Do the New York Jets Need to Increase Bilal Powell's Role?

At the start of the season, the Jets heavily featured Matt Forte. Should they go away from this?

From the moment he entered the league in 2008, Matt Forte found a way to run away with the lead back role for the Chicago Bears.

On the other hand, Bilal Powell was drafted to sit behind guys such as Shonn Greene and Ladainian Tomlinson in 2011 for the New York Jets. He has gone on to see his role increase throughout the years as he has become the change-of-pace back for the Jets.

After leaving the Bears in free agency, Forte joined the Jets on a three-year contract that made him the 14th-highest-paid running back based on yearly salary average.

While this contract made it seem like the Jets wanted to use him in a large role, the Jets also re-signed Powell to deal ranking 18th in average annual value at the position.

Initially this season, it looked like the Jets were ready to disregard contracts and ride out Forte this year in a bell-cow role; however, the past two weeks have shown otherwise.

What do the numbers say about the situation?

Surprising Ground Game

It is easy to see who coaches believe is the lead back based on snap count.

Snaps Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4
Matt Forte 54 61 41 34
Bilal Powell 17 17 28 37
Jets Offense 71 75 68 71

It's safe to say that the Jets' coaching staff initially believed in Forte as their main back. However, this sentiment looked to change once Week 3 arrived. More over, the touches each running back received trended in the same way the snap counts did.

Touches Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4
Matt Forte 27 32 17 16
Bilal Powell 6 2 10 10

While the drop in snaps and touches for Forte coincides with injury news, we still can look deeper to see if the Jets are better served reducing his workload and increasing Powell's.

To do so, we will use both traditional statistics and our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric to see just how these two backs are performing.

Player Rushes Rush Yards Yards/Carry TD Rush NEP Rush NEP/P Rush Success%
Matt Forte 81 288 3.6 3 -2.88 -0.04 37.04%
Bilal Powell 13 99 7.6 0 5.78 0.44 69.23%

Looking strictly at rushing data, Forte is the lead back here; however, Powell is far outperforming him in every area outside of touchdowns.

While Forte's numbers look horrible next to Powell's, he is middle-of-the-road among the 50 backs with 20 carries, as his Rushing NEP per carry ranks 26th and his Rushing Success Rate ranks 30th.

Although Powell does not qualify, he would rank first in each metric if he met the threshold. Last year, Powell posted a Rushing NEP per carry of 0.00 and a Rushing Success Rate of 38.57%. The league averages were -0.04 and 39%, respectively. Over 70 carries last year, Powell played at a similar level as Forte to start 2016.

And his 2016 success on the ground is not the product of an occasional big run but rather consistency.

Running Back Big Plays Stuff Rate
Matt Forte 8 8.60%
Bilal Powell 5 0%

To make note of this consistency, Powell has had a big play (10-plus-yard run) on almost half of his carries, while Forte does so on almost every 10th rush. Furthermore, Powell has not been stuffed for a loss on any of his runs yet, while Forte has on 8.6%, which is just better than the 9.05% league average.

It seems evident that Powell is the better runner by almost all measures so far this year -- though we're looking at only 13 carries -- and a similar rusher based on last year's performance, but let's see how these two stack up through the air.

Air Powell

Until last year, Forte never had fewer than 60 targets in a season, but he still has never had fewer than 40 receptions in a year. He truly has been a complete running back throughout his career.

Although Powell is known for being a change-of-pace back, it took until last year for him to eclipse the 60-target and 40-reception thresholds.

PlayerTarRecRec YardsTDRec NEPTarget NEPRec NEP/TarRec Success%
Matt Forte17118303.82-8.900.2254.55%
Bilal Powell221510303.77-6.520.1760.00%

For the year, 35 running backs have at least 10 targets. Unfortunately, neither Forte nor Powell are performing admirably among this group.

Forte ranks 22nd in Reception NEP per target and 30th in Reception Success Rate; Powell ranks 27th and 25th, respectively, in the same categories. Neither look like great receiving options this year from an efficiency standpoint.

This may not be either of their faults though, as Ryan Fitzpatrick has struggled mightily of late, and is actually producing a -4.54 Passing NEP.

As it is, both backs deserve about an equal slice of the passing game pie.

Moving Forward

At the very least, Powell deserves a larger role in the running game to see if his efficiency can best Forte's over a larger sample. After all, Powell maintained league-average-or-better efficiency on 70 carries last season in terms of Rushing NEP per carry and Rushing Success Rate.

While his overall efficiency will drop from where it is now, Powell has earned a bump in play time and carries due to his consistent success so far this year.