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Player Spotlight: Matt Forte

A detailed look at running back Matt Forte's role on his new team—the New York Jets—for the 2016 NFL season.

Despite his age, his injuries and taking on a new offensive scheme, Matt Forte has fallen into a situation which bodes well for his fantasy (and NFL) prospects. The Jets used Chris Ivory a lot over the last two years but he was a limited player compared to Forte.

A Versatility Upgrade

The Jets often subbed Ivory out on passing downs (and Bilal Powell in), so defenses had a head start in maneuvering towards the proper formation to slow or stop the Jets on offense. With Forte—who along with being a good runner is a very solid blocker in pass protection and can obviously catch the ball—the offense is the one with the advantage as they are not limited by the personnel they put on the field.

While there is some confusion about the quarterback position (and will be even if they knew for sure who would be under center), last season saw the Jets run the ball 386 times while passing it only 362 and that won’t change this season, though we might see an increase in passes to running backs since Forte is a much more accomplished pass-catcher than Chris Ivory.

Less Carries, Same Success

Forte’s carries will drop a bit from his time in Chicago, as even if the Jets run more than they pass, they run the ball a little less than the Bears do. So while he will get a high percentage of the opportunities in the Jets backfield, the overall number of opportunities is lower and therefore his production is likely to be as well.

While that’s the case, Ivory managed over 1,000 yards in 2015 which coincided with the most runs he had with the team (247). If the Jets hand the ball to Forte that many times, he should break the 1,000 yard mark this season as a Jet—and that’s before we factor in his receiving yards, where he averages 514 yards per year.

Added Value

Again, this is one of the few areas where Forte might be hampered a bit by the Jets’ scheme. Forte averaged about 77 targets per year with the Bears, but the Jets don’t throw the ball to their backs as much, or at least appear not to. It’s hard to say exactly how much head coach Todd Bowles and offensive coordinator Chan Gailey will throw to the backfield positions—as we stated above, Ivory was limited in passing downs and putting Powell in too often tipped the offense’s hand.

So is Powell getting just 63 targets last season an indicator of the ceiling or does the presence of a more dynamic Forte mean more targets? We believe the latter will happen, though Forte is still likely to see a drop in targets from his average. The reason we see more passes thrown in Forte’s direction is not just because of his skill, but because of the apparent lack of skill among the tight ends and the questionable depth at wide receiver.

Jace Amaro is the best pass catcher amongst the tight ends and he’s not good. Meanwhile beyond Eric Decker and Brandon Marshall, the Jets have a lot of inconsistent and unproven talent. Quincy Enunwa, Devin Smith or rookie Charone Peake could all step up, but there is no guarantee, and certainly no guarantee that any of them could attack the shorter, underneath routes the way Forte can.

Poised for Work

On top of all of this, we get back to the quarterback situation. As of this posting, Ryan Fitzgerald is not the Jets starting quarterback but even if he were, the reality is that with this brutal schedule and the Jets’ limitations with any of the potential quarterbacks, they have to run the ball, a lot.

The backfield is going to have to do a ton of work to keep this offense moving and help buy whomever is under center more time.

Positives

  • Is able to stay on the field all three downs and not tip offense’s hand
  • Should see a ton of opportunity both in terms of carries and receptions
  • Chan Gailey will put him in situations which will suit his skill set

Negatives

  • Age – while 30 isn’t as scary as it once was, it’s usually the beginning of a decline
  • The offense passes less – and not often to running backs
  • Brutal schedule, filled with good defenses

Final Thoughts

The age is a little concern as although we haven’t really seen any signs of decline yet, they often sneak up on us and escalate quickly. That said, Forte is a great fit in this offense and should provide a lot of production both for the Jets and fantasy owners. Healthy after last season and ready to go in an offense which will maximize his talents, you have to like Forte this season.

What holds him back more than anything are the schedule and the question mark at quarterback, which would be there even if Ryan Fitzpatrick is under center. Will Chan Gailey’s passing schemes and plays be enough to keep defenses from stacking the box? And with a somewhat shaky offensive line and at 30 years of age, will Forte be able to surpass that?

At the end of the day, we think he has it in him for one last great year of production and see him as a low-end RB1 with some upside.

Projections

 

Games

Carries

Yards

TDs

Targets

Receptions

Yards

TDs

Fumbles

Garda

16

240

1050

5

70

63

522

2

1

Other Viewpoints

From Mike Clay at ESPN.com who thinks Forte is in an offense setting him up to produce:

At the end of the day, Forte is in position for 15-plus touches in a Jets offense that finished sixth in both snaps and touchdowns last season. This is the same unit that allowed Chris Ivory to finish 10th in PPR fantasy points overall, and Powell to rank fifth during weeks he played in full last season. Forte very well could be as busy as Ivory as a rusher, and nearly as involved as Powell as a receiver.

Dan Schneier of Pro Football Focus thinks Forte could bounce back in receptions this year:

In addition to the potential volume increase for Forte, the union with the Jets makes sense from a schematic standpoint. Forte should find success running the football in offensive coordinator Chan Gailey’s spread offense, and he will be a major factor in the passing game.

Just two seasons ago, Forte caught 102 passes in Marc Trestman’s offense; the Bears targeted running backs on 125 passes that season. In 2015, the Jets targeted a running back on 114 pass attempts.

ESPN.com’s Rich Cimini reports the Jets are looking to adapt to Forte, not the other way around:

Offensive coordinator Chan Gailey still is figuring out ways to deploy Matt Forte, the NFL's most prolific pass-catching back since his rookie year, 2008. When asked how Forte fits into his system, Gailey replied, "That's not the question. The question is, how do we adjust the system to fit Matt Forte?"

A good reference point might be C.J. Spiller, formerly of the Buffalo Bills. From 2011 to 2013 under Gailey, Spiller caught 115 passes. Gailey moved him around the formation, sometimes lining him up wide or in the slot. Forte has that kind of versatility.