After McCoy, Charles and Peterson, Matt Forte Is the Right Running Back Pick

If you miss out on the first three running backs in fantasy, Matt Forte is the back you should target.

No matter where you go for fantasy football insight this year, you're likely to find that the rankings and projections you're provided have Jamaal Charles, LeSean McCoy and Adrian Peterson as the top-three running backs.

But who's the fourth?

Not everyone is going to have one of the three best picks in the league, and if you're not willing to take a receiver with the fourth pick, you've got to have a plan in place. Allow me to present you with some information that may help you in your decision.

Matt Forte is an easy choice as the fourth-best back heading into the 2014 season. And while "Marc Trestman is a mad scientist capable of incredible feats of offense," Forte could be all I need as proof for this article. But there's a lot more to him than simply being a pawn in his new head coach's game of football chess.

Myth Busting

Before we begin, let's dispel a couple of rumors and myths about Forte:

He's so injury prone. I don't want to deal with that headache!

Matt Forte has started 59 games at running back since 2010. Only Chris Johnson, Ray Rice and Marshawn Lynch have started more games over that span.

Yes, Forte shows up on the injury report now and then, but that's life as a running back in the NFL. Being handed a football and told to run at 300-pound men 20 times every week will leave some bumps and bruises in its wake.

Aha! So you're saying he's on the verge of a collapse, because he's been worked too hard!

Not quite. Since he entered the league in 2008, Forte has seen three fewer carries per game than Adrian Peterson. That adds up over time, yet no one is ready to write off Peterson, who has an ACL tear in his rear-view mirror.

And among the 20 backs with the most carries since Forte's rookie season, the Bears' runner is only ninth in rushing attempts per game. So he's been used at a fairly average pace as far as workhorse backs go, and he's certainly not at an age where collapse is imminent when considering historical examples.

Then why did the Bears draft Ka'Deem Carey? Surely he's going to cut into Forte's production?

Carey won't cut into Forte's volume and production any more than Michael Bush did for the past two years, because Carey's role at first will be, at most, to replace the carries that Bush won't receive (since he's no longer on the team).

In fact, having a player like Carey behind Forte serves as proof that Forte won't be overworked this year, just as he hasn't been overworked in the past. Running backs cannot and should not be asked to shoulder an entire offense in today's NFL, and having Carey around means Forte won't have to do that for Chicago.

Forte's Qualifications

Enough about the things Forte isn't, or the things Forte hasn't done. Let's consider what makes him a lock as the fourth-best back in fantasy football this season.

Over the course of his career, Forte has slowly but surely improved, as you can see in the chart below.

YearRushesRushing NEPRushing NEP per RushSuccess Rate

Forte has improved his production (according to our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric) every season, while also seeing a steady climb in his Success Rate. This means that his overall contribution to the offense has become increasingly positive, while his positive plays have been coming on a more consistent basis since his early days in the league.

Last season was the best for Forte in every area but rushing attempts, as Marc Trestman's offense unlocked his potential and helped him succeed more, and more often, than he had in the past. His receiving production hit career highs, as well, returning to rookie form as a pass-catcher out of the backfield.

YearReceptionsReception NEPTargetsRec NEP per Target

Apart from Reception NEP per target, which was better in his first season, Forte again set career highs in every area last season as a receiver.

These numbers compare well against his peers, as well. Among backs with 200 or more carries last year, Forte finished seventh in Rushing NEP and third in Reception NEP.

The only players ahead of him in both categories last season were Jamaal Charles, who we've accepted is a better fantasy option, and Knowshon Moreno, who won't be in Denver next year and might not play all that often due to lingering health issues.

The other players ahead of him in the Rushing NEP category were LeSean McCoy, DeMarco Murray, Fred Jackson and Adrian Peterson. Again, we've conceded that Peterson and McCoy are better options than Forte, while Murray's injury risk and pass-happy offense make him a riskier option and Fred Jackson's age and volume make him a good late-round pick, but not a part of this discussion.

The Verdict

So who else should be in the discussion as the fourth-best back in fantasy this year? Murray, who I referenced above, is certainly a candidate, but he has legitimate durability concerns (the most carries he's ever received in a single season would rank fifth for Forte), and the Cowboys were significantly more pass-happy than the Bears last season, and figure to be again.

Arian Foster, Marshawn Lynch and Eddie Lacy stand out as the only other reasonable options, and each have their own flaws. Lacy has big upside as a part of a strong offense in Green Bay, but he doesn't figure to be as strongly involved in the passing game as Forte, giving him a tougher hill to climb to match Forte on a point-for-point basis. Plus, he's yet to prove himself over multiple seasons, as Forte has.

Our JJ Zachariason pointed out why Foster, among many other backs, should be kept below Forte in this discussion, as he plays for a team that figures to have a poor passing offense, which will limit his opportunities to score. Add in Foster's durability concerns, and it's pretty easy to keep him out of the top-four.

That brings us to Lynch, who can and should be a touchdown machine for the Seahawks this season. But his overall role has been the topic of discussion lately, as rumors have crept up about him not seeing his full compliment of touches in the Seattle offense as youngster Christine Michael begins to take over.

But even if Lynch doesn't give up a good amount of his job to Michael, he's still not as efficient of a runner as Forte, and won't be nearly as involved in his team's passing game. Lynch is a strong pick in the first round, especially in standard scoring leagues, but nothing about his profile causes him to stand out ahead of Forte, apart from the potential of scoring a couple more touchdowns than the Bears' runner.

So whether you're in a PPR league or a standard scoring league, if you're left with a decision between Forte and the field with the fourth or fifth pick, Forte is the right choice to make.