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Karabell: Bears running-back picture still muddled

And so the Cedric Benson era in Chicago ends -- but really, were fantasy owners ever going to trust this guy anyway? Benson got into trouble recently off the field, and the Bears sent him home from practice Monday. Later in the day the team officially gave up on the third-year running back that, time and time again, had disappointed the Bears and pretty much everyone else -- except opposing defenses.


Benson was largely a bust from the start after he caused problems by holding out of his first camp and whining about playing time once he managed to report. He was finally given the chance to start in 2007 with Thomas Jones leaving town for the Jets, and fantasy owners figured he was a big sleeper, but Benson didn't take advantage of the opportunity. His third and final season with Da Bears was truncated by a broken ankle, but it was clear by then -- as he averaged 3.4 yards per carry and was a non-factor in the passing game -- that he wasn't exactly the team's future at running back anyway.


From a purely fantasy angle, Benson's release isn't that big a deal. I can't imagine too many keeper league owners, if any, were relying on him, knowing that Benson had failed to live up to expectations, or even approach them. He wasn't a typical goal-line back, hardly a breakaway runner, didn't break tackles well, didn't catch passes and didn't block particularly well. Put simply, Benson was one of the worst running back picks among the top-five selections in the past decade. In fact, according to ESPN research, Curtis Enis is the only top-five drafted running back since 1998 to accrue fewer rushing yards than Benson, although the latter might not officially be done yet, I suppose.


In a running back market in which former MVP Shaun Alexander, Kevin Jones and Travis Henry are available, it's unlikely Benson will be held in much regard, especially with his off-field problems. Speaking of the other free agent running backs, the Bears might be tempted to look in their direction, so don't be surprised if rumors come out soon about mutual interest. My question is, will it really matter with the offensive line in transition and little threat at quarterback?

The Bears spent a second-round draft pick on Tulane's Matt Forte, certainly a need selection, but there are no guarantees he'll be the answer, either. Like Benson once upon a time, Forte projects as a power back, but not one who is known for being elusive or particularly fast. As of now, the injury-prone Forte sits atop the depth chart, but he has some company.


Adrian Peterson -- aka the other Adrian Peterson -- closed the 2007 season with a few big games, getting 51 combined rushes and turning them into 193 yards. Peterson is 28, and not a breakaway threat, and his efforts in those final games allowed him to rush for more yards than he had receiving. Peterson is a fine receiver, as his 51 catches were among the league leaders for running backs, but hardly a prototypical No. 1 back. Garrett Wolfe was the 2006 NCAA rushing champion from Northern Illinois and didn't get many chances to carry the ball as a rookie, and when the speedy runner did, he averaged 2.7 yards per carry.


Look for the Bears to pit Forte against Wolfe in training camp, and possibly bring in some reinforcements as well. Ultimately, fantasy owners might find that nobody will run successfully for the Bears as long as the quarterback is the erratic Rex Grossman and the offensive line springs leaks. The Bears used a first-round pick on Vanderbilt's Chris Williams, who is better known for pass-blocking than helping the run. Wonderful, just what fantasy owners need.


Ultimately, even with Benson out the door and young running backs looking for opportunity, the Bears might struggle at this position again, so fantasy owners should be wary of how high they draft Chicago offensive players, and how many of them. Cedric Benson had long worn out his welcome to fantasy owners anyway.