The Chink in Matt Forte’s Armor

Via: Rotoviz : Trading Matt Forte Might Feel Like Having to Shoot Old Yeller, But it’s Time to Trade Matt Forte

Marc Trestman is still in Chicago and Matt Forte is still good at catching the ball. Yes, the offense will stay the same, but the offense also largely stayed the same between his rookie and sophomore seasons. That’s kind of a lie because they swapped Kyle Orton for Jay Cutler, but at the time that looked like a move that would help the whole offense and especially a pass catching back like Forte.

First of all, you should probably read everything by the author of that piece. That’s just a straight shooter with upper management written all over him, a real up-and-comer. I advocated trading Matt Forte on the premise that I think he’s unlikely to match the career highs he set last year in receptions, rushing yards, receiving yards and touchdowns. However, despite posting this advice on RotoViz whose tagline boasts of “killer apps” and “industry leading metrics” I failed to provide any metrics or use the apps. Does this site even have an editorial process? [Editor’s note: No] I’d like to rectify that because I found something interesting and it involves Jay Cutler.

Jay Cutler is a douchebag. I feel like I can just write that and no one is going to bat an eye or try to defend him. I personally have a bit of a soft spot for him because the one year I owned him in leagues was the year he broke out in Denver. Then I happened to never own him again as he became a turnover machine so I never started hating him for letting me down. But, there’s a whole tumblr dedicated to how apathetic he is and searching for “jay cutler meme” on google images is a fun way to pass some time. That’s just Bears fans, there’s a whole other level of disdain from dynasty owners. I never really spent any time wondering why people don’t seem to like him, but I did discover that Matt Forte ought to hate him.

Matt Forte in the RB Similarity Score App

If you check Matt Forte’s entry in the RB sim score app you’ll find this for his N+1 projection:


Standard Half PPR PPR
Low 12.4 13.3 14.1
Median 15.2 17.1 18.9
High 17.1 19.3 21.6


That’s about what I’d expect. His floor is still very good and his median is exactly the kind of thing you’d want to invest your fantasy resources in. Forte put up an even 21.0 points per game in PPR scoring last season so his high end here is basically on par with what he did last season. This lends credence to my point in the first article that he’s likely to come back to the pack a bit.

It’s also fun to look at his comparables’ change density plot:


So about 36% of his comps (9 out of 25) actually got better after a similar season and 64% of them (16 of 25) got worse. Again, this is in line with my previous assumptions that he’s likely to regress. I think it’s important to remember with these comps that you’re really looking at a range of outcomes. This plot is a great example because there are four different versions of Ahman Green in there. Green put up four seasons comparable to the one Matt Forte just submitted. Following those seasons he saw one big leap to improved performance, one small improvement, one small regression and one big drop. Ahman Green, just by himself, covered all the possible outcomes at one time or another (it was an emotional roller coaster). It’s important to keep in mind that similar seasons have led to disparate outcomes even for the exact same player (Ahman Green in this case). Don’t get too confident in assuming you can guess what next season will bring.

Matt Forte Without Jay Cutler

Jay Cutler missed 5 games last season. If we remove the games that Cutler missed (9, and then 11-14) from Matt Forte’s sim score, then his N+1 comps look like this:


Standard Half PPR PPR
Low 9.3 11.1 12.5
Median 11.8 12.7 13.6
High 14.6 16.5 18.5


That’s significantly worse. All of a sudden his comps look like a bunch of guys that almost all lost production the following season:


Here’s a table of Matt Forte’s production in the 66 career games he’s played with Jay Cutler compared to the 25 games he played without him (all my numbers came from pro-football-reference and their game logs).

With Cutler 16.61 39-28 66 16.27 70.02 4.30 0.36 3.65 32.59 0.09
Without Cutler 19.33 13-12 25 19.08 81.80 4.29 0.44 4.00 30.72 0.24
Rookie Year 19.16 9-7 16 19.75 77.38 3.92 0.50 3.94 29.81 0.25
Without Cutler since ’09 19.61 4-5 9 17.89 89.67 5.01 0.33 4.11 32.33 0.22
I added the last two rows just in case you were concerned that this was simply a function of Matt Forte’s fine rookie season and the FP/G column is PPR scoring as I consider that to be Matt Forte’s primary scoring system. Those 9 Cutlerless games since 2009 also include the game when Matt Forte injured his knee in the first 10 minutes and was lost for the season so they significantly understate how good he’s been without Cutler in the lineup.
I was encouraged to add a column for the Bears’ win-loss record to point out that while Forte’s fantasy owners would obviously prefer a Forte-heavy offense, that doesn’t necessarily add up to wins for the Bears. However, I’d counter that all this shows is that Cutler has been much better than his backups in Chicago. The Bears could still elect to hand the ball off to Forte more often or target him more in the endzone whether Cutler is on the field or not. This kind of complaining about player usage just makes you sound like a CJ Spiller owner.


Matt Forte is really good. His “bad” result is four full seasons worth of games averaging over 16.6 PPR points per game. Let’s all keep that in mind. If you draft/acquire/keep Forte then you pretty much know what you’re getting which is a fantasy PPR RB1. His PPR finishes in his career are 2nd, 11th, 11th, 9th, 12th and 2nd.

But, how goddamn good could Matt Forte have been? If the Bears had never traded for Cutler would Matt Forte be revered by fantasy owners the way that guys like Marshall Faulk and LaDainian Tomlinson are?

My previous piece on Forte recommended selling high and I think I need to define what that means. If you look at the projections for similar players and the previous 66 games of evidence of Matt Forte playing with Jay Cutler then you see that Forte’s likely finish is somewhere in the neighborhood of a low-end top-10 PPR RB (as he’s done on four previous occasions). Last season, he finished as the 2nd best PPR RB and was over 100 fantasy points ahead of the 10th best RB. This is similar to what he did in his rookie year. I expect Matt Forte to still be a top-10 RB, but nearer the bottom of that pack and lumped in with everyone else. This is where he ended up in his sophomore campaign and for another three consecutive years before he achieved a bit of a Cutler-injury-aided renaissance this season. If you can move him based on the value of a guy that’s going to finish at #2 again and well ahead of other rushers then you should be hunting for those deals.

If Cutler goes down, trade whatever you must to get Forte onto your teams as he’ll likely see a nice production boost and perhaps other owners will fear that the offense will dry up a bit and provide fewer opportunities for Forte. History has shown the opposite.

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