The Chicago Bears waived running back Cedric Benson, the No. 4 overall draft pick in 2005, after his second arrest on alcohol-related charges in less than five weeks. Benson started 11 games for the Bears last season but was unable to produce the numbers that were expected. The team traded running back Thomas Jones to the New York Jets to allow Benson to become the team's No. 1 back before the 2007 season. However, he underachieved in that role and averaged only 3.4 yards per carry last season. Even before off-the-field issues led to his release, there were reports stating Benson was not guaranteed a roster spot with the team in 2008.
The current options
Rookie running back Matt Forte, who was expected to compete with Benson for the starting job in training camp, was working with the first-team offense Wednesday, June 11, in the first practice following Benson's release. With the team's current roster, Forte is likely to be the starting running back when the season opens. He had an unbelievable senior season at Tulane University, rushing for 2,127 yards and 23 touchdowns. However, he has not officially been named the starter, which means the job is still up for grabs. Offensive coordinator Ron Turner believes Forte has what it takes to be an every-down back in the NFL, praising his size and good hands.
Seventh-year running back Adrian N. Peterson has the most NFL experience of any back on the Bears roster and is likely the biggest competition in house for Forte to win the starting job, though that seems like a long shot. He was the primary backup to Benson in 2007 and could fit into the role again behind Forte assuming he is unable to overtake the rookie. He has only started six games in his career but has played in every game the past three seasons. Peterson rushed for 510 yards on 151 carries last season, adding 51 receptions for 420 yards.
The rest of the running backs on the roster are young and have yet to prove their worth at the pro level. Halfback Garrett Wolfe, the 5-foot-7, 186-pounder, out of Northern Illinois, is undersized by NFL standards and is entering just his second season in the league after playing 13 games with the Bears in 2007. It is unlikely Wolfe emerges as anything more than the team's No. 3 back.
Running back P.J. Pope, who is entering his third season, played for the Green Bay Packers in 2006 - appearing in one game - and was on the Bears practice squad last season before being placed on Injured Reserve. Look for him to battle for the No. 3 spot on the depth chart.
Last but not least is running back Matt Lawrence, a rookie out of the University of Massachusetts. Lawrence played 13 games for the Minutemen in 2007 and recorded 1,585 yards and 16 touchdowns.
If the Bears feel they can't suffice with the current horses in their stable then they may look to the free-agent market to add depth or possibly find a starter, although, it is unlikely.
Free-agent back Kevin Jones (Detroit Lions) has expressed interest in playing for the Bears through his agent. However, Jones is injury prone and suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee last season. He has never played a full season in the NFL and is looking for a contract above the minimum salary. He is probably not what the Bears are looking for.
Another available free agent is running back Ron Dayne (Houston Texans), who has also approached the team about possible employment. Dayne is similar to Benson in that he has largely underachieved since joining the league in 2000. However, Dayne started eight games last season and his production has gone up the past two years. He has totaled 345 carries for 1,385 yards and 11 touchdowns in that time.
Former NFL MVP Shaun Alexander (Seattle Seahawks) is also available via free agency although it appears Alexander is past his prime and has seen his production decline dramatically over the past two seasons. He has only played in 23 games (starting 20) in that span combined, recording 252 carries and seven touchdowns in 2006 and 207 carries and four touchdowns in 2007.
Fantasy football outlook
If the Bears roster does not undergo a facelift prior to the 2008 season then look for Forte to be the best option fantasy wise. Forte has a lot of upside if he becomes the team's starter but is no more than a No. 3 running back due to his inexperience and the team's weak offensive line.
Obviously, Peterson has value in the unlikely event he wins the starting job, but his primary appeal would be as a handcuff in the late rounds. However, if the team signs one of the aforementioned free agents, then his value is probably completely gone. None of the other backs on Chicago's current roster have any fantasy value.
About Fraser Lovat
Fraser is a Hot off the Wire Analyst with KFFL and has been with the company since 2007.
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