Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Forte, Payton, Anderson: Three Bears Running Backs; Nine Awesome Years

Matt Forte is in his fourth year in the NFL. Much is being said about Forte because the Bears have adjusted their game plan to feature him and he has not yet under contract for next year. If Forte continues the rushing/receiving pace he has set so far this season throughout 2011, it will be his best ever.

Are the contract issues affecting Forte one way or another? Who knows, but he is in a zone now—the kind of zone only a few Bears running backs have managed for three or more years. Here's a quick look at three years in the early career of Matt Forte, Walter Payton (naturally) and Neal Anderson.

Year One

Forte has three complete seasons with the Bears. In his first year 2008, he had 316 rushes for 1,238 yards and a 3.9 yard average. That same year, he had 63 receptions for 477 and a 7.6 yard average. Forte's total yards gained equaled 1,715. Forte also scored 12 TDs for the Bears.

You can not compare a current player's statistics in which teams play 16 games against someone who played during the 14 game season. Walter Payton's first three years were played during 14-game seasons. The NFL did not start the 16-game season until 1978. Rather than try to “normalize” the statistics on the three players here, we just provide the raw data on them from NFL.com. There are many factors that also make actual year-to-year comparisons questionable. By just looking at the performances generally, fans may have a better understanding of the value of these three great running backs without having to make any judgments that span teams, offensive/defensive schemes, talent or lack of talent surrounding the players etc.

In addition to the number of games, it should also be noted there is one more huge difference that reflect in Payton's numbers. Fullback play was much more prevalent then. Roland Harper, the Bears fullback was used liberally and got 100 carries for 453 yards in Payton's first year. Bears running back Mike Adamale also got 94 carries for 354 yards that same year. By the same token, today we see a more liberal use of the running back as receiver. It might also be said that Forte's at 6'2'' and 214 lbs. is a more likely target for passes than Payton who was 5'10" and roughly 200 lbs and Anderson who was Payton's size.

Payton had 196 carries for 679 yards and a 3.5 yard average in 1975. In receiving, Payton had 33 catches for 213 yards and a 6.5 yard average. Total yards gained by Walter Payton in his first year equaled was 892. He scored 7 TDs.

For Neal Anderson who began his Bear career in 1986, it was not until his third year that he had the same level of involvement as Payton and Forte in the Bears offense. He was working himself into the lineup as Payton’s career was closing. In 1988, Anderson had a 249 carries for 1106 yards and a 4.4 yard average. In receiving, Anderson had 39 catches for 371 yards and a 9.5 year average. Total yards gained by Neal Anderson in 1988 tallied 1477. Anderson scored 12 TDs.

Looking at these three performances, you can see that all three players certainly had "game" and were following in the footsteps of the Bears great running back traditions. Payton would go on to break the mold over 13 seasons.

Second Year

In 2009, Forte's second year, he had 258 rushes for 929 yards and a 3.6 average. He had 57 receptions for 471 yards and an 8.3 average. His total yards for the season were 1,400. He scored 4 TDs.

Payton's numbers were building in his second year. In 1976, he had 311 carries for 1390 yards and a 4.5 average. His 15 receptions made 149 total yards, which gave him a 9.9 yard average. Total yards were 1539 for Payton that year. He scored 13 TDs.

Neal Anderson's second very productive year was amazing. In 1989 he rushed 274 times for 1275 yards and a 4.7 average. He also had 50 receptions for 434 yards and an 8.7 yard average. Anderson's total rushing and receiving yards were 1709 for the season. He scored 15 TDs.

Third Year

In 2010, Forte rushed 237 times for 1,069 yards netting a 4.5 yard average. His 51 receptions gave him 547 yards and a 10.7 average. His total yards for the year were a hefty 1,616. He scored 6 TDs.

Payton was nothing short of phenomenal in 1977. He rushed 339 times for 1852 yards and a 5.5 average. He had 27 receptions for 269 yards and a 10 average. His total yards tallied an incredible 2121. He scored 16 TDs.
In 1990, the third consecutive year we reviewed for Neal Anderson, he rushed 260 times for 1078 yards and a 4.1 average. He had 42 receptions for 484 yards and an 11.5 average yielding 1562 yards for the year. Anderson scored 13 TDs.


Payton, Anderson and Forte will always be appreciated by Bear fans who witnessed their performances. The numbers suggest that based on Forte's performance for the first three years of his career, he is right up top with the best of the Bears running backs. While Forte is catching more passes than Payton, no one will forget Payton’s leaps over the line for touchdowns. Fans appreciate all three of these great backs, each in their own right. The numbers tell us definitively that any way you measure it, they were great NFL backs in the best Bears tradition.

Sporting Chance Press is the publisher of Sports and Faith: Stories of the Devoted and the Devout by Patrick McCaskey.

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