Is Matt Forte the Best PPR Running Back in Fantasy Football?

Forte leads the entire league in receptions but trails DeMarco Murray in PPR scoring. Should Forte be considered number-one going forward?

Six exciting weeks into the NFL season, there has already been quite a shuffle towards the labeling of the word "best" at several positions. Many of last year's reigning leaders, Peyton Manning and his Week 4 bye aside, are off-pace from their 2013 outputs. This is paving the way for new challengers to fight for the honor of being labeled the NFL's "best" in any category.

The running back position is no different and has experienced some early season volatility. Several of last year's top backs are struggling due to a myriad of reasons, providing newcomers an opportunity at glory.

2013 StatisticsRushing YardsRush NEPReceiving YardsRec. NEPTotal YardsTotal NEP2014 Total NEP
Jamaal Charles128713.9369354.66198068.594.86
LeSean McCoy160737.1253931.11214668.22-10.61
Knowshon Moreno103817.3754847.99158665.367.70
Matt Forte13396.5359443.78193350.3113.63
DeMarco Murray112121.4235018.03147139.458.34

The table above displays 2013's best running backs based on Total Net Expected Points (NEP) and their 2014 output to date. A third of the way into the season, three of these backs are lagging behind their 2013 campaigns.

For those unaware of numberFire's metrics, NEP quantifies a player's contribution to his team’s scoring output based on how that player performs versus what is expected of him. These numbers can provide a sense of efficiency of just how well a player is performing against his peers.

Jamaal Charles has been fighting early season nagging injuries, allowing teammate Knile Davis the opportunity to steal some of the spotlight. LeSean McCoy has been nowhere near his iconic pace while Philadelphia's offensive line has been in shambles, but after Sunday night's blowout of the New York Giants he may be turning things around. After being picked up by the Dolphins this offseason, Knowshon Moreno is now out for the rest of the season with an ACL tear. Matt Forte and DeMarco Murray are the only backs that have been able to stay healthy enough to give themselves a chance to get back to their great 2013 numbers.

Most Productive Running Backs in 2014

After six weeks, the outliers of some games can now be deciphered into patterns and yield way to which backs have truly produced at the highest level. Which backs have been the best to date?

Here are the top five running backs in the league according to Total NEP.

2014 StatisticsRushing YardsRush NEPReceiving YardsRec. NEPTotal YardsTotal NEP
Le'Veon Bell5427.9925116.8879324.87
Marshawn Lynch3677.0312611.8949318.92
Justin Forsett40815.361180.5052615.86
Matt Forte399-7.0737620.7077513.63
Giovani Bernard3840.4617811.0556211.52

Pittsburgh Steeler Le'Veon Bell has picked up from right where he left off his rookie season and has become one of the most entertaining backs to watch. Entertaining and efficient. The leader of Total NEP to date out of all running backs with 60-plus carries, the former Spartan has rumbled his way to the second-most rushing yards in the league and paired that with the third-most receiving yards by a running back. Bell is performing at a ridiculous pace and has a chance to beat Jamaal Charles' leading Total NEP from 2013 (68.59).

Marshawn Lynch provides another steady source of production and fantasy wealth. For a team that runs the ball as often as the Seahawks do, fifth most in the NFL, Lynch's strong Rushing NEP score is proof of just how well he's played this season picking up both yards and scores at an extremely efficient rate. He has also been off to a great start receiving the ball, ranking third out of the 25 running backs with over 60 carries in Reception NEP.

The Baltimore Ravens' Justin Forsett has quietly put together an impressive season of his own. Head coach John Harbaugh may ought to start thinking about straying from his running-back-by-committee approach and feed Forsett the ball more frequently. On a Rushing NEP per carry basis, Forsett ranks 5th out of 84 backs with at least 10 carries and currently touts the 5th most rushing yards in the league. His Rushing NEP is tops in the league among running backs.

His Reception NEP isn't nearly as flattering, though, as he's the third worst receiving back only topping LeSean McCoy and Alfred Morris.

Quite adversely, Matt Forte leads the pack in Reception NEP out of all running backs with more than 60 carries.

Forte has been sensational in Marc Trestman's offense, accruing 46 receptions and providing a routine outlet for quarterback Jay Cutler. Forte's Rushing NEP score will never be out of this world, as he carries a -59.93 career Rushing NEP, but the Bears will accept that as he's racked up 775 total yards over 6 games.

Cincinnati Bengal Giovani Bernard rounds out the top-five with another impressive Reception NEP. Bernard has a chance to his numbers substantially as the Bengals only face one defensive unit ranked in the top half against running backs on their remaining schedule.

For those wondering where the NFL's leading rusher, DeMarco Murray, falls in these rankings he's been in the middle of the pack. Out of the 25 running backs with more than 60 carries, he ranks 8th in Rushing NEP, 14th in Receiving NEP, and 10th in Total NEP.

Best Receiving Back?

Now again, we're looking at the most efficient pass-catching backs, so we can dive into the numbers even further. After looking at the Total NEP, which factors in rushing and receiving to date, we can now look at who has been the best receiver out of all running backs.

PlayerReceptionsReceiving YardsReceiving TouchdownsRec NEPTarget NEPRec NEP/Target
Ahmad Bradshaw21176524.5717.760.91
Matt Forte46376120.7012.880.38
Antone Smith10220319.4417.731.62
Le'Veon Bell28251016.888.270.48
Fred Jackson30245115.12-1.550.39

A couple of new names enter here as we withdraw the limiting factor of minimum number of carries. Ahmad Bradshaw has put together an incredible start to 2014 as he has become quarterback Andrew Luck's favorite red zone target. Out of 10 redzone targets, Bradshaw has hauled in nine of them to pick up 52 yards and five scores. Sharing time with Trent Richardson has handicapped his overall value, but Bradshaw's red zone usage alone warrants Flex/RB2 consideration.

Atlanta's Antone Smith has also been on an incredible run this year, scoring big touchdowns nearly every game both rushing and receiving the football. His lack of use by Mike Smith may not last that much longer if he keeps this up, but it's difficult to claim him as the best receiving back on such limited touches.

Watch out youngin's, let the old guys show you how it's done. Buffalo's Fred Jackson had 52 snaps last week to C.J. Spiller's 12, as Buffalo left their fate in the hands of old-timers Jackson and quarterback Kyle Orton, who were unable to pull off the upset against New England. Jackson continues to be an incredibly efficient back at age 33 with the fifth highest Reception NEP among running backs.

This battle really comes down to Le'Veon Bell and Matt Forte, two dual threats more than capable of beating teams on the ground or through the air. Forte's large volume of receptions has to be the deciding factor however. In the past two games alone, Forte has 22 receptions, providing PPR owners an absurd advantage over the competition. He blows the competition out of the water as his 376 receiving yards tops the second leading back, Roy Helu, by 118 yards. While Forte is 18 yards shy of Bell's total yardage lead, he owns a distinct advantage in touchdowns leading 3 to Bell's 1 touchdown.

Matt Forte's weekly upside to pick up both the yards and receptions make Forte the best PPR running back going forward, even though he trails Murray in PPR scoring 143-140. Forte's heavy use in Trestman's offense that shattered team records in 2013 will likely challenge for that again as Forte is on pace to set an NFL record 123 receptions by a running back. The Bears will continue to channel their offense through their playmaking running back, feeding him the ball and utilizing him as a receiver out of the backfield in various formations.

Make no doubt about it, Matt Forte is the best PPR running back in all of fantasy football.