After a productive first three seasons in the NFL, Bears running back Matt Forte was having his best season in 2011 before a knee injury prematurely ended it in Week 13.
In his rookie season (2008), Forte was one of three rookie running backs to finish with 1,200-plus yards. He ended the season with 316 carries for 1,238 yards and eight touchdowns, all of which are still his career highs. He also finished with 63 receptions, still a career high, for 477 yards and four touchdowns.
[Steve Slaton (1,282) and Chris Johnson (1,228) were the other two rookies to rush for 1,200-plus yards in 2008.]
On a per-game basis, however, Forte set career highs last year in rushing yards per game (83.1) and receiving yards per game (40.8). He also set a career high with 4.9 yards per carry.
For a fourth consecutive season, Forte finished with 50-plus receptions despite playing only 12 games last season. During his four years in the NFL, only Baltimore's Ray Rice has more receptions (250) than Forte (223) among running backs.
After designating Forte with the franchise tag in February, the Bears were able to reach a long-term deal with him before the July 16th deadline. If they hadn't, there was speculation that Forte would (or could) hold out.
Not only did the Bears agree to a multiple-year deal with Forte, they signed Michael Bush to a three-year contract as Forte's backup. As a capable backup, Bush's presence could possibly mean a few less touches for Forte overall and Bush should get the goal-line work.
That said, Forte wasn't the goal-line back last year, either. Marion Barber had twice as many rushing touchdowns as Forte (three) last year despite playing in even fewer games and having less carries.
While Bush may steal a few touches, the addition of Brandon Marshall (via trade) and Alshon Jeffery (via draft) at wide receiver could also take away some touches from Forte. With Marshall likely to give the Bears their first 1,000-yard receiver since Marty Booker (2002), it's possible that Forte will be slightly less of the offense's focus than he had been in recent seasons.
Forte has been as big a part of his team's offense as any other running back has been to his respective team. Last year, Forte was second on the team in receiving yards per game behind only Johnny Knox (51.9 YPG).
In the 11 games he finished last year, Forte had 198 carries and 52 receptions on 76 targets. Using his per-game averages during that span, Forte was on pace for 288 carries, 76 receptions on 111 targets.
On a positive note, the benefit of legitimate weapons in the passing game means that Forte will face less eight-men fronts and have an opportunity to make more happen each time he gets the ball. With the reinforcements added this offseason, however, it's likely that his number of carries and targets decrease. I see those numbers dropping to around 250 carries and 80 targets in 2012.
Strength of Schedule
Based on the cumulative fantasy points allowed to running backs last year by all of the Bears' opponents this year, Forte and the Bears' RBs have the 18th-most favorable schedule from a fantasy perspective. So, in other words, it's a middle-of-the-road schedule. They also have the 18th-easiest schedule in the fantasy postseason (Weeks 14-16) when the face the Vikings, Packers and Cardinals.
After the first three running backs (Foster, Rice and McCoy), Forte is a relatively safe RB1 in a group of players with plenty of question marks (injury risks, contract disputes, etc.). Although the Bears offensive line leaves a bit (or a lot) to be desired and the team added Bush this offseason, Forte should get plenty of work on a consistent basis and is an absolute stud in PPR formats.
Projection: (Rushing) 1,100 Yards, 5 TDs; (Receiving) 55 Receptions, 495 Yards, 1 TD
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