Will Matt Forte See a Reduced Role Under John Fox?
After parting ways with the pass-friendly Marc Trestman this offseason, the Chicago Bears hired former Denver Broncos' head coach John Fox as his replacement.
The Bears needed to shake things up, and turned to Fox's 15-game playoff experience to turn things around following their own four-year playoff hiatus.
Coming off a career year in which he broke the running back receiving record with 102 receptions, Matt Forte will be forced to switch gears this upcoming season as John Fox and offensive coordinator Adam Gase will focus more on the run than Trestman has the past couple years.
Entering his eighth season, the do-it-all back may be asked to take a step back.
Fox recently told reporters that he wants to create a one-two punch by keeping a healthy rotation among his players to keep them fresh -- including his running backs.
After being on the field for 92% of last year's offensive snaps, could Matt Forte see a reduced role in 2015?
The Fox Factor
Shifting to the more run-oriented John Fox, the split among the Chicago Bears' running backs could become more divided than the monopoly Forte has held the past few years. Coach Fox has shown a tendency to use multiple running backs in tandem in the past, and could likely repeat that feat with his new team.
The table below shows the top-two running backs by offensive snap percentage of both Chicago and Denver the last three years.
|Year||Team||Running Back||Offensive Snap Percentage||Carries||Rushing Yards||Rushing NEP|
Comparing Forte's heavy usage against the former Denver running backs, there are a few conclusions we can gather.
It's quite evident how much of a discrepancy there is between them in offensive snap percentage. Forte was indisputably the lead back as the offense focused around him, especially from 2013-2014 where Trestman was calling the shots.
Secondly, the high volume Forte has received hasn't necessarily translated to a high output in Rushing Net Expected Points (NEP). NEP is numberFire's signature metric quantifying a player's production versus what is expected of them on a given play. You can learn more about NEP in our glossary.
While injuries played a factor looking at the usage of the Denver running backs, after perusing the snap counts courtesy of FootballOutsiders.com, Fox regularly used a variety of backs even when health wasn't a determining factor.
Producing more effective backs -- per Rushing NEP -- over the last couple years where Forte's offensive snap percentage spiked, Fox has had better efficiency from C.J. Anderson and Knowshon Moreno. Fox improved Denver's Adjusted Rushing NEP (which takes opponent into account) over the last three years, taking them from 23rd in 2012, 18th in 2013, all the way up to 8th in 2014.
Could Fox bring the same improvement in efficiency to Chicago?
Would a Running Back Tandem Actually Help the Offense?
While it may have been hard to become a run-focused team with Peyton Manning at the helm, Denver has actually hovered near the league-average in terms of pass-to-run ratio the last few years. Trestman was not quite the same opportunity equalizer, passing the 12th most in 2013 and the 2nd most in 2014.
This is of importance to note that, while the running backs were more efficient in Denver, it's not due to a large volume discrepancy.
As previously mentioned, Forte will be entering his age-30 season in 2015. After eclipsing the 1,800-carry cliff last year, it's fair to bring into question Forte's outlook from a durability viewpoint.
Yet Forte easily sheds any durability doubts as he's played in all but five games over the course of his seven-year career. This week-to-week dependability has led to Forte seeing the sixth-most touches among all active running backs with 2,260 to his name. Forte has a good chance to buck the trend of falling productivity in the post 1,800-carry study for at least another year with both health and versatility in the passing game on his side.
Would dividing the carries amongst Forte and the other running backs on the roster -- incumbent Ka'Deem Carey, free-agent acquisition Jacquizz Rodgers, and rookie Jeremy Langford -- behoove the offense or merely limit it's star playmaker?
Ka'Deem Carey has been rumored to take on an expanded role, but with a limited skill-set that featured him ranking 90th out of the 163 running backs last year in Rushing NEP, is he really the answer to supplement Forte? Considering the new offensive staff has no ties to the former fourth-round pick, I wouldn't place too many eggs in that basket.
Rodgers doesn't offer much of an improvement, as the diminutive 5' 6" back has been utilized more in the receiving game during the course of his career. Expecting the career 3.65 yards per carry back to transition into becoming a suddenly efficient back is a long stretch. He'll likely have a better on-field presence in spot duty than cutting into Forte's carries substantially.
Michigan State's Jeremy Langford -- this year's fourth-round draft pick -- could easily supplant these uninspiring veterans by the time the preseason finishes and climb to second on the depth chart. Posting this year's fastest 40-yard time, Langford brings speed, power, and a nose for the end zone to a Chicago offense that would welcome his skills after ranking 30th in rushing touchdown percentage last year.
Forte has never really had a knack for punching in the ball for pay dirt -- out of the 257 red zone rushing attempts Forte has had in his career, he's only crossed the pylons on 32 (12.5%) of those occasions. Incoming rookie Langford has had 40 rushing touchdowns trips in the last two years alone. However, after diving into his numbers a little more, he scored 15 times in the red zone out of 52 attempts (28.8%) in 13 games last year. While level of competition has to be taken into account, it's good to see that Chicago found a more adept finisher in this year's draft.
It's also of note that Ka'Deem Carey finished his last two collegiate years with 42 rushing touchdowns, yet he never took over that Michael Bush touchdown-vulturing role fantasy owners grew to despise in 2012. In fact, Carey had only one single red zone carry last year in 2014.
Some may point out that Forte's 3.9 yards per carry last year was below his career-average of 4.2, but he actually had a fairly efficient rushing output that I'll touch on more in a minute. This low output could be more of a reflection of the play calling rather than Forte's ineffectiveness.
Matt Forte is an incredibly talented, versatile back that should still see the lion's share of touches this year. The numbers don't particularly favor any reason to cut into Forte's touches given the current depth chart behind him. Forte's red zone woes are of note and while it shouldn't be too surprising if Fox and Gase look to the younger backs to help finish some drives, Forte should still see the majority of the touches.
For all the hooplah surrounding Forte's reception record last year, he was incredibly efficient from a rushing standpoint. He had a career-year in Success Rate -- carries that benefited towards positive NEP -- and had the second highest Total NEP (which factors in rushing and receiving) of his career. In fact, out of all running backs that had carried the ball at least 100 times, Forte had the 11th highest Rushing NEP, the 2nd highest Receiving NEP, and the 4th highest Total NEP.
Decline? Not quite yet.
From a fantasy perspective, Forte is still a sure-fire RB1. After averaging 21.7 PPR points per game last year, he finished as the third overall running back, and fourth overall skill player (Antonio Brown snuck in there). Possessing 10 different weeks with top-12 finishes -- third most among all running backs -- Forte was a weekly monster as he consistently put up points.
With a current ADP of RB4 according to MyFantasyLeague.com, it seems the masses aren't ready to give up on Forte, and neither should Fox.
Handicapping his best player on offense -- in what could be a vain attempt to keep him "fresh" -- could lead to inconsistent drives and lost points. While Forte might not see the same 92% of offensive snaps entering 2015, Fox should still give him the majority of looks by a wide margin as Forte turns in another incredibly productive year in 2015.