Matt Forte is a great running back and great Chicago Bear. Since he was drafted into the league in 2008 no player on any team has had more yards from scrimmage. Let that sink in for a minute. Now that we are all basking in the greatness that is Matt Forte, I have some bad news: his time as a Bear may be at an end. I personally hope not, but we have to consider his departure as a real possibility this offseason. As sad as that may be, it is not the end of the story.
Jeremy Langford looked good in limited action this season and may well be Chicago's new main option at tailback. Kadeem Carey also looked decent in his first real snaps since being drafted a couple of years ago; but he didn't look great. That seems like a minor concern until you take into account that running backs absorb a pounding in the NFL and many of them miss games every season. Just think of all the teams that started either 2nd, 3rd or even 4th string tailbacks in the last game of the season. With the trio of Forte, Langford and Carey that is not an issue. But if Forte leaves and Langford gets injured... Bears fans would be looking at Kadeem Carey (and little else) trying to power the rushing offense for an extended stretch. That is less than ideal. So if Forte gets his ticket punched out of town this offseason the Bears will have a real need for another tailback.
Kenneth Dixon, Running Back, Louisiana Tech
Kenneth Dixon might just be the best football player you have never heard of. I'm here to change that. Notice I didn't say "running back", I said "football player". A senior at Louisiana Tech Dixon has racked up astounding totals of yards and touchdowns but I think it's the heart, style and verve he possesses which set him apart from almost all other players in college football.
Everybody has players and position groups they like to watch and ones they don't. I love running backs. I am an unabashed fan of ball carriers. Watching running backs got me interested in football when I was a little kid, and I still love watching them work their magic to this day. Every year there are a few tailbacks who catch my eye and make me fall in love with their game. A couple of years ago it was a productive second-string RB from LSU named Alfred Blue (now a Houston Texan). Last season it was a human bowling ball named Josh Robinson from Mississippi State (an Indianapolis Colt this year). And of course there was the absolute mastery of some guy named Todd Gurley from Georgia. Kenneth Dixon might turn out to be better than any of them.
I get that funny little feeling in my gut when I watch Dixon play football.. That same little whisper in the back of my head that I got watching Barry Sanders at Oklahoma State, or LaDainian Tomlinson at TCU. The one that says "This guy is the real deal. This guy is really good. He's the one that's gonna do it". I'm not exaggerating. Kenny is a grown man on a football field.
Scouting running backs on tape allows you to see more of their personality than almost any other player on the field. They are simply the focus of so many plays, that you get a better idea about what makes them tick. Kenneth is all about energy and passion. He fights for every inch, on every run, every time. He always pops up at the end of a play. Dixon loves contact and will light guys up when doing so will get him extra yards. His propensity to lower his head and bull over a linebacker or stiffarm a chasing DB for a few more yards is one of the things that makes him so special. Walter Payton lived by his college coach's advice "Never die easy", and Dixon is exactly the same way. He squeezes any extra inch out of every run, and results are often spectacular.
When he isn't charging over guys Dixon can run around or away from the other team as well as any back in the nation. His balance is otherworldly, almost superhuman and reminds me of Barry Sanders. Dixon has that uncanny ability to stop on a dime, suck in his stomach just a bit to avoid a defender's arm and then accelerate back up to top speed in a flash.
There's an almost magical quality to his decision making process. He seems to automatically choose the move that will give him the maximum forward progress every time. One of the things that I look for in a back is how many times he picks up yards that others leave on the table, especially near the goal line. Dixon rates a 10 out of 10 on this scale. He always manages to set up defenders, toss in the perfect juke, break a tackle with power and accelerate away at just the right angle to keep out of the defense's reach. It is a fascinating combination of qualities for one player to posses and it is very, very rare.
Dixon combines his substantial running prowess with plenty of other skills to make him a well-rounded offensive threat. He's an excellent receiver out of the backfield and was used extensively in that role in college. He runs short and deep routes and has had tremendous success with both. He's a willing blocker and has good technique that he combines with his feisty attitude to be a very effective pass protector. This full range of skills will make his transition to the pro game all the more seamless.
When I look for holes in Kenneth's game I am hard pressed to find any. His off-field record is solid, he plays very hard all the time, is exceptionally durable and scored 87 TD's during his college career. He's a threat to score from literally anywhere on the field and can turn a missed tackle into a game-breaking score at any time. There is very little not to like about Mr. Dixon.
While the Bears needs at RB seem very low right now and the value of the running back position has certainly declined overall in recent years, when it comes to truly special players like Gurley and Dixon, you simply have to throw all of that out the window. If Matt Forte is not resigned and Dixon slides into the 2nd round the Bears would need to seriously consider choosing him. If he ends up having anywhere near the career the last RB from Louisiana the Bears chose in the 2nd round has had, no one will ever look back on it as a wasted pick.