Former Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte announced his retirement from football on Wednesday bringing an end to his 10-year career. Forte will go down as one of the best running backs to play for the Bears and one of the NFL’s best running backs during his time. With the ability to run, catch, and block at a high level, he will be regarded as one of the best all-around backs of his generation.
During his eight seasons with the Bears and two with the Jets, although not flashy, he provided a valuable piece for offenses when on the field.
The Bears drafted Forte with the second round of the 2008 NFL Draft from Tulane. Many Chicago fans were not happy with the selection as many had hoped for the team to select hometown running back Rashard Mendenhall from Illinois. Furthermore, Forte was not guaranteed the starting job at running back as he was drafted more as an insurance policy and motivation for former first round pick Cedric Benson. Benson would be released in June of that year due to multiple arrests due to alcohol.
Without Benson, no prominent threat at wide receiver, and instability at the quarterback position, many analysts believed that the Bears were going to struggle heavily on offense in 2008. Forte proved the pundits wrong as in his first game he rushed for over 100 yards including a 50-yard touchdown run against the Indianapolis Colts in a huge upset win. He would be the main weapon in the Bears offense as he set a then Bears rookie rushing record rushing for 1238 and eight touchdowns. He also led the Bears in receptions with 63 receptions and four receiving touchdowns while totaling 1715 yards from scrimmage.
He would suffer a sophomore slump in 2009 as a hamstring injury from training camp would hamper him throughout the season limiting him to just 954 rushing yards. Many wondered if the excessive usage of the season before had hurt his potential longevity, but he responded with a 2010 campaign that saw him rush for over 1000 yards and posted 547 receiving yards.
Heading into 2011, Forte was entering a contract year and his performance warranted a big payday as he rushed for over 686 in a five-game span in which the team won four games. He was on pace to win the rushing title before a week 13 knee injury sidelined him for the remainder of season as he finished just three yards shy of 1,000 rushing yards. In 2012, he would have another productive season as he eclipsed the 1,000 yard mark again, but was under-utilized in the offense as he posted his lowest catch total with the Bears with only 44 receptions.
Forte enjoyed the best two seasons of his career when the Bears hired Marc Trestman as head coach in 2013. In his first season under Trestman, Forte set career highs in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns as he rushed for 1339 yards and nine touchdowns. Also impressive was his big play ability as he recorded four rushes of 50 yards or longer that season and rushed for over 100 yards in four of the final five games of the season. In 2014, Forte would be equally impressive in the passing game as he set an NFL record for most receptions by a running back hauling in over 102 passes. He also led the league in total scrimmage yards recording 1846 yards and nearly joined the elusive 1,000 rushing and receiving club finishing 154 yards short.
The only two other players to achieve that milestone were running backs Roger Craig and Marshall Faulk.
In his final three seasons with the Bears and Jets, Forte was nagged by injuries playing no more than 14 games each season and failed to rush for 1,000 yards in any of those seasons. In his final season with the Bears in 2015, he would have finished with over 1000 yards rushing, but missed four games due to a knee injury suffered in the middle of the season. Against the Lions in the season finale, Forte provided one last highlight for Bear fans as he scored on a 23 yard touchdown pass. The play symbolized Forte’s pass catching ability as he caught a swing pass out of the back field from Jay Cutler and weaved his way through defenders to score his final touchdown as a Bear.
When he was drafted way back in 2008, the running back draft class that year was regarded as one of the best in decades as five running backs were drafted in the first round and five from the draft would go on to make the Pro-Bowl. Mendenhall, Chris Johnson, Ray Rice, Jonathan Stewart, Jamaal Charles, and Steve Slaton were just a few of the running backs that were apart of the class and that Forte produced more yards than all of them and other than Stewart has had a longer career.
The stat that best defines Forte’s career as a whole would be that in the last decade, he has recorded the most scrimmage yards accumulating over 14,468 yards. He joins Walter Payton, Neal Anderson, and Gayle Sayers as the only Bears running backs to be named to multiple Pro-Bowls. Forte was the truest form of a workhorse back doing it all for a Bears offense that was limited throughout his career. Although never seen as the best back in the league, his consistent production throughout his career made him more valuable than all the rest.