Draft Strategy

Exploiting Recency Bias: Matt Forte Is Still One Of The Best Ever

Matt Forte is one of the greatest running backs of all-time, and his price in fantasy football is nonsense. 

The Jets played their third preseason game last weekend, and their starting running was Matt Forte.

For some reason, he is getting drafted several rounds after Bilal Powell, and several other RBs who don’t start, with an ADP of RB48.

Matt Forte 2017 ADPRB48
2016 RB48100.5
2012 - 2016 RB48 Avg99.5
RotoViz Projection155.6
Sim Scores110.4 - 204.8

Considering Forte’s career and current employment, this represents a unique and bizarre situation where fantasy drafters are highly convinced they can predict something about the future that we have no indication is likely.

MATT FORTE, THE LIVING LEGEND

In each of the last two seasons, I’ve written about how Forte represents an historical statistical anomaly.

Here’s the chart from above in the article two years ago, when Forte was the sixth RB being drafted.

2014 RB6272.6
2010-2014 ADP RB6211.7
Rotoviz Writers' Composite Projection268.5
RB Sim Score App Range198.4 - 364.8

He had a disappointing season of only 214 points, but because it was an exceptionally down year for RB production, he was the overall RB7, missing ADP by just one spot.

Here’s the chart above from last year’s article:

2015 RB14193.4
2011-2015 ADP RB14177
Rotoviz Writers' Composite Projection233.3
RB Sim Score App Range168.0 - 228.8

He got injured Week 13, after playing fewer and fewer snaps as the season went on, likely due to a tremendous amount of work the first seven weeks of the season. Finishing as the overall RB21 with 185 points, it was the least productive season of Forte’s career, and the first time he failed to record 40 receptions. It was still only seven spots below his ADP last year, and more than two dozen spots ahead of his ADP this year.

Forte career screeener

He failed to become the second player ever with 200 rushes and 40 receptions for nine seasons in a row (Curtis Martin), while also falling short of becoming the fifth player to have 1,250 scrimmage yards nine seasons in a row. He is now one of 12 players, and ten RBs, to have 1,000 scrimmage yards at least nine seasons in a row. Only four of the other 11 failed to keep it going for a tenth season.

He is also one of only three RBs to record 200 rushes and 30 receptions nine seasons in a row, and is once again trying to match Martin, the only player to do it 10 times, which is where Martin’s streak ended.1

That early season workload was glaringly troubling, and his usage pace the first seven weeks, before more evenly splitting time with Powell, is insanity.

Forte first 7 splits

It’s rare in today’s NFL for an RB to have 300 carries and 40 receptions in a season, happening only six times in the last six years, with no one doing it in either of the last two seasons.

While that 248 points would’ve been RB8 last year, it’s an unrealistic amount of work to project for any RB, nevermind a 31-year old splitting time on one of the league’s worst offenses.

Looking at the seven games on the right, however, reveals an interesting second half pace. He’s never had fewer than 200 carries in a season, nor has he ever had fewer than 30 receptions, and that pace would’ve still been RB23 last season, nearly double what’s being expected from his current ADP of RB48.

If those two final post-injury weeks are removed, where he had seven carries and 19 snaps combined, either from his entire season or from just the games after Week 7, he paces for that similar mid-range RB1 production.

forte last healthy 5 splits Forte first 12 16 splits

T.J. Hernandez of 4for4 wrote about the concept of predictive RB stats earlier in the summer, showing just how dramatically more predictive usage is than efficiency (which is still widely leaned on as a way of framing RB performance by football analysts).

predictive running back stats

Prior to getting injured, through Week 13, Forte was eighth league wide in that most predictive rushing attempts per game, and fourth among the top-12 rush per game leaders in targets per game.

predictive rb stats

THE GODDAMN JETS

Everything until this point has not mentioned the Jets, who now have the lowest Vegas win total in football at just 4.0 games, half a game worse than Cleveland or San Francisco.

Looking at game flow from last season, it’s not a death sentence for Forte that the Jets suck:

Powell had the fourth-most targets, and the fourth-most negative game flow targets, which were 63.5 percent of them. Forte, however, totaled 43 targets, his ninth consecutive season (every one of his career) with at least 40, and 25 of those (58.1 percent) came in negative game flow situations. Forte also had the 15th-most rushing attempts, and sixth-most negative game flow attempts, despite being out snapped by Powell from Week 8 through the end of the season at an almost two-to-one clip of 357 to 183.

It’s tough to say Powell’s numbers were a result of usage when Forte’s suggest that the team may have just been terrible. With a bottom-five Vegas win total, it’s tough to rely on an improvement in the offense which currently has no clear QB, but Forte and Powell should still be able to produce in what should be an excess of negative game flow situations, making Forte’s ADP eyebrow-raising.

Josh McCown is unsurprisingly their named Week 1 starter, and this was my take when imploring picking him up off dynasty waivers before the preseason:

McCown is a real-life NFL QB and has a long career of very much not sucking. His average competence has led to people insisting he sucks, while they struggle to muster the breath and energy to yell at the television while it shows Cam Newton.

McCown is “the clear front-runner” to be the Jets starter, at least to begin the season, and despite giving away Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker, there are still ample pass catchers for McCown to dump off to in garbage time as the Jets get slaughtered. 

McCown game splits

A report that Forte is on the trade block is unsurprising, as keeping him after cutting Marshall and Decker signaled that the Jets weren’t going to cut him. If he does end up not making the 53-man roster, or gets traded, it’s impossible to go to a team with a bleaker outlook than the Jets, though it will almost assuredly be a tougher RB stable to eat into.

At a price of RB48, and expectations so far below anything he has ever done, he’d be an enticing pick on any team in the league. Even if it’s Arizona or Pittsburgh, workload is the greatest predictor of RB injury, and backing up one of the two biggest workhorses on (potentially) one of the league’s best offenses, makes his price still too low, even as a pure handcuff.

He’s never finished lower than RB21. Before last season, he had never finished lower than RB12. He’s never had fewer than 200 carries or 30 catches in a season. Even with the most pessimistic, cynical take possible, his price makes no sense.

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  1. The other RB is Ricky Watters.  (back)
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