- He was a fantasy stalwart as a centerpiece of the Bears’ offense, but how much value will Matt Forte offer within a crowded Jets attack?
Beller: No. 14 RB, No. 31 overall | Fitz: No. 17 RB, No. 41 overall | Consensus: No. 15 RB, No. 36 overall
For eight years, Forte was a consistent presence in the Bears’ offense and the fantasy community. During his excellent tenure with Chicago, he had more than 1,400 yards from scrimmage in seven seasons, falling short of that mark for the first time in his career last season. In all, he scored 64 touchdowns: 45 on the ground, 19 through the air. He instantly established himself as one of the best receiving backs in the league, setting a single-season record for receptions by a running back with 102 in 2014. Forte’s fantasy ranking by season went thusly, starting with his rookie year: third, 18th, 11th, 15th, 12th, third, fourth, ninth. He was the rock of the Midway.
But all good things must come to an end, and this spring the Bears waved goodbye to their best offensive player since Walter Payton. Forte’s career in Chicago is in the rearview mirror—can the same be said for his days as a fantasy force?
Forte was one of the first free agents to find a new home in March, signing with the Jets shortly after the official start of free agency. This should be a good fit for him, thanks to his pass-catching ability and the Jets’ desire to push the ball down the field. Chris Ivory is now in Jacksonville, and New York’s remaining personnel screams that this will be a pass-heavy offense. The Jets are built around Ryan Fitzpatrick, Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker and Forte, a foursome that should put them among fantasy’s most lucrative offenses.
There is some cause for concern as Forte begins his Jets career. He turned 30 at the end of last season and is coming off his worst year as a pro. Forte missed three games due to a knee injury and set new a career low in rushing yards (898), while tying his previous career low in receptions (44) and falling short of 400 receiving yards for the second time in his career. It wasn’t just the injury that held him back. Forte ran for 4.1 yards per carry and had 3.38 receptions per game, the third-lowest total in his eight years in the league.
On top of that, Forte could be looking at a more even workload split than he ever experienced in Chicago. Forte played under three head coaches in Chicago—Lovie Smith, Marc Trestman and John Fox. All of them were content to treat Forte like a workhorse, only occasionally mixing in whoever his backup might be. That’s not going to be the case this season.
Bilal Powell will have a significant role in the Jets’ offense, partially on his own merits, but also thanks to Forte’s age. It’s safe to say that running backs generally start to break down after they turn 30—that doesn’t mean they fall off a cliff instantly, but by that point most backs comfortably have their best days behind them. Few, if any, can be Adrian Peterson, who led the league in rushing at 30 years old last year.
Most of the talk early in training camp suggested that Forte and Powell would split the carries almost right down the middle, with Forte getting a slight edge. While Forte would be the primary receiving back with most teams, he managed to sign with one of the few that already had an adept receiver in its backfield. Powell caught 47 of his 64 targets last year for 388 yards and two touchdowns. As good as Forte is catching the ball—and he still may be the best in the league among running backs—the Jets aren’t simply going to eliminate the talented Powell from their passing game.
Fantasy owners should be wary of certain things they hear coming out of training camp. Forte may not be the runner he was five years ago. He has three years of mileage on Powell, and he has taken countless more hits. Still, no one would suggest Powell is the better back. The nearly even split with a slight edge for Forte that many in Jets camp are expecting could turn into a three-to-one breakdown in Forte’s favor before long. We know Forte is the better player and that Powell will have a role. From there, we’ll have to figure out what we can using practice reports and preseason games as our guide.
Forte’s receiving and blocking ability is going to keep him on the field, no matter how he performs as a runner. That the Jets went out and added him as quickly as they did in free agency should suggest to the fantasy community that, at the very least, he will earn a comfortable majority of the work out of the backfield. He may not top 300 touches this season, but he’s a safe bet for 200 carries and 80 targets. A player like Forte, even at 30 years old, in an offense like the Jets, can make that work.
Figuring conservatively, Forte will get 250 touches this season. He could easily surpass that number, but that feels like a fair floor. Given the strong offensive environment around him and his production as a receiver, 1,300 yards from scrimmage and eight total touchdowns are in his sights. Forte should once again give his owners RB2 production.