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Are We About to See the Decline of Matt Forte?


Matt Forte has had a pretty incredible fantasy run in his career. Forte has had at least 1400 yards from scrimmage every season. In particular, the last two seasons under Marc Trestman’s offense have been great for Forte. He has had a top four fantasy finish in each of those seasons while averaging 1889 yards from scrimmage and 11 total touchdowns. However all good things must come to an end, and I have to wonder if Forte’s best days are behind him as he enters his age 29 season.

Forte was a very good running back prior to Marc Trestman’s arrival in 2013 but he ascended to the tier of fantasy elites in with a hearty increase of targets under his system. In the three seasons prior to Trestman, Forte averaged a very strong 49 receptions on 65 targets. Over the past two seasons that exploded to 88 receptions on 102 targets per year. Forte set the record for RB receptions with 102 last year, becoming just the third back to hit 100 catches and first since Ladainian Tomlinson in 2003. It’s a very safe bet to say the loss of Trestman means Forte will see a serious drop in receptions. Returning to his three year average before Trestman would mean he would see his reception total cut in half. That’s no certainty but it’s a very real possibility.

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A major drop in receptions would be a serious issue for me because Forte was noticeably less efficient as a rusher last season. His YPC dipped below 4.0 for the first time since 2009. Beyond that, Pro Football Focus has an ‘Elusive Rating’ which measures a running back’s success beyond the point of being helped by his blockers. This factors in yards after contact and missed tackles. Forte saw a noticeable drop in his Elusive Rating from 37.2 in ‘13 to 31.0 last year.

Perhaps the most troubling sign for Forte was his decrease in big runs of 15 yards or more. Forte finished in the top ten in PFF’s breakaway percentage each season from 2010-2013 including the highest breakaway percentage in 2011 and third highest in 2013 with 36.8% of his runs going for 15+ yards. Last year he finished last among qualified backs with just 14.6% of his runs going for 15+ yards. That’s a troubling sign that Forte’s speed may be sapped.

I’ve seen people argue against backs with a high big play ability, citing their stats as fluky. I don’t buy that but I can say with confidence that a very low big play percentage is a bad thing. Just look at the backs that finished last in that category from 2010-13: Shonn Greene, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Mikel Leshoure and BenJarvus Green-Ellis (again). Yikes! I’m not suggesting Forte is nothing but a slow plodder like these guys; he is definitely more talented and has an excellent receiving skill that these guys lacked, but it’s troubling nonetheless.

2015 brings a new set of coaches to Chicago. HC John Fox and OC Adam Gase both head over from Denver. It’s hard to compare the two offenses when Denver was led by Peyton Manning and the lead backs during Gase’s time in Denver (Knowshon Moreno and C.J. Anderson) are pretty different from Forte. It is nice to see that Moreno saw 72 targets and 60 receptions in ‘13. That’s a good sign that Forte can still see a very high volume of targets.

On the other hand, only twice in John Fox’s 13 seasons as a head coach have his lead backs exceeded 250 carries, and both of those occasions are in the distant past coming in ‘03 and ‘08. It’s hard to say whether this is a result of a lack of RB talent or preference for a comittee approach. Willis McGahee and Knowshon Moreno were both the clear lead backs at one point during their time in Denver with Fox but both fell just short of the 250 carry mark. In 2013, the backups did play a significant role even when Adam Gase had Knowshon Moreno as the feature back with Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman combining for 175 carries in 2013. This would be in stark contrast to Forte in the Trestman offense where all other running backs combined for 99 carries total over the past two years. Without the ultra efficient offense that Denver was in 2013 behind Peyton Manning (they led the league in plays and scoring that year), this could be a real problem for Forte.

With Matt Forte we have a player that will turn 30 late in the season and has exceeded 2200 touches in his career. Last year his fantasy production was heavily volume based as his efficiency declined. It would seem to be a safe bet that his reception total decreases by at least 30, and may drop further than that. Then we have to wonder whether John Fox and Adam Gase will move to more of a committee approach. Even if it’s still an 75/25 split that would be a noticeable decrease from last year.

It appears drafters have certainly factored some of this in as Forte’s Fantasy Pros ADP currently sits at RB7. That’s still a little rich for my blood, especially with DeMarco Murray behind him and I’ve already written about why I continue to love Murray. Forte is probably still a high-floor pick but he now lacks the upside he had with Trestman. Given my many concerns surrounding him, the change in offense, and potential age-based decline- I can safely say I will be passing on Forte come draft day.

 

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