Justin Forsett Sticks With Baltimore: Can We Expect Him to Repeat His 2014 Success?
By all accounts, Justin Forsett had a stellar season in 2014.
You probably know by now -- especially if you're a Ravens fan -- that Forsett's 1,266 rushing yards were the first time he's eclipsed 620 yards on the ground in his career. So, yes, he more than doubled his previous career high (619 yards in 2009). He also almost doubled his career high in carries (118 in 2010) with his 235 this season.
Well, on Thursday, the Ravens signed Forsett to a three-year, $9 million deal. Forsett turns 30 in October, and this three-year deal will see him in purple and black until he's 32.
It's a modest deal in terms of money, so you won't find many -- including me -- bashing it. He was good last year, and there's no denying that. But the bigger question is whether there is reason to believe he can replicate his 2014 successes in 2015.
Forsett was the only back last year to hit 1,200 yards rushing and maintain a yards per carry average of at least 5.0 yards. That's telling, but the box score alone doesn't always represent what's happening on the field. That's where advanced metrics can come into play.
Our signature metric, Net Expected Points (NEP) takes a look deeper than just yards and touchdowns. It factors in when and where certain plays happen on a field. For example, a two-yard run from Forsett on third-and-three is much different than a two-yard run on third-and-one. One helps extend a drive. The other ends it. These plays add up during the duration of a season, and it turns out that Forsett's metrics backed up his raw production.
In terms of Rushing NEP, the expected points gained by his carries, Forsett added 22.67 points to the Ravens' offense. That trailed only Marshawn Lynch and his Rushing NEP of 27.34. Forsett's Rushing NEP per carry (0.11) ranked third among the 17 backs with at least 200 carries. Lynch was fractionally better at 0.10, and Jamaal Charles led the group (0.11).
Forsett's efficient rushing helped bring the team's schedule-adjusted Rushing NEP per play up from -0.12 last year to 0.01.
Conversely, even though Forsett had 44 receptions, tied for ninth in the league among running backs, his Reception NEP (8.00) ranked just 28th among the 31 backs who caught at least 30 passes this year. His Reception NEP per target (0.14) also ranked 28th.
Can the Ravens really expect a repeat performance?
Death, Taxes, and Regression
If you believe in numbers, then you have to believe in regression. That'd be bad news bears for Forsett.
|Season||Rushes||Rushing NEP||Rushing NEP/P||Success Rate|
We can't exactly assume he's going to be one of the most efficient rushers in the league while also seeing significant volume considering that his career Rushing NEP per carry is 0.03. Factoring out his anomalous 2014 campaign, his career Rushing NEP per carry is just -0.01, and his Success Rate is 38.62 percent. For context, though, among the 26 rushers between 100 and 200 carries this year, a Rushing NEP per carry of -0.01 would have ranked seventh, and a Success Rate of 38.62 would have ranked just 16th.
It's not so much that Forsett is a bad player, but expecting him to replicate or even come close to his 2014 season doesn't account for his modest metrics prior to this season.
Big Play Reliance
Not evident in Forsett's Rushing NEP or even his touchdown column (which reads "8") from this year is from where on the field his scores came. They weren't all 50-yard scampers, but only one of them came from inside the 5, and just one more came from within the 10. The other six came from between 11 and 20 yards.
Guess how many other players had six rushing touchdowns from that range? None. What about five? None. Four? None. Three? One guy, Isaiah Crowell. Only eight other players -- and seven if you exclude Andrew Luck -- even scored multiple times from that range.
The last time a running back scored more than three times from that distance was 2007 when Adrian Peterson did it four times. In 2005, Larry Johnson did it five times, and Shaun Alexander did it four times. Priest Holmes had four in 2002. And the only other running back in the last 15 seasons to do it was Mike Anderson, who did it four times in 2000.
I'm not holding out hope that he can do it again in 2015. Further, Forsett was only one for 10 on attempts inside the 10, so we can't assume he'd be better if the Ravens got the ball in closer. Also, he didn't rely on long runs for just his touchdowns, either. According to Rich Hribar, 17% of Forsett's runs were longer than 10 yards, the fourth-highest rate in the league.
All of this -- his previous NEP totals and his long-run reliance -- suggests that Forsett is unlikely to boast metrics similar to his 2014 season -- let alone replicate his success. Forsett played at an extremely high level, but it's unfair to expect the same thing from him in 2015.
Baltimore's new offensive coordinator, Marc Trestman, seems willing to build on the offense rather than rework it entirely. That's good news for the offense, according to our own Dan Pizzuta, so we can't simply blame the loss of Gary Kubiak as a reason why he won't succeed.
Even if Forsett takes an expectedly significant step backward in the new offense, then at three-years and $9 million, the Ravens won't be too limited. If Forsett's Rushing NEP per carry drops from 0.10 to his career average of 0.03 (including this year) or his average of -0.01 (excluding this year), then he'd rank inside the top 14 compared to 100-plus carry backs from this year.
This deal certainly doesn't have the luster of DeMarco Murray's signing with the Philadelphia Eagles, which seems to be a good fit for the Eagles, but Forsett's return to Baltimore should help keep their running game afloat.