The staff members at Footballguys are full of opinions. In a Faceoff, we allow two members to voice their opinions on a specific player. One picked the high side, and the other took the low side.
High Side by Chris Feery
The New York Jets free agent signing of Matt Forte wasn't met with much fanfare by the fantasy community, and that has carried over into early drafts. He's currently hovering around the level of running back14 and going off the board in the late third to early fourth-round range. The reasons for the collective shrugs are fairly simple.
He's a 30-year-old back that the Bears decided to move on from. His average yards per carry have been underwhelming for the past two seasons, and certainly nowhere near the level it was in his terrific 2013 season. He's switching teams and preparing to fit into a new offense. That team has a sneaky pass catching threat out of the backfield named Bilal Powell, as well as a potential short yardage threat in the form of Khiry Robinson.
I get it. The lack of enthusiasm makes perfect sense on paper, but I still think Forte has the potential to deliver a Top 10 fantasy running back season in 2016. Here's why.
Year one of the Todd Bowles era and the implementation of the Chan Gailey scheme delivered a surprisingly efficient offense, and there's a good chance it becomes even more productive in 2016. Initial concerns of a step backward with Geno Smith at the helm have been put to rest with Ryan Fitzpatrick back in the fold. There's plenty of talent at the skill positions to execute the Gailey offense efficiently, and the addition of Forte could pay some immediate dividends.
Part of the reason for Powell's emergence as a pass catching threat last season was the presence of Chris Ivory. He's simply not a huge threat as a pass catcher - even stretching back to his days with the Saints - and the Gailey offense calls for a solid pass catching back. Ivory saw his share of targets last season, but by mid-season, it was pretty clear that Powell was more effective in that role. Forte has shown a strong proclivity for catching the football throughout his career, so we can quickly cross any concerns in that area off the list.
Powell will still have a role and steal some touches, but his overall targets may actually drop with the presence of a strong receiving back such as Forte. Robinson could chime in for short yardage and goal line work, but that may not be the worst thing in the world. For his age 30 season, Forte's body will thank him later for any reduced pounding that may offer him.
He delivered a solid fantasy season in 2015 despite only playing 13 games in a less productive offense, and I have his arrow clearly pointing up for 2016. He's a fantastic fit for the Jets offense, and there's another Top 10 fantasy running back season just waiting to happen before he really begins to slow down.
Low Side by Dan Hindery
Over the past eight years, Matt Forte has been the most consistent fantasy running back in the league. However, he has built up a lot of wear and tear over those years and is no longer a player capable of handling a big chunk of his team's snaps like he did in the past.
Forte's long string of top-12 fantasy finishes was made possible in large part due to playing a huge portion of the available snaps. He played 92% of the Bears snaps in 2014 and 88% in 2013, producing huge fantasy seasons. In 2015, he played at least 85% of the offensive snaps in five of the first six weeks and was well on his way to another big season. However, injuries and the emergence of Jeremy Langford as a reliable backup led to Forte scoring just 85 fantasy points over the final 11 weeks of the season. His days as a true workhorse back are likely over.
Matt Forte was only able to secure a relatively low-dollar contract that is more in line with what a committee back (or backup) usually earns on the open market. NFL contracts tell us more about what a team (and the league in general) thinks about a player than any words ever will. Forte's 3-year, $12M contract with an average annual value of just $4M per season speaks volumes. Forte's contractual value came in well below what even a player like Chris Ivory (5-years, $32M) was able to secure to be part of a RBBC in Jacksonville. Even more instructive is comparing Forte's contract to that of teammate Bilal Powell. Powell signed a nearly identical 3-year, $11.25M contract that contains more than $2M in incentives that could easily make him the highest paid back on the Jets roster. In short, it appears that the Jets view Forte and Powell as having similar value. The financial investment by the Jets indicates that Forte and Powell could be used in a 60/40 or 50/50 RBBC. However, Forte's average draft position of 35th overall vs. Bilal Powell's average draft position of 150th shows the perception in the fantasy community does not match reality in regards to the role that each is likely to have.
Forte's chances of another RB1 season are also negatively impacted by his advancing age and significant amount of physical wear and tear. Forte will turn 31-years old in December and is entering his ninth NFL season. Due to heavy usage, Forte has accumulated more than 2,500 NFL touches already. Averaging more than 300 touches per season over eight seasons will make Forte more injury prone and his explosiveness could also see a significant decline as it has for most other backs as they reach their early 30s.
Lastly, Forte has always been amongst the league's least effective goal line runners. There has been speculation that Khiry Robinson will emerge as the Jets short-yardage and goal line specialist. A low touchdown projection is yet another reason to fade Forte at his current ADP.