD passes, 11 rushing TDs
2004 STL: 23 TD passes, 8 rushing TDs
2003 STL 23 TD passes, 15 rushing TDs
2002: STL 24 TD passes, 9 rushing TDs

On average, Cutler teams have 24 TD passes and 9 rushing TDs
On average, Martz-led teams have 22 TD passes and 9 rushing TDs

Combining Jay Cutler with a Mike Martz offensive system, you can see how much emphasis is expected to be placed on the passing game in 2010. The results forecast an unattractive year for Bears RBs, which doesn't bode well for teams looking to draft Matt Forte with their fifth pick in upcoming re-draft leagues.

Positives

  • Matt Forte is coming off two consecutive Top 20 seasons that included at least 50 receptions each year. He has a great skill set for Mike Martz's style of offense, in that he can run the ball when needed, but he also is available as a high percentage receiver outlet for Jay Cutler, if nothing is open down field.
  • Forte is younger than Chester Taylor and he has experience handling the majority of the load as the team's primary RB. Taylor is entering his ninth year in the league. He has only exceeded 160 carries in a season once, in 2003 for the Vikings when he had 303 carries for 1216 yards and 6 TDs. The next year the Vikings drafted Adrian Peterson and Taylor was reverted to a back up and he hasn't relinquished that role since.
  • Forte is being drafted in leagues as an afterthought, reaching the fifth round or later. Not many Top 20 RBs are available then, let alone someone who has accomplished the feat in each of his first two years in the league.

Negatives

  • Forte's numbers dropped when Jay Cutler entered the fray, simply because Cutler's presence commanded an offense driven by the pass. The TDs scored were mainly passing TDs. As a result, the rushing TDs dropped considerably, which ultimately affected Forte's production. Cutler will again be the Bears QB in 2010 and now the offense has even more of a pass-oriented system due to the presence of Mike Martz. It could be bad news for Forte, because he will have a hard time getting a lot of production in the Bears expected system.
  • Chester Taylor's presence on the team also affects Forte in a negative way. He is no longer the solitary source of rushing yards. Taylor has been stuck behind Adrian Peterson since 2004 and he is more than capable of being a solid producer at RB for the Bears. Like Forte, he also has the ability to make plays in the passing game. If Taylor can beat Forte's sub 4.0 YPC average, look for him to see more playing time, thus dropping Forte's numbers considerably.
  • Forte's current ADP is 51st overall. There are other RBs more appealing that have greater potential in systems that could really elevate their numbers. Ronnie Brown, Jahvid Best and Felix Jones are being drafted at roughly the same area and all three arguably appear to be in better situations. At this time, Forte is a good 6th or 7th round pick, but he likely won't make it out of the 5th round, which may be too risky to draft him if he doesn't meet expectations.

Final thoughts

The Bears offense is driven by the arm of Jay Cutler. If it wasn't apparent last year when Cutler passed for 27 TDs and the running game had only 5 TDs, then maybe it will be more evident in 2010 with Mike Martz calling the shots. Having said that, Matt Forte is coming off two Top 20 seasons with 50+ receptions each year. If he can hold off Chester Taylor and be the team's primary rushing threat, he has the opportunity to once again reach Top 20 status. In order for Forte to keep Taylor at bay, he will have to improve on his career 3.75 YPC average. That may be a tall order considering Taylor has a 4.3 career YPC average. Ultimately, Forte has two big hurdles to conquer. One is Chester Taylor, but more importantly, the other is the Bears potent passing game that could once again keep the rushing unit from being a scoring threat. The 5th round is still a very important round when solidifying your team. Drafting Forte there may not be a wise move considering the obstacles he has in his way.


Quotations from the message board thread

To view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there), click here.

Footballguys Staff Writer David Yudkin said:

From what I have seen/read, Forte has been practicing with the first team and a beat writer has suggested that he will get 60-70% of the RB touches in Chicago. Lovie Smith also indicated that Forte would begin the year as the starting tailback. Given the history of Martz' backs, that may not be a ton of rushing attempts but should still be a fair amount of receptions.

Bird said:

At the end of the day, C Taylor's skill set is better suited for Martz' offense than Forte's. As shown in his rookie year, Forte can catch but those receptions primarily came as traditional RB dump offs. Forte would circle out of the backfield, hang out in the flat and be Orton's safety valve. The RB in a Martz offense needs to run routes downfield. It is why the TE becomes non-existent. The RB runs the TE routes. Think about how many times Marshall Faulk came out of the backfield, ran 12 to 17 yards up the seem, stopped on a hashmark and caught passes. Now think about how many times last year we saw Taylor come out of the backfield, get behind the linebackers, stop and catch passes from Favre. Chester is more likely to run routes for Chicago like Faulk did in St Louis. However, Taylor is no spring chicken and will need to share the load with Forte which will put Forte on the field quite a bit and any RB with talent on the field in a Mike Martz offense will catch passes.

TheDirtyWord said:

I think Forte has been downgraded not necessarily due to his production, but rather due to his production in relation to his draft position last season. Last season, Forte was drafted in the top half of Round 1 in most leagues and with that draft position comes significant expectations. Those expectations were not met across the board. However, he did hit 1400 total yards and for the most part was a solid, if unspectacular RB2. His TD's decreased significantly from 12 to 4, but TD's can be a mercurial stat to base future performance on, particularly for young players who've yet to truly establish a career trend.

Forte's YPC decreased from 3.9 to 3.6 and while that's obviously heading in the wrong direction, it never has been a strength of his since he entered the NFL. What has been his strength is his ability accumulate yardage in the passing game. His two season average in the passing game has been 60/474/2. When you've established a track record of being a weapon out of the backfield in the passing game, which Forte has - you'll have a role on 3rd down.

To me, the acquisition of Chester Taylor was to protect the Bears in the case of injury to Forte. No doubt, the Bears will find a way to incorporate Taylor into their weekly game plans with a definitive situational role. But the Bears can't afford to have nothing behind Forte (i.e Khalil Bell) in worse case scenarios because when the burden of the offense and it's production fell on Jay Cutler, he struggled. As it is, the Bears WR corps is amongst the worst in the NFL.

At the end of the day though, Forte has proven to be productive enough at a sub 4.0 YPC to where his floor has been established. His receiving yardage might drip below 400, but a workload of 250-260 carries would make him effective enough to not expose the owner who drafts him to anything less than RB2 production. For a 5th round RB, that's not bad value because his upside if he can even up his YPC to the 4.1-4.2 range can get him into the 1500 total yard range and his TD production might also come back.

While I wouldn't say I'm bullish on Forte, he's a safe option in the mid-rounds who won't hurt you as a supplementary player with upside to outproduce expectation this year.


Matt Forte projections

RSHRSHYDRSHTDRECRECYDRECTD
Jeff Haseley1656434322201
Message board consensus2349237473811