Tuesday - Jul 16, 2019

Home / Commentary / Matt Forte’s Sophomore Slump

Matt Forte’s Sophomore Slump

The owners of Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte
are understandably a frustrated, nervous bunch right now. Determined to
secure a can’t-miss centerpiece for their fantasy teams, many of them
confidently had chosen Forte with a top-10 selection — some owners had
even drafted the former Tulane star with a No. 1 overall pick — but
Forte’s numbers have been disappointing to say the least. Some of the
more bitter owners have been harsh in their assessment of Forte’s
performance to date, already dubbing him the biggest fantasy bust of
2009. The talented second-year pro currently ranks an abysmal No. 29 in
rushing.

Is
it fair to say Forte is mired in a dreaded sophomore slump? The terms
“sophomore slump” or “sophomore jinx” are used commonly to describe the
disappointing second-year performances of athletes who are coming off
stellar rookie campaigns. A wide variety of foreseen and unforeseen
factors can contribute to a football player’s sophomore slump,
including injuries, apathy, team personnel changes, scheme changes and
coaching changes. By that definition, Forte is undoubtedly enduring a
sophomore jinx. What is causing it? Can Forte rebound in time to save
his owners?

FORTE’S 2009 PRESEASON STUD EXPECTATIONS

Desperately
in need of a workhorse running back, the Bears landed Forte with their
second-round selection in the 2008 NFL Draft, and he undoubtedly
exceeded even their expectations. Toiling away in a run-first offense
with a piecemeal offensive line and a token-at-best passing game that
struggled to keep enemy defenses honest, the then-rookie Forte touched
the ball 379 times in 16 games played (23.7 touches per outing),
rushing 316 times for 1,238 yards (3.92 yards per carry) and eight
rushing touchdowns, and — this is what owners in PPR leagues really
like — catching 63 passes for 477 yards and four touchdowns. Forte
averaged an impressive 107.2 total yards and 0.8 total touchdowns per
contest.

Understandably
dazzled by the Bears’ offseason offensive upgrades and by Forte’s
rookie numbers, many owners and fantasy football pundits alike had high
expectations for his 2009 season. Even with running back-by-committee
becoming the norm in the NFL, Forte still was expected to receive a
huge majority of the touches in the Chicago backfield. The Bears also
pulled off what was a rare blockbuster trade for them, acquiring the
cannon-armed Jay Cutler
(and some rookie wide receiver talent) to stretch the field and keep
opposing defenses from focusing solely on Forte. They also re-tooled
their offensive line, installing three new starters. Despite the
changes, hopes that were high for Forte in the summer heat of August
have wilted in the early autumn chill of October. Forte has amassed
just 59 carries for 150 yards (a measly 2.4 yards per carry) and 11
receptions for 73 yards without scoring a rushing or receiving
touchdown. Here is a game-by-game breakdown:

  • Week 1

    Green Bay Packers 21

    Chicago Bears 15

Forte: 25 carries for 55 yards with zero touchdowns. No receptions.

  • Week 2

    Chicago Bears 17

    Pittsburgh Steelers 14

Forte: 13 carries for 29 yards, five receptions for 33 yards with zero touchdowns.

  • Week 3

    Chicago Bears 25

    Seattle Seahawks 19

Forte: 21 carries for 66 yards, six receptions for 40 yards with zero touchdowns.

Unfortunately,
the offseason changes the Bears had made to help Forte — along with
some other unrelated circumstances — have dragged down his fantasy
production.

1. Familiarity

— Forte is not a mystery to anyone this season. Enemy defensive
coordinators are scheming to shut him down and take their chances with
the rest of the Chicago offense.

2.

Jay Cutler is struggling

— This goes hand-in-hand with the familiarity thing. Cutler, as
mentioned, was acquired to give the Bears a productive,
field-stretching passing attack that would prevent opposing defenses
from focusing solely on Forte. However, Cutler is still learning a new
offense and is still acquainting himself with a new receiver corps that
is far less talented than the one he left behind in Denver. Enemy
defenders have been able to neutralize Forte and take their chances
with the Chicago passing game.

3.

Forte’s health —

By all accounts, Forte is running as hard as he did last season. There
are whispers, however, that Forte is not 100 percent healthy, despite
his claims to the contrary. Forte suffered a hamstring injury during
the preseason, but he insists the impairment healed a while ago. If you
recall, Ryan Grant
(Packers) suffered a hamstring injury during the 2008 preseason, and it
hindered him for two months. Forte also suffered a knee injury in Week
3 against the Seahawks. Since he is expected to start in Week 4 against
the Detroit Lions, the injury is apparently not serious.

4.

Revamped Chicago offensive line —

The Bears’ decision to retool their offensive line surprisingly did not
receive much preseason press, but I suspect this is a major reason why
Forte is struggling. The O-line features three new starters: future
Hall of Famer Orlando Pace (free agent) at left tackle, left guard
Frank Omiyale (free agent) and right tackle Chris Williams (2008
first-round selection). Although the 33-year-old Pace is still an
above-average pass protector, his run-blocking has declined. Omiyale
and Williams are natural left tackles, which means they are better
pass-blockers than run-blockers.

MY PREDICTION FOR FORTE

Forte’s
sophomore slump, in my opinion, will not last the entire season.
Assuming the health concerns about Forte are more exaggeration and
media hype than fact, I think some better days are ahead for him. The
Chicago offensive line should start to jell at midseason and provide
better blocking, even though Omiyale and Williams are not the ideal fit
for their respective positions. Cutler and the passing game also should
improve, diverting the pressure and defensive attention away from
Forte. Do not forget — Forte is a threat as both a runner and
receiver. If he is struggling as a runner, Forte usually makes up the
yardage in the passing game.

Nevertheless,
I would not expect top-five fantasy back numbers from Forte, and he
probably will be hard pressed to crack the top 10. Although I am not a
schedule-obsessed fantasy owner, I believe, like many of you, that
matchups play a significant role in player production. Heading into the
regular season, Forte’s schedule looked like one of the softest in the
league — I suspect that is why some owners drafted him with their 1.01
selections — but that is not the case now.

CHICAGO’S REMAINING 2009 SCHEDULE

DATE

WEEK #

OPPONENT

RUSH YDS ALLOWED/GAME

Oct. 04

Week 04

Detroit

111.3

Oct. 11

Week 05

BYE

——-

Oct. 18

Week 06

@ Atlanta

136.0

Oct. 25

Week 07

@ Cincinnati

88.7

Nov. 01

Week 08

Cleveland

184.3

Nov. 08

Week 09

Arizona

79.7

Nov. 12

Week 10

@ San Francisco

66.7

Nov. 22

Week 11

Philadelphia

106.0

Nov. 29

Week 12

@ Minnesota

92.0

Dec. 06

Week 13

St. Louis

148.0

Dec. 13

Week 14

Green Bay

128.7

Dec. 20

Week 15

@ Baltimore

51.0

Dec. 28

Week 16

Minnesota

92.0

Jan. 03

Week 17

@ Detroit

111.3

The
Bears will face the tough defenses of Philadelphia, Minnesota (twice)
and Baltimore. However, Arizona, Cincinnati, San Francisco and Green
Bay also look vastly improved. Atlanta, Cleveland and St. Louis look
like the only softer matchups, and Chicago’s other game against Detroit
comes in Week 17, after most fantasy leagues have wrapped up for the
season.

If
you own Forte — I say this to all owners of stud players who are
struggling — I would not trade him unless you receive a very generous
offer. The odds are against you receiving fair value for him. Since
Forte, in my opinion, is no longer worthy of stud status, I also would
not be afraid to bench him against the tougher defenses on Chicago’s
schedule. If you do not own Forte, he looks like an interesting buy-low
prospect. If you have a loaded roster, float a trade offer to the Forte
owner in your league and see what happens.

About Fantasy Sharks

FantasySharks.com launched in 2003, disseminating fantasy football content on the web for free. It is (or has been) home to some of the most talented and respected writers and content creators in fantasy football.