Shortly after the Jacksonville Jaguars signed New York Jets running back Chris Ivory, the Jets signed Matt Forte from the Chicago Bears to fill his shoes. Ivory had done an excellent job over his three seasons, with 2015 standing out as his best. With the quarterback position still a question mark, the Jets have to hope that they don’t lose a beat at any other position, especially running back. What can be expected from a successful, yet aging running back who has changed teams? Before answering that question, there are some factors that must be weighed.
Matt Forte Expectations for 2016
The Offensive Line Will Hurt
Part of any running back’s success comes from the offensive line. That was seen with DeMarco Murray of the Dallas Cowboys in 2014. He put up amazing numbers with arguably the best offensive line in the NFL. The next season with the Philadelphia Eagles, he massively regressed. This is one factor that must be weighed with Forte leaving Chicago for New York.
Offensive lines are one of the hardest categories to rank in the NFL due to the lack of traditional statistics. Pro Football Focus dabbles into this rare art, however, and supplies rankings. According to their newest rankings, the Bears offensive line is in for a big drop from last year. They are ranked 30th entering 2016 as three solid offensive linemen left in free agency. The Jets, on the other hand, are ranked 24th, which is a slight boost from their 26th-ranked offensive line last year.
The reason that the offensive line will hurt Forte, however, will be because the 2015 Bears offensive line was better than the 2016 Jets offensive line projects to be. Chicago’s offensive line was ranked 16th in 2015. The biggest key is that their run-blocking was fifth-best in the NFL. As of now, it seems very unlikely that the 2016 Jets could come close to qualifying for that rank.
Age Won’t Hurt Too Much
Forte is obviously not getting any younger. He will be 31 on December 10th. This is in no way a positive for him. This is another factor that must be weighed.
While most running backs slow down at this age, there are others who still put up solid numbers around Forte’s age. Take Frank Gore for example. In his age 30, 31, and 32 seasons, he has played in the maximum 16 regular season games. The lowest he rushed for in those seasons was 967 yards. Between those seasons, he had a combined 19 rushing touchdowns. Technically it’s a decline for him, but it’s a decline any team would take from a running back in his 30s.
Other running backs, such as DeAngelo Williams, have shown a decline as they hit 30. Between his age 30 and age 31 seasons, he had a combined 1,062 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns in a total of 21 games. However in 2015, in his age 32 season, he made a statement, as he had 907 yards and tied Adrian Peterson for an NFL-most 11 rushing touchdowns. How about the 31-year-old Adrian Peterson? Not only did he tie Williams for the most touchdowns, but he also led the NFL in rushing yards with 1,485 in his age 30 season.
Obviously the running backs mentioned are some of the best. While Forte could be ranked third or fourth among them, a comparison can be made. He has played in three fewer seasons than Gore, two fewer than Williams, and one fewer than Peterson. Given the extra seasons, Forte’s numbers would look even closer. The point, however, is not about who is better. The point is that there are running backs older than 30 who can still perform well. Age could and probably will slow Forte down. As for the next season or two, a big decline seems unlikely. It seems even more unlikely considering Forte has missed only eight career regular season games and has played in 120, displaying durability throughout his career.
After discussing factors that will impact his experience in 2016 as a New York Jet, it is a proper time for projections. In the case Forte plays in all 16 games, his numbers may look like this.
Rushing Attempts: 250*
Rushing Yards: 960*
Rushing Touchdowns: 5
Receiving Yards: 370*
Touchdown Receptions: 2
*Rounded up to the nearest 10
These numbers show a few things. The rushing statistics are not as good as Ivory’s were last season, but they are not drastically worse. They seem to reflect a slight decline compared to Forte’s usual numbers in a full season. That is factoring in the offensive line and age. Age shouldn’t affect Forte much in 2016 as mentioned before, so more decline should come from the presence of the weaker offensive line. A new offensive coordinator and quarterback play could also be factors, but they shouldn’t affect Forte as much. Additionally, the fact that Ryan Fitzpatrick remains unsigned would make factoring in a quarterback even more speculative right now.
Forte has played consistently over the course of his career and these numbers reflect such consistency. While Forte’s fortune can change for better or for worse come regular season, it doesn’t appear that running back will be a big worry for the Jets.