Indianapolis spent some quality time yesterday with Tulane's Matt Forte. Forte is a running back prospect that wowed scouts during practice yesterday in preparation for the Senior Bowl and opened the eyes of a few NFL men that thought he was just a workhorse back.
Though he led the Green Wave in rushing each of the last three seasons, he didn't top 900 yards until his breakout senior campaign in 2007, when he totaled 2,127 yards on the ground, 282 yards receiving, and 23 touchdowns. The 23 scores in 2007 are greater than the total number of touchdowns he scored in his freshman, sophomore, and junior seasons combined (21) and the rushing total is nearly more than his first three seasons combined (2,138).
AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis
Coming into his senior year, Forte was considered a possible second-day selection for this year's draft, based on his potential, lack of character issues, a very short injury history, and the fact that it is very difficult to teach someone to be 6 feet , 1 inch, 225 pounds and run with the kind of power and drive that he runs with. Given that he took full advantage of his potential in 2007, one would have to assume that he's catapulted his draft status into the first or second round, if not easily into the first day.
However, the numbers tell a different story — and it's a story that may make him available in the 4th or 5th round.
In order to amass over 2,000 yards rushing last season, Forte needed 361 carries, bringing his final average to a very respectable 5.9 yards per carry. While no running back at the NFL level would complain about averaging almost six yards per rush, it is considerably easier to post those kinds of statistics against the likes of Southeastern Louisiana and Army. In his two games against a higher level of competition — Mississippi State and LSU — he averaged four yards per carry for only 120 total rushing yards. But, he was also running behind Tulane's offensive line, which was overmatched against superior athletes on the opposing team's defense.
Therefore, the next few months leading up to the draft will be crucial for Forte. He must prove in the Senior Bowl that he's more dynamic and explosive player than his "three yards and a cloud of dust" resume indicates and he must prove that against the best seniors in the nation.
As an underrated receiver — he caught only 32 passes in 2007, but that was still good enough for second on a team that threw the ball sparingly — he can show scouts another dimension to his game. Anything that he can show in pass protection or on special teams is obviously a plus.
As Chris Steuber reported, Forte already had a strong showing in practice on Tuesday, running with authority and catching the ball well out of the backfield. If he can bring those skills to the game on Saturday — as well as showing an explosive first step, acceleration, vision, and the ability to locate a cutback lane, plant his foot, and burst through the hole — he could raise a lot of eyebrows this week.
Off-season workouts, interviews, the Combine, and his Pro Day will all also be critical for him. The better he does in the 40-yard dash, short shuttle, and position drills, the more he will climb up draft boards. He is currently ranked 17th at his position and 210th overall in Scout's rankings, so he has a long road to travel if he wants to make it into the first three rounds.
The most likely scenario for Forte is that a team drafts him as a change-of-pace back in the second day. Most teams that are looking for a starting running back have a list of extraordinarily talented players to choose from in a top-heavy draft for tailbacks, and any team looking to add depth knows that they'll have plenty of attractive options after the initial run in the first two rounds. He will probably enter the league in the mold of Marion Barber, Chris Brown, LenDale White, and Justin Fargas, sharing carries initially, but eventually replacing the starter with hard work and determination.
And, given the underwhelming triumvirate of Kenton Keith, Clifton Dawson, and Luke Lawton behind Joseph Addai, the Colts could certainly use Forte at a great value in the fourth or fifth round. That is, provided he doesn't impress scouts enough to catapult himself into the first three rounds, of course.
View Matt Forte's Scout.com profile here