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Player Spotlight: Matt Forte

A detailed look at Matt Forte's fantasy prospects for 2013

The Chicago Bears decided to change head coaches in spite of finishing 10-6 last season. GM Phil Emery clearly wanted to get his own head coach into the organization after inheriting Lovie Smith from Jerry Angelo. Emery turned his attention to the offensive side of the ball, hiring Marc Trestman as the new head honcho. While Trestman may not be a household name, he's actually an interesting and possibly savvy choice considering Trestman's long history as both a successful NFL and CFL play-caller. 

While it's sometimes difficult to project how an NFL offense will look under a new head coach, Trestman's long history (he's been calling plays at the professional level for 25 years) in a variety of different settings makes it much easier to extrapolate how the Bears skill players are likely to perform. 

Matt Forte is in Good Hands...Or How I Learned to Love Forte Particularly in PPR Leagues

YearTeam Name RecsTeamRnk% of Total
1988 CLE Browns Earnest Byner 59 1st 18.8%
1989 CLE Browns Eric Metcalf 54 3rd 17.5%
1995 SF 49ers Derek Loville 87 2nd 20.1%
1996 SF 49ers Terry Kirby 52 2nd 14.5%
1998 ARZ Cardinals Larry Centers 69 2nd 21.2%
1999 ARZ Cardinals Adrian Murrell 49 2nd 17.1%
2000 ARZ Cardinals Michael Pittman 73 1st 23.1%
2001 OAK Raiders Charlie Garner 72 3rd 19.8%
2002 OAK Raiders Charlie Garner 91 2nd 21.8%
2003 OAK Raiders Charlie Garner 48 3rd 17.3%
2008 Montreal Alouettes Avon Cobourne 66 4th 13.3%
2009 Montreal Alouettes Avon Cobourne 56 5th 12.4%
2010 Montreal Alouettes Avon Cobourne 64 3rd 13.7%
2011 Montreal Alouettes Brandon Whitaker 72 3rd 16.7%
2012 Montreal Alouettes Brandon Whitaker 49 3rd 13.9%
Total         64.1 3rd 17.4%

As you can see, Marc Trestman has consistently leveraged his starting running back in the passing game. What's important to take away from the above table is that Trestman insists his QBs target his RBs regardless of the circumstance. Whether the team is in contention or not, whether the offense is prolific or moribund, whether the team has good receivers or not, Trestman values the RB as a key component of the passing attack. 

Projecting Forte's Reception Totals

Matt Forte is already a proven receiver, so it's by no means a case of fitting a square peg into a round hole.  Beyond Brandon Marshall, it's arguable that Forte is the best route runner and has the best hands on the team. Combining that with Trestman's tendencies, and it stands to reason we could see Forte catch an inordinate number of passes. But let's put some meat on those bones...

  1. Trestman's RB1 has averaged 17.4% of his team's receptions
  2. Our staff project the Bears with a range of 279 (low end) to 338 (high end) completions
Matrix of Projected Recs -- Completions X % of Total Receptions

 13%15%17%19%21%
270 35 41 46 51 57
285 37 43 48 54 60
300 39 45 51 57 63
315 41 47 54 60 66
330 43 50 56 63 69
345 45 52 59 66

72

As you can see, if Forte simply gets the average 17% of total receptions and we're right in assuming 280 to 330 completions for Jay Cutler, Forte would be in the 50-60 reception range. That should be considered the FLOOR for Forte this year assuming a healthy 16-game season.

Forte Can RUN, but he's Not Necessarily a Special Runner...

Matt Forte has been effective, at times, but it would be unfair to suggest he's an elite RUNNER. Consider:

  • 4.2 career yards per carry average (4.9 is a single season best)
  • 26 total rushing touchdowns in 75 games
  • 5,327 yards in five seasons (his best season was 1,238 yards as a rookie)
  • Ranks in the middle of the pack in yards after contact
  • Ranks in the middle of the pack in big plays
  • Ranks in the middle of the pack in elusiveness

We can't assume Forte has a 1,400-yard rushing season in him. He's shown very little evidence of having the explosiveness or power to deliver that kind of season. To his credit he rarely makes bad plays and is certainly an above average player with the ball in his hand, but he's not elite. I would argue against anyone who says otherwise. When was the last time a RB that hadn't delivered elite rushing totals in five seasons suddenly breaks out in Year Six?

POSITIVES

  • New head coach Marc Trestman has a long history of productive running back play, booth as a runner and receiver 
  • Forte is a natural receiver, and will be targeted regularly
  • There is little credible competition for Forte's touches, he's in no danger of a committee approach

NEGATIVES

  • For as much as his receiving skills are special, there's no evidence that his rushing skills are particularly noteworthy
  • Trestman runs a complex offense and there is a chance it could collapse under the weight of expectations if Jay Cutler isn't ready to put in the work
  • Forte has been banged up and missed games each of the last two seasons

FINAL THOUGHTS

Matt Forte is a good player. I'm not sure he's a great player, but there is something to be said for drafting a RB with a high floor in the first two rounds. I think the addition of Marc Trestman and his coaching staff is more than likely a positive for the entire offense (which was sometimes perceived as a forgotten side of the ball under defensive guru Lovie Smith), but we can't be sure of that because Trestman is a meticulous, exacting coach. Assuming the offense clicks, Forte should be in line for a major workload -- both as a runner and receiver. His receiving skills are special, and we could see Forte with 70+ receptions in an upside scenario. His rushing totals are a bit more range bound, I don't think there's much evidence to argue for more than 1,100-1,200 yards on the ground. But combine 1,100 yards rushing and 400-500 yards receiving, and a half dozen touchdowns and Forte is a viable fantasy RB2.  Do NOT make Forte the centerpiece of your 1st round draft strategy, but comfortably take him in the 2nd round if the truly elite runners, Calvin Johnson and Jimmy Graham are off the board. 

PROJECTIONS

 GRSHYDY/RTDRECYDY/RTDFPT
David Dodds 16 255 1109 4.3 6 44 370 8.4 2 196
Bob Henry 15 260 1140 4.4 5 60 540 9.0 3 216
Jason Wood 16 260 1150 4.4 7 58 475 8.2 1 211
Maurile Tremblay 16 264 1133 4.3 7 44 329 7.5 1 194

THOUGHTS FROM AROUND THE WEB

Jeff Brubach if Football.com evaluates whether Forte or S. Ridley makes a better second round pick:

Another important piece to the debate between Matt Forte and Stevan Ridley is the absence of receiving skills in Ridley’s bag of tricks. In 30 career games with New England, Ridley has caught nine passes. Nine. In 2011, Forte once caught 10 passes in a single game (Week 2 at New Orleans). With Forte averaging 53.4 receptions per year over his five year career, the Chicago star has a massive edge in this department. My personal fantasy philosophy always gives the edge to more dynamic running backs, as too many times one-dimensional backs get left on the sideline as their team attempts to conduct a comeback with a running back more adept at pass catching instead. In leagues that award a half point or full point per reception, the gap between these two running backs grows even wider.

The guys at Yahoo! weigh in whether Forte will catch more than 59.5 receptions:  

Dalton – OVER. Forte has averaged 53.4 catches over his career, and that includes him missing five games over the past two seasons. Marc Trestman plans on him being highly active in the passing game too, maybe more so than ever. The only way Forte goes under here is because of injuries.

Scott – OVER, perhaps by a silly amount. Trestman loves to use his backs in the passing game (we've seen it in the NFL and the CFL). Look what he did for Charlie Garner in 2002.

Brad – OVER. In terms of skill set, Forte is futon flexible. The Bears' centerpiece can do it all. Trestman will take advantage of what the defense gives him, likely shifting Forte around to create mismatches. In what should be a pass-first scheme, the RB will not only exceed the number above, he obliterates it. Think 70-75 receptions.


More from Jason Wood:

Preseason Watch List - July 22
Preseason Watch List: AFC North - July 22
Preseason Watch List: NFC North - July 22
Preseason Watch List: AFC South - July 22
Preseason Watch List: NFC South - July 22
Player Spotlight: Andre Ellington - July 21
Preseason Watch List: AFC West - July 21
Preseason Watch List: NFC West - July 21
Preseason Watch List: AFC East - July 21
Preseason Watch List: NFC East - July 21