Can You Count on Bilal Powell in Fantasy Football?
When Steve Harvey announced the wrong Miss America.
When President Gerald Ford fell down the stairs getting off a plane.
When La La Land was mistakenly awarded the Best Picture Award at the Oscars.
Oh, my bad. I thought we were naming things that were less embarrassing than the 2017 New York Jets' offense will be.
All that said, the Jets' top two running backs, Bilal Powell and Matt Forte, aren't nearly as embarrassing as the rest of their unit. For that matter, Powell is believed to be a viable fantasy option, with a standard-league average draft position (ADP) of 6.06 (RB29), ahead of bigger names such as Frank Gore and Eddie Lacy and well in front of Forte, who is RB47 as the 10.10 pick.
Does it make sense to grab Powell that high when Forte is still on the Jets roster?
The Jets Offense Isn't Flying High
New York is undoubtedly in the running for the Worst NFL Offense of 2017 Award. They were third from the bottom last year, according to our schedule-adjusted Net Expected Points (NEP) metric. If you're unfamiliar with NEP, it's our in-house metric that shows how many expected points are lost or gained on a play. For example, a nine-yard completion on 3rd-and-10 is different from a nine-yard pickup on 3rd-and-8, and NEP accounts for that. You can read more about it in our glossary.
The two teams behind the Jets in terms of Adjusted NEP per play -- the Houston Texans and Los Angeles Rams -- made significant improvements on offense during the offseason. The Texans might have drafted their quarterback of the future in Deshaun Watson, while the Rams added Andrew Whitworth and Sammy Watkins as well as offensive-minded head coach Sean McVay.
Meanwhile, the Jets lost their top three wideouts this offseason: Quincy Enunwa suffered a season-ending neck injury in practice, and the Jets essentially announced their intention to tank this year by cutting Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker. (They also seem to be shutting it down on defense, dumping veteran stalwarts such as Darrelle Revis and David Harris.)
The quarterback situation is arguably even worse. The Jets expected starting quarterback in Week 1 is Josh McCown. His 0.00 Passing NEP per drop back last year means that, on average, he did not contribute at all towards his team’s expected points each time he dropped back to pass, and he was below the marks set by the likes of Blake Bortles, Paxton Lynch, Nick Foles, Matt Schaub, and Landry Jones.
McCown is also 38-years-old and has suffered a litany of injuries in the past three years. This isn’t a problem because McCown is that good, but rather because the options behind him are that bad.
Bryce Petty recorded a -0.16 Passing NEP per drop back last year, the lowest mark of any quarterback with at least 100 dropbacks, and his offseason isn't making anybody feel any better about him. He underwent serious shoulder surgery, was reportedly on the roster bubble earlier this summer, and is getting outplayed by McCown and Christian Hackenberg at Jets camp.
Speaking of Hackenberg, he has yet to take a regular season snap, but that is expected to change this year. Problem is, much of the Hackenberg news out of Jets camp has been negative, most notably the fact that he's hitting reporters with off-target passes at practice. What we’ve seen in preseason action thus far -- we're talking 11 possessions, zero scores, and a performance in which he took more sack yards than he had passing yards -- hasn’t been encouraging, either.
In summary, the Jets have no wide receivers, no competent quarterback play, and are not hiding the fact that this is a rebuilding year.
Which brings us to Powell and Forte.
A Committee Back
With a disaster of an offense, it takes a running back talent receiving a bell-cow workload to be a reliable play in fantasy -- i.e., Todd Gurley in 2015. Despite the fact that Powell outperformed Forte by our metrics last year, Forte remained involved in the offense.
That's understandable, because Forte, during his nine seasons, has been simply remarkable. The former Chicago Bears star has rushed for 800 yards in every year of his NFL career, while Powell has managed a single-season career high of 722. This may seem easily dismissed due to Powell’s youth, but he is actually a seasoned vet -- 2017 will be his seventh year and his age-29 campaign, close the year in which running backs typically start to decline. That all being the case, Powell might not be considered a big part of the Jets future.
Then again, at 31 -- and with a whole lot of tread on his tires (thanks a lot, Bears) -- Forte likely isn’t in the Jets' future plans, either. He will be a factor in 2017, though, as his $4 million salary is fully guaranteed, something fantasy owners seem be ignoring when evaluating Powell.
In terms of the running back touch distribution, both the Jets running backs coach and offensive coordinator have publicly stated that the backfield will be a committee. The sense is also that Forte will receive more work than last year in passing situations, as his versatility has long been one of his best attributes.
The Jets' offense is likely to be a trainwreck this season, and it's hard to find much to like from a fantasy perspective. As he showed last year, when the Jets weren't exactly good offensively, Powell can be an exception. He finished as the standard-league RB22 last season, and by the end of the year, he was clearly running ahead of Forte on the depth chart, which was justified according to our metrics.
But the chatter this offseason has been about getting Forte more involved, and our projections expect Forte to receive more carries than Powell in 2017 (158 to 138).
With Forte siphoning touches -- or maybe even leading the way -- Powell's ceiling in what should be a nightmare offense is simply too low to be worth a mid-round investment.