Is Matt Forte Headed for the Running Back Cliff?

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Dec 29, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte (22) reacts after scoring a touchdown against the Green Bay Packers during the first quarter at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

There’s been so much work done on this offseason to fix the Bears’ broken defense, that we’ve all forgotten about the offense.  The Bears offense is perfect and doesn’t need any help, right?  Wrong.  The offense is OK for now, but in order to prevent repeated trips to Free Agency to right previous wrongs, you have to project where your players will be performing in coming years and have their understudies groomed and ready to step in.

ESPN recently posted an article about the steep dropoff in running back performance after the age of 27.  Well guess what?  Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte is now 28.  Is he headed for the Running Back Cliff?  Let’s take a closer look and see if we can get a handle on this trend and how Forte compares to his contemporaries. 

Here’s a the chart that ESPN published showing both running back and wide receiver performance vs age.


ESPN Stats and Info used yardage as the measure of performance.  Only running backs who played at least four seasons and had a minimum of 75 carries were used to generate the table.   This shows the averages of all RB’s who met that criteria since 2001.  As you can see, there’s a pretty stark dropoff after the age of 27.  Why the dropoff?  Well, there are a couple of reasons.

Missed time

Even Adrian Peterson, who had over 1250 yards last season at age 28, contributed to the dropoff.  Sure he racked up a lot of yards, but he also missed two games and saw his performance drop 40% year over year.   If guys are missing games, they’re not racking up the same number of yards.

Losing speed

Everyone gets a step slower and no one can outrun Father Time.  The yardage drops off when you can’t run away from people.

There are other factors to consider too.

Running back by committee

There are fewer and fewer true “workhorse” running backs and more and more teams are going with fantasy football’s most hated offensive trend – running back by committee.  Guys aren’t getting the same number of carries if they’re sharing.

Evolution of the Passing Game

While running back yardage is going down, wide receiver yardage stays higher and level for longer.  That’s because quarterbacks are routinely throwing for four and five thousand yards per season.

So where does Matt Forte, who turned 28 last December, fall into this mix?  Hit the next page to see.

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Tags: Chicago Bears Matt Forte Running Back Cliff Running Backs

  • Erik Lambert

    It’s definitely a risk but Matt has always been great about keeping himself in prime physical condition. I think the Bears can lean on him this year, but I also think they should start investing more at the position the next couple drafts.

    • Mike “Boomer” Burzawa

      I think Forte can stall for another year or two and with his added contributions in the passing game, he’ll continue to be valuable. Time to add some young blood.

  • D$

    unless you’re looking at rounds 5 or 6, there are too many holes and too much age on defense to worry about drafting a backup to your pro bowl running back this year.

  • Johnathan Wood

    That article is flawed because it looks at total yardage. I would be much more interested in seeing yards per attempt, which measures how effective the backs are.

    Historically backs drop off at about 2400 touches in the NFL. Forte is at 1800, which says he has 2 years left. Right when his contract is up, conveniently.

    • Mike “Boomer” Burzawa

      I thought the same thing as you when I started researching this. But the main reason that total yardage is important is because guys break down and miss games. If you played Forte or Adrian Peterson half the amount of time, their yards per carry could increase but they’re not worth as much to their teams. Nagging injuries and missed time, thus less total yardage, are the underlying causes of the loss of productivity.

  • Gioscianna

    I hope he stays productive for two more years at least but the decline happens to everybody. Remember how good of shape Tomlinson kept himself in? Granted LT was used more than Forte of course, but Forte did carry the ball over 300 times for three consecutive seasons in college and his first 3-4 years with the Bears I know he averaged over 300 touches a season as well. Here’s hoping we can win it all before he’s done.