Jul 15, 2010
I’ll admit it.
When the Bears signed Chester Taylor to a four-year, $12.5 million deal way back in March, I was puzzled. Why did Chicago
need a RB who did much of the same things as incumbent Matt Forte? Taylor can catch the ball and block in pass protection, but so can Forte. Taylor weighs just shy of 220 lbs. So does Forte. Plus, they gave a lot of money this season ($7 million is guaranteed in 2010) to a guy who accrued more than 200 touches just once in his eight-year career: 2006 in Minnesota.
What I was assuming, at least early on, was a fantasy headache, especially since multidimensional backs are a staple of new coordinator Mike Martz’s offense. But just before training camp begins, things appear to be shaking out a little bit.
Yes, Forte was a consensus top-5 pick in 2009, and he’s plummeting down draft boards thanks to an anemic season that saw him average 3.6 YPC on 258 carries, and score just 4 total TDs (his production in the pass game was good, 57/471/0, but no TDs hurt him). He battled through hamstring and knee injuries, although he said earlier this off-season that he’s healthy, and in the best shape of his life (you and 500 other NFL players, Matt).
But here’s what’s interesting early on: though he predictably has fallen down draft boards, owners seem very confident that Forte will take a good majority of the snaps in Chicago once again. Based on our Average Draft Position data, Forte is going around 45th overall in early drafts. The results of some of the recent mock drafts (involving industry experts and FG.com subscribers) we’ve looked at in depth seem to support that number; in three of those drafts, Forte went 47th, 44th, and 59th. And in general it seems like a perfectly fair spot for him. He’s going after projected lead backs like LeSean McCoy and Beanie Wells, and before guys like Felix Jones, Marion Barber, and Joseph Addai, just to name a few.
However, I look at where Chester Taylor is going in those same drafts. Our ADP data has him, on average, as the 122nd pick in drafts. In the same three drafts I just mentioned, Taylor went 119th, 107th (a pick made by yours truly), and 111th overall. The fantasy nuts seem to value Taylor a bit higher than the average player thus far, but not so much as to skew the data. While it’s perfectly sane to assume Forte is the starter and should be drafted before Taylor in every format, I’ve wondered for a while if Taylor is absolutely a guy who should be on my radar once the 9th or 10th round rolls around.
Think about it. At that point, your team will likely have at least three RBs, if not four. What we have in Taylor is a bench player whom you know his team values – $7 million tells us that. And this recent article by Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune raises many interesting points.
1) Forte has the clear upper hand on the starting RB position, but has not been guaranteed it.
2) Forte was extremely ineffective in 2009 when running in single-back sets, something Martz utilizes almost exclusively.
3) Forte has received a higher percentage of snaps over than last two seasons than any RB in all of professional football. It’s not written in stone that his workload contributed to his injuries, but it’s not crazy to think so, either.
Taylor has been extremely adept at providing relief for a workhorse back over the last few seasons. And let’s be frank: Forte is no Adrian Peterson. On the opposite side of the coin, a shiny new deal with a new team doesn’t exactly guarantee a big workload. Our readers will certainly remember what happened with Derrick Ward in Tampa Bay last year. But this situation is different for a few reasons. First of all, the Bears aren’t going to fire their offensive coordinator right before the season starts (at least we hope not), unlike what the Bucs did to Jeff Jagodzinski. And second, Taylor is going in the mid to late rounds of basically every draft we’ve seen. Ward was typically a 5th-round pick, at worst. If Taylor is your fifth back, and he flames out, so what? Conversely, if Forte is your second back and shares touches with Taylor equally, it could burn you. It may actually be a good strategy to draft both players, since it doesn’t seem you’ll have to reach for Taylor.
When evaluating the RB position this year, we’re looking at two Vs: volume and value. With a presumed two-headed system in Chicago, to which all the signs point, I’m not so sure the volume is going to be there for one player like it will for your Rashard Mendenhalls and Ryan Grants of the world. Given that, I find it hard to consider Taylor going 70 picks later than Forte anything but a value. This is a guy I’m looking to add to my bench in any format.
Allow me to make things clear. We like Forte, and if he’s healthy, there’s no reason he can’t play closer to the 2008 version of himself. A 4th-round pick is certainly one I’m willing to use on him. On top of that, Taylor has proven to be a fine #2 back, and little more than that, in the last few seasons. His fantasy production has been OK, although sporadic. But as Biggs pointed out, Forte needs a break.
Is there anyone out there more suited to give him one than Taylor?
UPDATE 7/16/10: Hey everyone. Just wanted to add a quick note today. Adam Caplan and I spoke with our own Greg Cosell on the Sirius XM Fantasy Football Show, and Cosell expressed legitimate concerns that Forte will function as well in a Martz offense as Taylor. Cosell said that while Forte can catch the ball, he isn’t the natural receiver that Martz prefers from the RB position, and that could hurt his integration and productivity. Just something else to think about.