June 11, 2008
As you've no doubt heard, Cedric Benson was released by the Bears just one infraction short of the operating-a-vehicle-while-intoxicated Triple Crown.
Good riddance. Many of us were entirely finished with Benson last year in Week 8, before the season-ending injury. He was numbingly ineffective in '07, and as predictable as a Lenny Kravitz lyric. Benson's teammates did not exactly have his back, either. There are no legitimate reasons for optimism about his NFL future.
Benson's release won't radically alter many preseason draft boards, except where Matt Forte is concerned. The Chicago rookie rushed for 2,127 yards, 23 TDs, and 5.9 yards-per-carry at Tulane last season. Forte also demonstrated an ability break the occasional tackle (unlike Benson), run outside successfully (unlike Benson), and catch a few passes (unlike Benson, who batted them to the ground as if they'd been sent to hurt him).
These are the biggest knocks on Forte, per our colleagues at Rivals:
Lacks top speed. Suffered a severe knee injury in 2006. He runs in a straight-up style that gives defenders a shot to get into his body.
If you check out the highlight video on Forte's page at Rivals, you'll notice the upright style. You'll also see at least one instance where he's caught from behind on a play where you'd expect an elite runner to score.
Of course, you'll also see some explosion and elusiveness. Benson displayed none of that last season. Instead, he appeared to simply run to contact, then submit to the will of tacklers.
In the next batch of running back rankings, I'll have Forte at least as high as Funston and Evans have him currently (22). Benson's release makes the Kevin Smith-or-Matt Forte discussion much more interesting. In fact, it puts him in the mix with McFadden, Mendenhall and Stewart.
There's one caveat, however. After last season's various failures, Chicago appears committed to making unproven players earn their starting jobs this year. Or they've at least committed to the illusion of competition. Don't be at all surprised if some veteran running back is added to provide token pressure.
Still, the Bears' coaches have gushed about their second round pick:
"I love Matt Forte," Bears offensive coordinator Ron Turner said Sunday during a break at the Bears Expo. "He will definitely be an every-down back. He's got the size, he's got the hands. He's smooth as an athlete, very smooth ... After nine practices, I'm not afraid to call anything in the offense with him."
Coaches aren't to be trusted when they're speaking on the record, obviously, but those statements certainly shouldn't dissuade you from targeting Forte in Round Five or Six. During the post-Draft mock, way back when Cedric hadn't yet run afoul of Austin law enforcement, there were commenters begging us to take him in Round
Forte will soon face an entirely new level of competition, of course. The NFC North is not Tulane. Until we see him escape, say, EJ Henderson or Nick Barnett, then we haven't really seen anything.