Terrell Davis, a guy who knows a little something about playing running back in the NFL, went on the air saying that Matt Forte is the most underrated running back in the NFL. Is he right?
The statistics back up Davis’ claim. Forte finished the 2013 season ranked second in rushing yards, third in receptions among running backs, and third in yards from scrimmage. Yet Forte wasn’t selected to either the first or second All-Pro teams. Should Forte have qualified for either of those teams? Probably. The stats and tape indicate that Forte isn’t the most underrated running back just because of his running ability, but, rather, he’s one of the league’s best all-around performers. In other words, he’s one of the most versatile players in the league.
Rushing stats: 1,339 yards, 4.6 yards per carry, 9 touchdowns
The play above demonstrates Forte’s ability to make defenders miss on the second and third level. The hole that Chicago’s offensive line opens up for Forte is massive, and guarantees that he will gain at least 10 yards or so. But, what Forte does so brilliantly on this play, is make two defensive backs miss after gaining those 10 yards. Aided by a Brandon Marshall block, Forte quickly jump-cuts to the left, causing one Washington defender to fall to the ground and the other to completely stop his momentum and enter chase mode. But Forte’s speed is too much for the safety and he cruises into the end zone.
Now, the play below is another example of a huge hole created by the right side of Chicago’s offensive line. Once hitting the hole, Forte is able to shake off a would-be tackler, using his left hand to balance and keep himself from falling down. From there, Forte’s speed takes over and he isn’t pushed out of bounds until the five yard line.
Receiving stats: 74 catches, 594 yards, 8 yards per reception, 3 touchdowns
What truly makes Forte special is his ability to be an important factor in the passing game. Forte only finished behind Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery in terms of receptions for the Bears. Not only can the Bears bring him out of the backfield — as they do in the play above — but they can also line him up on the line of scrimmage like a typical receiver. This often leads to a mismatch against a linebacker.
According to Pro Football Focus, Forte was used as a blocker 145 times last season. He surrendered 17 quarterback disruptions, seven of which occurred during a three game span. The play below is an example of some pretty terrible pass blocking which results in Jay Cutler getting crunched.
While 17 quarterback disruptions is pretty dreadful, the 145 times the Bears used him as a blocker last season is a more telling statistic. Because Forte is an adequate enough blocker to be used in passing situations, it allows Marc Trestman to leave Forte on the field in pretty much all scenarios. While many teams like to bring in a different running back in long-yardage and passing situations, the Bears typically leave Forte in. This proves to be incredibly valuable, simply because the defense can’t be sure if the Bears are going to run or throw the ball with Forte in, and because he gives Cutler another reliable target.
Essentially, this allows the Bears to lineup in shotgun situations — normally a passing formation — and still run the football against less defenders in the box. Take a look at the play below, taken from the Bears’ week 17 matchup against Green Bay.
The Bears are in a third and goal scenario from the four yard line. Lined up in shotgun, the Bears bring Forte out of the backfield as a pass catcher and Cutler finds him for the touchdown. Later in the game, the Bears, near the goaline again and lined up in shotgun, would hand the ball off to Forte. Both plays resulted in six points, both came out of the shotgun, and both came in similar scenarios. The beauty of this is that it allows Cutler the ability to read the defense and choose to either execute a passing play or a running play. It’s a win-win situation for the Bears and it’s a situation that is only made possible by Forte’s versatility.