Earlier this week I took a look at how the quarterbacks on the Bears roster did in 2010, and what I expect for 2011. Today I tackle the runningback unit:
#22 Matt Forte- I've always been high on Matt Forte. I love the kid. Perhaps I overreacted to watching him have one really good game for Tulane against the eventual national champion LSU Tigers in 2007, or maybe my love for him is the exact inverse of my undying loathing of Cedric Benson. Maybe it's because he's a guy with an incredibly diverse skill set who causes match-up problems everywhere he goes when he's utilized properly. I think my favorite Forte play this year was in week two against Dallas when he motioned into the slot and then caught a fade for a TD. That's just not something a lot of backs can do in this league.
The problem early on this year was that Mike Martz viewed him as more of a receiver than a runner, and he's actually quite good at both. In the second half Matt exploded for 668 yards rushing on 133 attempts, good for a sparkling 5.0 YPC average. In the two playoff games he averaged 147 yards from scrimmage. For the year he finished with 1,069 YDs, a 4.5 YPC average, and 6 TDs on the ground to go with 51 catches, 547 yards, and 3 TDs through the air. In his Bears career now he's averaged almost 1600 yds from scrimmage and 8 total TDs a year. He's not exactly Marshall Faulk yet, but what he showed in the second half may mean he's a lot closer than people think. As I've said with Cutler, the Bears are a few key pieces on the offensive line away from having a very explosive offense, and Matt Forte is a lynchpin. He's got one year left on his deal, but I'd be shocked if he doesn't get an extension as soon as the labor situation stabilizes.
#29 Chester Taylor- Every time I saw Chester Taylor get tackled in the backfield this year, I thought to myself "okay, that can't be his fault Every time, right?" But it's impossible to deny the fact that Matt Forte made Taylor look old and useless by gaining literally twice as many yards per carry over the second half as Taylor gained this season (2.4). In fact, Chester had the worst ypc average of any runningback with 100 or more carries since the NFL merger. That's bad. Not surprising, though, given that Taylor is past the dreaded Age 30 Wall that stops most runningbacks and he ranked dead last in the NFL last year in Pro Football Focus's elusive rankings, meaning, among other things, he had a ton of runs for no gain and he was terrible at gaining yards after contact. My hope, honestly, is that they cut Taylor this offseason. I'm aware that he signed a four year, 12 million dollar contract, but it was a front-loaded deal and he made seven million of it this year. I'm sure he'd "improve" next year, given that it would be hard to do much worse, but there's no way he'd improve enough to be better than a younger, cheaper replacement. If he comes back, well, I'll continue to swear every time he's on screen.
#25 Garrett Wolfe-
Garrett has managed to totally justify the 3rd round pick that Jerry Angelo spent on him in 2007 by racking up a whopping 411 yards from yards from scrimmage in four seasons. Guh. He is, however, a great special teams player, but I doubt that will be enough to justify keeping him as an RFA this season. The Bears can't afford to pay all of their special-teams players the veteran minimum, and I doubt Garrett will be a guy they deem worth the money, although I suppose Jerry has found away to keep this disappointment on the roster for four years as it is. But hey, it's not like the Bears could have used that pick on actually useful back up runningback or an outstanding left tackle, or anything.
#32 Kahlil Bell- Remember this guy? He had a 72 yard run against the Eagles last year. On his other 39 carries he gained just 148 yards, at a 3.8 ypc clip. This year he was inactive for all 16 games. I doubt we'll see him again.
This is one position where I hope we'll see a lot of turnover outside of Matt. I wouldn't be surprised to see three new guys behind Forte next year. Although I suppose it's more likely that Taylor's contract will bring him back again, I wouldn't expect much of anything from him. At the very least I hope the Bears can find a suitable third option that isn't Garrett Wolfe.