- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
I recall a few months ago, when those owning Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte in keeper leagues bemoaned the Bears' signing of Michael Bush, worried that it would harm Forte's value. After all, Bush is larger than Forte and capable of regular duty. One of the main reasons he was brought in was to handle the goal-line rushing attempts, or be Forte's "touchdown vulture," if you will. Well, my thought both then and now is that this signing was largely irrelevant to Forte's value; it's not like Forte was piling on the rushing touchdowns in the first place.
In fact, Forte, as tremendous a player as he is in the open field -- he was the 2011 league leader in yards from scrimmage when he hurt his knee the first week of December -- has never been a particularly strong option near the goal line, thus the Bush signing makes sense. This doesn't lessen Forte's value. If anything, it could be a positive, as someone with a 30-pound advantage can handle the high-leverage and potentially more injurious touches. We want Forte healthy.
Look at previous TD vultures for the Bears, and Bush should succeed where Chester Taylor and Marion Barber failed. Barber, now retired, actually scored six rushing touchdowns last season, double the total of Forte, but he battled injuries as well, and cost the Bears a December game. Did he hurt Forte's value when both were active? I say he didn't, and neither will Bush.
Don't expect a Bush flirtation with 1,000 yards again, as Forte has a much better track record of durability compared with Darren McFadden, but seven or eight rushing touchdowns seems feasible, along with about 40 rushing yards per game, making him a reasonable bye week fill-in and certainly a valuable handcuff for Forte. Bush has 12 touchdowns from inside the 5-yard line over the past two seasons, and there's little reason to expect different. Bush is going in the ninth round -- I rank him 92nd overall -- and I'd bump him up a bit in touchdown-heavy formats.
Of course, Bush isn't the only touchdown vulture around. It's worth noting that the days of a Jerome Bettis scoring nine touchdowns on only 110 rushing attempts in 2005 seem well in the past. Last season only 30 players rushed for five or more touchdowns, and of that crew, I'd call only Mike Tolbert, Brandon Jacobs and Barber true vultures. Green Bay Packers bowling ball John Kuhn rushed for four touchdowns on 30 carries, so he was close.
Tolbert and Jacobs are in new places now (and technically, so is Barber), and between them I'd choose Tolbert as a vulture. Don't expect Tolbert, now with the Carolina Panthers, to hurt the value of Jonathan Stewart or DeAngelo Williams much, though. If anything, his touchdown production will cut into what quarterback Cam Newton can achieve, perhaps dividing Newton's rookie rushing touchdown total of 14 at least in half. Jacobs is dealing with knee woes, and if he does make the San Francisco 49ers, his impact seems likely to be far less when compared with his New York Giants days.
The most interesting touchdown vulture will likely be New York Jets quarterback Tim Tebow. You've heard of him, right? Tebow is not listed as a running back, but imagine if he was! Tebow already has 12 rushing touchdowns in his short career, and his prowess in this area should hurt both starting quarterback (for now) Mark Sanchez, who tied Tebow for second among all passers with six rushing scores, and running back Shonn Greene. Alas, it's risky to activate Tebow in any leagues at quarterback if Sanchez is starting. With Bush or Tolbert, the case can be made for them during bye weeks, as they are running backs.
Here are a few other situations to keep an eye on:
• When Ryan Mathews gets healthy, and his status for Week 1 remains up in the air, it's likely Tolbert's former role as TD vulture will be filled by fullback Le'Ron McClain or Ronnie Brown. I vote for McClain, who was an effective goal-line choice in Baltimore in 2008, and he's still in great shape.
• Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie Doug Martin seems poised for big things, but the bigger LeGarrette Blount isn't going away. Blount hasn't been a strong touchdown-maker in his two seasons, but he remains worth drafting even if his touches are reduced because it's unlikely Martin sees them all, especially near the goal line.
• I wouldn't call Peyton Hillis a touchdown vulture in Kansas City. He and Jamaal Charles will each be plenty busy, though the considerably larger Hillis should get far more attention at the goal line.
• Similarly, don't look for Darren Sproles to get many goal-line rushes when the New Orleans Saints are in position to score. Then again, did anyone get them? Sproles and then-rookie Mark Ingram each received a mere three goal-line attempts last year. Ingram and Pierre Thomas each rushed for five touchdowns. There's no real vulture here; a healthy Ingram will get plenty of rushing attempts all over the field, and Sproles will still do his receiving thing.
• By the way, Kuhn is still on the Packers, just in case the team gets tired of Cedric Benson running into his linemen at the goal line. Kuhn has 12 total touchdowns over the past two seasons, eight of them rushing.
Eric Karabell looks for unheralded fantasy options who could emerge as the top goal-line threat for their team.