NFL fantasy roundtable: Tired Forte remains focal point of Bears' attack
Each week of the NFL season, a committee of SI.com fantasy experts will huddle together and offer their insights into the most intriguing questions facing fantasy players.
1. Matt Forte has struggled in his last few games. With Caleb Hanie at QB and Marion Barber getting more touches, what can fantasy owners expect from Forte in these final few weeks?
Mike Beacom: It's true, Barber is beginning to eat into Forte's workload, but Hanie is the real concern. The Raiders did not respect the unproven quarterback last week, and neither will Chicago's upcoming opponents. With defenses stacked near the line of scrimmage, fantasy owners should expect to see Chicago utilize both backs in an attempt to save Forte from what looks to be a frigid December for Da Bears.
Will Carroll: I'm not sure Hanie's the problem as much as an adjustment and a bit of a wear down. Forte's durable, yes, but he's human. He's making more runs this year up the middle than in past years, and I think it's taken its toll. He broke down a bit after a 300-carry year in '08 and that's where his pace is now.
Gary Gramling: Sure, Forte's production will suffer. To put it in the nicest terms possible, Caleb Hanie kinda stinks, and every defense will be keyed 100 percent on Forte. It's not like you're going to bench him, though. Forte's going to be their top receiver from here on in, so he'll get his 20 or so touches. He's just not going to do as much with them.
Eric Mack: Forte is going to be fine until Week 16 against the Packers. The concern may be the TD vulture Barber, but Forte will be getting plenty of touches, receptions and yards to remain active in all leagues. With Hanie making progress late against the Raiders, the Bears offense should move the ball well enough to keep Forte among the must-start running backs in fantasy.
David Sabino: In his worst-scoring game, Week 11 against the Chargers, Forte ranked 17th among all running backs in PPR leagues, so when he struggles, he's still not so bad. The main concern I'd have would be a schedule that has no slam-dunk 30-point patsies left on it. Barber has vultured touchdowns from him all season, but Hanie at QB should guarantee Forte's touches remain high, especially in the short passing game in which Forte excels. In any case, unless you have no-brainer better options at this point you have to ride him the rest of the year.
2. It appears the Chargers' passing attack will not find any sense of rhythm this season. For those looking ahead to next year, do you foresee a Philip Rivers-Vincent Jackson rebound or have you noticed longer-term issues?
Beacom: Everything relates to the man under center in San Diego, and let's face it: Rivers' numbers have been awful this year (80.8 QB Rating, league-high 17 interceptions). But at 29, his career is far from over, and it's not uncommon for a quarterback to experience a dip. Dan Marino's worst full season came when he was 28 (1989, 76.9 QB Rating); Kurt Warner had a hiccup (or two) in the middle of his career; the 1986 49ers won games, but Joe Montana threw more interceptions than touchdowns and finished with the lowest QB Rating of his career (80.7). Great quarterbacks bounce back; Rivers will, too. San Diego's problem has been poor health and bad breaks (five losses decided by seven or fewer points, two in overtime). When the team finds an answer to solve those problems, and when the backfield finds stability, Rivers (and his fleet of receivers) will return to fantasy elite status.
Carroll: I wish I knew. Rivers just hasn't looked the same, which makes it impossible to judge Jackson well. Rivers doesn't have the historical profile of a guy that's just "lost it." The physical tools are there, but he's making terrible reads and the wrong adjustments. Some of this feels like Norv Turner, but it's something we can't really isolate. I think Rivers is probably better next year, but I think he'll be way, way under drafted.
Gramling: I'm not sure if V-Jax is back in San Diego next year. Or Turner, for that matter. I do think Rivers and Jackson will be fine long-term, even if it's not together. The more I watch Jackson this year, the more I think he's hurt. And the banged up offensive line and Antonio Gates' nagging injuries are really doing a number on Rivers. I'll buy low on him next summer.
Mack: The change will come in the coaching staff. Once Turner loses his job, a new offensive coordinator will help resurrect things. There is actually more promise going forward than doubt. Rivers is getting a running game back with the emergence of Ryan Mathews, so this offense should be outstanding. It might even come down the stretch, whether or not Turner is around to foul it up.
Sabino: There could be a major shake-up in San Diego following yet another disappointing season. And with Jackson playing under a one-year contract it's not out of the question that he's not there next year. But if he does return, I would expect a major bounce-back for both Jackson and Rivers, two players who are in the primes of their careers, especially with Vincent Brown and a healthy Malcom Floyd easing the coverage on Jackson.
3. C.J. Spiller got 22 carries but produced little of lasting value in stepping in for Fred Jackson. Was Spiller a victim of the Jets' defense or are we seeing what we will get?
Beacom: First, fantasy owners must understand that the situation in Buffalo is not the same as that in Oakland, where the team has kept its ground game going despite Darren McFadden's absence. Spiller is not Fred Jackson. In fact, go back to the beginning of last season and Spiller has averaged almost a full yard less per carry than Jackson in the same offense (4.7 to 3.9). Spiller is versatile but probably not suited to be a featured back (think Felix Jones). I don't see Spiller getting more than 20 touches in a game again, nor do I see him offering much help to fantasy owners.
Carroll: I think this is what we get. Spiller's not suited to being an every-down runner. With Tashard Choice not ready to go, he had to take all the carries, in and out. He's a decent enough tweener -- a good RB out of the backfield, a tough matchup split wide. I'm just not sure this is the offense where he can succeed, and Chan Gailey hasn't figured out a way to use him either.
Gramling: I think he can and will be more involved in the passing game, but Spiller is still way too eager to bounce everything outside as a runner (a la Reggie Bush). I think he's a solid RB2 from here on in, especially in PPR leagues. But the light hasn't come on for him yet.
Mack: Spiller is going to be better in easier matchups. The Jets run defense isn't as good as it has been the past few years, but it is still better than it is being given credit for this year. Spiller has the ability to produce like a starting fantasy back. We should be excited about the opportunity before him.
Sabino: Much like the frustrating Dexter McCluster in Kansas City, it's obvious that Spiller can be an exciting runner in space, but he hasn't shown enough acumen as a conventional back to produce Jackson-like numbers. It's a classic case of opportunity not necessarily translating into fantasy results. He's not going to give fantasy owners what they seek in this most important part of the season. I'd use him only as a last resort.
4. Andre Johnson produced little in his return against the Titans. With Houston down to its third-string QB, can you offer any words of hope for Johnson this season?
Beacom: This too shall pass. How's that for hope? As Johnson attempts to return to full health from a bum hamstring, the Texans can only hope to hang on to a two-game lead in the AFC South. Johnson is too good to be shut out the rest of the year, but fantasy owners must not view him in the same light as when the season began; there are too many things working against him on the field at this point. Expect inconsistency and heartache.
Carroll: No. Johnson couldn't separate and flat looked slow. This is what we had been hearing for weeks with his comeback from the hamstring strain. The Texans couldn't get him deep, he didn't get open out of cuts, and he wasn't facing elite competition. Some of it is T.J. Yates, but three targets means he wasn't open much. If there's any silver lining, no one else was either, so no one usurped his role.
Gramling: Well, when they do throw it, it'll be to Johnson. But this is a run-first offense, and I can't imagine them letting T.J. Yates throw the ball in the red zone.
Mack: Johnson is a monster and still a game-changer. The Texans QB that figures that out and gets the ball to him will be the one that gets to play. Matt Leinart didn't get a whole game to do it, and the Texans led the entire way, so it didn't need to push Johnson in his return. Johnson is going to be a fine, if not an elite, fantasy receiver down the stretch. Keep him active in all leagues.
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