Matt Forte's rookie season thus far has been a pleasant surprise. Heading into week 13, he has 909 yards, and three games where he has rushed for more than 100 yards. With five games left, he is a virtual lock to break 1,000 yards. In fact, if it wasn't for Matt Ryan's fantastic season with the Atlanta Falcons, Forte could be considered a lock to win the Rookie of the Year.
The Bears' post season hopes seem to rely on this kid, but most Bears fans can be honest enough to know that this isn't going to be a Super Bowl year. The more important question about Forte is how will he continue to perform? In a league where most the average player is only in the game for three years, a good rookie season doesn't mean that he will have a good career. Where does Forte stack up with the best running backs?
Chicago has no shortage of great running backs. Few athletes are so revered and loved as Walter Payton is in this city. How many other football players have high schools named after them? Payton is the greatest running back of all time, but that did not begin to show until later in his career. He gained a scant 679 yards in his rookie season. Another beloved Chicago runner -- though maybe not beloved in Devin Hester's mind -- is Gale Sayers. He gained 867 yards during his first season with the Bears in 1965.
Beyond Chicago athletes, Forte's season doesn't rank quite as well. Barry Sanders gained a mind-boggling 1,470 yards and averaged 5.3 yards per carry during his rookie season. Jim Brown ran for 942 yards, though it only took 12 games for him to meet this mark. The current record holder for most yards gained in a career, Emmitt Smith, rushed for 937 yards.
Forte, who is in fifth among the league's rushers, is on pace to have rookie season's like the league's best running backs. Current league leader in rushing Clinton Portis had 1,508 yards for the Broncos. The Vikings' Adrian Peterson, who the Bears will see Sunday, had 1,341 yards last season.
Can Forte join in this group of elite runners? Absolutely. His 4.0 yards per carry can push him into the upper echelon of running backs. Will it happen? That, I cannot say but I do know that it will be fun to watch him try.