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The WCG All-Bears Post-Ditka Team: Running Back

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For the final positional group of the WCG All-Bears Post-Ditka Team, we take a look at the running backs who help the Bears “Get off the bus running,” led by Matt Forte and Thomas Jones.

Detroit Lions v Chicago Bears Photo by David Banks/Getty Images

The WCG All-Bears Post-Ditka running back (click here for the series introduction)

Players in contention: Matt Forte (2008-2015), Raymont Harris (1994-1997), Jordan Howard (2016), Thomas Jones (2004-2006), Anthony Thomas (2001-2004), Rashaan Salaam (1995-1997)

The silver lining to the untimely trade of Thomas Jones was the surprise arrival of Matt Forte.

It’s fitting, then, that the WCG staff agrees across the board that these are our two best running backs of the Post-Ditka era.

Chicago Bears v Green Bay Packers
In his 2nd game with the Bears, Jones broke off a 54-yard run at Lambeau en route to a 152-yard game to help the Bears beat the Packers at the start of the Lovie Smith era.
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Thomas Jones came to the Bears on the first day of free agency, 2004, and immediately felt at home. He was an offensive player with a defensive mindset, a perfect player not just for the team’s new offense but for the team’s leaders Brian Urlacher, Mike Brown, and Olin Kreutz, and of course for new coach Lovie Smith. He rushed for 948 yards and 7 touchdowns in 2004 while battling a hyper-extended toe, and watched in disbelief as the team used the #4 pick in the draft on Texas running back Cedric Benson.

Jones used that pick as further motivation. In 2005 he became the first Bears back other than Walter Payton to rush for 1,300 yards, leading the Bears to the playoffs in the process. In 2006 he helped the team to an NFC-best record of 13-3 and broke Payton’s franchise record for rushing yards in a playoff game, eclipsing Sweetness’s 104-yard game in 1984 with 123 yards in the NFC Championship Game and 112 in the Super Bowl.

One month later, he became the first running back to run for 100 yards in a Super Bowl and then get traded. He told me about it earlier this year:

I did not want to leave Chicago. I struggled in Arizona. I went to Tampa for a year. I was finally in a place where I loved the fans. I loved the city. I fit in. I was finally appreciated for once in my NFL career. We just went to the Super Bowl. We just had consecutive years where we had a bye week in the playoffs. I’m playing with my friends, my brothers. No, I didn’t want to leave.

But after the Super Bowl it came time to reach out again to Jerry and say, “What are we going to do? I did everything you asked me to do. I was a good teammate. I was a leader. I ran for 1,200 yards.” And he didn’t want to restructure my deal again. So it was kind of like, (laughs) “What do you want me to do? We had this conversation before the season started and now you’re going to re-neg.”

It just so happened that the Jets were looking for a running back, and Drew Rosenhaus and I had a conversation with Jerry that was like, “Listen, he doesn’t want to leave. Just restructure his contract.” And they had spent a lot of money on Cedric and they just didn’t see it working out. I think I’m the first running back to ever get traded after running for 100 yards in the Super Bowl. It makes no sense. But it happened.

The Bears replaced Jones with Benson, which did not work out, but the uncertainty with Benson led to one of the best draft picks in team history: Matt Forte, out of Tulane, in the 2nd round of the 2008 draft.

In his first professional game, Forte ripped off a 50-yard touchdown run against the Colts and racked up 123 yards. For eight seasons in Chicago, Forte started in all but one game in which he played, amassing five 1,000-yard seasons along with nearly a 1,000-yard receiving season in 2014.

Chicago Bears v Indianapolis Colts
In his first pro game, Matt Forte broke a 50-yard touchdown run.
Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

That year he caught 102 passes, obliterating his own franchise record for receptions in a season by a running back (63 in his rookie year, passing Jones’s 2004 mark of 56). He finished his Bears career 2nd to Payton in rushing yards and in receptions. He is one of only four Bears to rush for 1,300 yards in a season (Payton, Jones, and now Jordan Howard are the others) and one of only three Bears to catch 100 passes in a season (Brandon Marshall did it twice, Marty Booker did it once).

Forte made two Pro Bowls in Chicago and became a fan favorite, to say the least, interacting with fans young and old at his charity events and at games.

As a runner, Forte had speed, strength, and extraordinary balance. As a receiver, he was equally adept at dominating on a screen pass as he was lining up wide, showing off both on a pair of touchdowns opening day 2010 against the Lions.

He memorably caught a game-winner against the Chiefs in 2015, and could break off long runs with ease. His highlight reel shows his versatility as a runner, receiver, and even blocker.

To settle the debate, I took this to my WCG colleagues, and asked them four questions:

  1. Who is your starting WCG All-Bears Post-Ditka running back, who is your backup, and who is your third stringer?
  2. If you had to build a perfect Bears team competing for a Super Bowl for a single season, who would be your starting running back and why?
  3. Who is the best pass catcher among PD Bears RBs?
  4. What is your single favorite memory of any Bears running back in the PD era?

Here are my responses, followed by theirs.

Jack Silverstein

1. I have to take Forte because of the years, and because he was obviously a brilliant player on a season-to-season basis. Jones is my backup, or really my second starter. The Ultraback is my #3.

2. I want Jones from 2005, the guy with a Superman-sized chip on his shoulder from the Benson draft, the guy who battled through injury and became the first Bears back not named Walter Payton to rush for 1300+ yards.

3. Forte, although TJ was a marvelous receiver too. I just can't go against either Forte's versatility as a receiver nor his numbers.

4. Thomas Jones' first touchdown against Seattle in the 2006 divisional game, where he crossed the goalline and let forth a full-body demonstration of joy and elation.

If I can pick a favorite moment per my favorite Bears backs...

Forte: his TD run in his first career game

A-Train: his TD run to cap his 188-yard game against the Bengals in 2001

Ultraback: his 29-yard TD run in the demolition of the Vikings in the 1994 playoffs

Robert Zeglinski

1. Matt Forte is the starter and is the second best Bears RB all-time (if Sayers had played longer, he's definitive, but he didn’t). And hey, Forte is Chicago's all-time second leading rusher only to Walter Payton which speaks volumes. Forte also just had unparalleled versatility and for the relative lack of talent around him on offense — a common Bears theme — he was truly special and under appreciated.

His backup is Thomas Jones who let it be known should have received much more churn in Super Bowl XLI. He was the centerpiece of those early successful Lovie Smith teams on offense. Not much more need be said.

And outside of a small sample size, the third-stringer has to be Anthony Thomas even though so much more was expected from him long-term.

Buccaneers v Bears X

2. If we're trying to win a Super Bowl in 2017, the answer is 2013 Forte and it's not even close.

In the much-maligned Marc Trestman'a offense, Forte was an absolute dynamo. 1,339 rushing yards to go with 9 touchdowns and 74 receptions to go with 594 yards as well as 3 touchdowns made Forte both a No. 1 option in the rushing game and whoever was under center's crucial safety valve. Forte in his prime was a matchup problem deployed however you see fit and that's perfect for the current wide open offensive revolution.

3. Forte is 7th all-time in receiving yards in Bears history with 4,116 yards (an indictment on the franchise, sure). He's second all-time in receptions with 487. The only other Chicago tailback ahead of him is again, Payton. No one else even qualifies here in comparison as the best post-Ditka pass catching tailback and I will judge anyone who has a different answer.

4. I know that while ultimately the Bears didn't make the playoffs in 2008, I’ll always remember Forte’s gutty performance in the frigid cold against the Packers at home on Monday Night Football. With 23 carries for 73 yards, two receptions for 28 yards, and a game-tying touchdown in the final few minutes of the game, he helped keep the Bears' playoff hopes alive and add to one of the underrated moments in the Bears-Packers rivalry. Remember too, that Forte was still a rookie here shining in the spotlight.

Ken Mitchell

1. Matt Forte was near HOF level for a decade. He could run and he could catch. Thomas Jones backs him up for me. A-Train is my third stringer.

2. Jones, 2005. Beastly year.

3. Forte is by far my favorite out of the backfield. He was rock solid and won us a lot of games.

4. My favorite moment? Last year, Monday Night, the Vikings were in first place. First quarter, 0-0, Jordan Howard perfectly reads the blocks of Josh Sitton and Cody Whitehair, hits the gap and rips Minnesota for 69 yards. That's when we REALLY knew we might have something in the kid.

Sam Householder

1. Forte, Jones, A-Train.

2. Forte in 2013 was at his peak. He was the best offensive weapon the team had. And I love me some TJ but Forte's versatility gives him that edge to me. Plus, while Jones had that shoulder chip from Benson, Forte had a different high-priced free agent seemingly every single year trying to snipe his carries and no one could ever unseat him.

3. Fore never had fewer than 44 catches for the Bears and he topped 50 catches six times.

4. It's difficult for me to pick a favorite moment. I just remember a lot of little moments in 2004 where it became apparent quickly that Jones, who had been seen as a bust up to that point, was going to be a fantastic player for Chicago. That first Lovie Smith win, over the Packers, Jones had 152 yards and a TD.

Forte’s first career game was special too. It was the first game Ashley had decided she would follow football with me and since it was the rematch of Super Bowl XLI, I'd heard a lot of trash talk that week so it was so, so sweet when Forte shut up all the Colts fans and Ashley had her first favorite Bears player ever.

Josh Sunderbruch

1. Forte, Jones, too close for me to have an opinion

2. Matt Forte 2008: 1715 yards from scrimmage and caught basically everything chucked his way.

3. Forte

4. Forte's first career TD

Lester A. Wiltfong Jr.

1. Matt Forte was such a good football player. His numbers speak for themselves, so he's my obvious #1. Thomas Jones was another good football player that the Bears should have taken care of contractually. His first year in Chicago (2004), the Bears were bad (5-11), and Jones failed to reach a thousand yards rushing. So they panicked and drafted Cedric Benson instead of seeing the potential that Jones had. Jones thrived the next two years before being traded away.

For my #3 back, I'll take Adrian Peterson. While I was a fan of Raymont Harris, I was also a fan of Peterson. He always ran hard when called upon, and he was a very good special teamer. With Forte and Jones as my 1-2, I need my number three to help out in other areas.

Peterson rushes Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

2. Give me Matt Forte's 2011. It was his first Pro Bowl season and he had his highest yards per carry (4.9) that year. He was always a weapon out of the backfield, but that year he was running great until the injury in week 13. Most Bears fans remember 2011 as the year Jay Cutler got hurt after they opened the season 7-3, but Forte missed the last four games that season as well.

3. Forte, hands down.

4. I'll pick three. Matt Forte's debut against the Indianapolis Colts was pretty special. Adrian Peterson running for 120 tough yards in the Nathan Vasher 108 yard FG return game (2005). And that 69 yard, Jordan Howard run that Ken mentioned above.

Jack:

Lester, you're spot on about needing a #3 back with a different skillset. When we fill out our 53, I suspect special teams is the reason AP will make this team.

In a vacuum though, just thinking about skillsets from a running back perspective, both Thomas and Peterson are too similar to Forte and Jones. Then I started flipping through RBs — Neal Anderson and Jordan Howard each only have one year in the PD era, and are also similar to Forte/TJ in terms of just being feature backs. Lewis Tillman never stood out to me as having another peak skill, nor did Salaam, Enis, Benson, or Langford.

I went with the Ultraback because he is a solid blocker and receiver, so you can line him up with either Forte or Jones and not tip your hand. But we're obviously going to play McKie for those purposes.

I went with Raymont because I couldn't think of a scat back other than Garrett Wolfe, but you know who I forgot and who would be a solid #3 as a guy who can change it up? James Allen. Shifty and fast, and can also catch.

So I'm changing mine: I'll take Allen as my #3, strictly when thinking about RBs. (Lester, I'm with you though — when I look at the full 53, Peterson might well be my guy because of his special teams contributions.)

Lester: I was close to picking Allen, plus he had that great end zone catch on that Hail Mary.

Andrew Link

1. Forte, Jones, Allen — and yet, it’s hard to not go with Peterson. He was my first Bears jersey. I loved him coming out of Georgia Southern and thought he was a steal. He never got a fair shake as a ball carrier and always thought he and a speedy back would make for a helluva backfield tandem.

2. Howard 2016 — He is the best pure runner since Payton and Jones/Forte had trouble in short yardage, goal line and 4 minute...Howard does not

3. Forte

4. Forte vs. Indy in 2008. The way he burst onto the scene matched the college tape and you knew he was for real.

Bears fans, who are our best running backs of the post-Ditka era? Vote below!

NEXT WEDNESDAY: special teams specialists

All statistics from pro-football-reference.com, unless otherwise noted.

AND NOW...

YOU BE THE JUDGE

Poll

Who was the BEST Bears running back of the post-Ditka era?

This poll is closed

  • 85%
    Matt Forte
    (84 votes)
  • 4%
    Raymont Harris
    (4 votes)
  • 5%
    Jordan Howard
    (5 votes)
  • 5%
    Thomas Jones
    (5 votes)
  • 0%
    Anthony Thomas
    (0 votes)
  • 0%
    Rashaan Salaam
    (0 votes)
  • 0%
    Other
    (0 votes)
98 votes total Vote Now

Poll

What was your favorite Bears running back moment of the post-Ditka era?

This poll is closed

  • 23%
    Matt Forte’s 50-yard TD run in his first pro game
    (19 votes)
  • 4%
    Raymont Harris’s 29-yard TD run in the 1994 playoffs
    (4 votes)
  • 18%
    Jordan Howard’s 3-TD game against the 49ers
    (15 votes)
  • 41%
    Thomas Jones’s 54-yard run in the Super Bowl
    (34 votes)
  • 4%
    Anthony Thomas’s 23-yard TD run to seal a 24-0 win over Cincinnati in 2001
    (4 votes)
  • 7%
    Other
    (6 votes)
82 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Which Bears 1st round running back in the post-Ditka era was actually better than his reputation?

This poll is closed

  • 30%
    Cedric Benson
    (21 votes)
  • 20%
    Curtis Enis
    (14 votes)
  • 48%
    Rashaan Salaam
    (33 votes)
68 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Among non-stars, who is the most unheralded Bears running back of the post-Ditka era?

This poll is closed

  • 18%
    James Allen
    (15 votes)
  • 7%
    Jeremy Langford
    (6 votes)
  • 63%
    Adrian Peterson
    (50 votes)
  • 1%
    Lewis Tillman
    (1 vote)
  • 3%
    Garrett Wolfe
    (3 votes)
  • 5%
    Other
    (4 votes)
79 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Which Bears running back of the post-Ditka era was the BEST RECEIVER?

This poll is closed

  • 1%
    James Allen
    (1 vote)
  • 94%
    Matt Forte
    (82 votes)
  • 3%
    Raymont Harris
    (3 votes)
  • 1%
    Thomas Jones
    (1 vote)
  • 0%
    Other
    (0 votes)
87 votes total Vote Now