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.