No one will ever accuse Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte of being the fastest player in the game. Nor will they ever say he has the best field vision, open-field moves or quickness. They may tout his all-around game but one would be hard-pressed to call him one of the game's elite.
While he may not be the flashiest or toughest runner in the NFL, the numbers show that, when taking into consideration all the aspects of his game, Forte is one of the best in the business.
KC Joyner, writer for ESPN and self-labeled "Football Scientist", recently analyzed Forte's all-around game and concluded that his production is near the top of the league, at nearly the same level as Minnesota's Adrian Peterson, widely regarded as the best back in the NFL.
From the article:
"Over the past three years, Forte has gained 4,731 yards from scrimmage. Only four other running backs have bettered that mark during that time frame: Chris Johnson (5,606), Peterson (5,343), Maurice Jones-Drew (4,795) and Steven Jackson (4,783). That output shows why Forte has earned an upper-class spot at his position, but the comparison with Peterson is what really drives this point home.
The most compelling place to start this assessment might be in the overall yards per attempt category. This measures how productive a runner is whenever he is targeted with either a rushing or pass-receiving attempt.
RB Matt Forte
In the past three years, Peterson has posted 1,106 targets of this nature, giving him a 4.8 YPT average; Forte has tallied 1,029 targets and a 4.6 YPT average.
To put the two-tenths of a yard difference into perspective, over the course of a season with 350 total targets, it would equal a 70-yard advantage for Peterson. Divide those yards by 16 games and it means only four-plus extra yards per game.
Peterson also loses some of that edge when his fumbles are accounted for. Since 2008, he has lost 11 fumbles versus Forte's six fumbles lost. Most football statisticians place the value of a turnover at somewhere between 40-50 yards, which would equal a 200- to 250 yard penalty for Peterson. Take that volume of yardage out of Peterson's numbers and the difference between their productivity drops to practically zero."
What Joyner fails to take into account is Forte's abilities as a blocker. Pro Football Focus recently ranked him as one of the best backs in the league at picking up the blitz. Pass blocking doesn't show up on the stat sheet but a player's performance in this area of the game can often be just as valuable as what he accomplishes with the ball in his hands.
There's been a lot of discussion recently about re-signing Forte to a long-term deal, as his rookie contract is set to expire after this season. The debate has been whether or not he deserves to be paid like a Top 10 NFL running back.
The following are the 2011 base salaries of the four runners who have gained more total yards than Forte the past three seasons (according to Spotrac): Peterson, $7.7 million; Jackson, $7.2 million; Jones-Drew, $4 million; Johnson, $800,000.
In a highly justified move, Johnson demanded a raise last season and is looking to get paid for his production in Tennessee with a long-term deal going forward. He's threatened to hold out if the team doesn't comply. If the Titans are smart, they'll sign him to deal on par with Jackson, Peterson and Jones-Drew.
The same should happen for Forte. There's no reason the Bears' front office should even allow him to sniff free agency. Other teams in the league surely recognize his value as an all-around back. At 25 years old, he still has a good four to five years of quality production ahead of him.
The team will have a lot of cap space to fill once the lockout is lifted. A good chunk of that money should be used to lockup Chicago's most-potent offensive weapon.
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport com and become a Chicago Bears insider.