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Is Saquon Barkley at Risk of Becoming 2009 Matt Forte?

The article below is part of a series exploring downside possibilities for the top players in dynasty.

This series is designed to be a thought experiment about what might go wrong for the top players in dynasty, with the goal of rounding out our expectations and better preparing us for the season to come. We’ll do this by looking at a player who was being drafted similarly but who disappointed in the following season. These Downside Comparbles are based on similarly productive, high-value players, in the same part of their career arcs, who avoided major injury and whose QBs also avoided major injury. There’s no point to a series where I tell you that every top RB could get hurt or every top WR could lose their QB. This will not be that. Instead, we’ll try to uncover how things could go wrong based on historical examples where top tier dynasty assets stayed healthy, but still came up short for their fantasy teams.

In addition to looking at the drop in fantasy production in these comparable seasons, we’ll look at what happened to each Downside Comp’s dynasty value after their disappointing year. We’ll look about both the immediate impacts to their value and if they were able to recover value in subsequent years. To understand loss in value we’ll be both looking at ADP using the trade value calculation described in this article. But the simple idea behind these trade value numbers is that the dynasty market follows an exponential curve. A player with a startup ADP in the 90s can see their ADP move 10 spots in either direction with little impact on what types of assets they can be traded for. But as anyone who’s tried to trade up to the 1.01 in a startup can tell you, even movements of couple ADP spots at the top of the market lead to massive swings in trade value.

Our first downside comp will be for the top player in dynasty: Saquon Barkley.

Saquon Barkley

Downside Comp: Matt Forte 2009

Saquon Barkley201821NYG16261130711121917214
Matt Forte200823CHI163161238876634774
Matt Forte200924CHI16258929472574710

Barkley’s Rise

As a rookie in 2018, Barkley was an immediate superstar, racking up 2,028 scrimmage yards and 15 TDs. He was particularly impressive as a receiver with 91 receptions for 721 yards and four TDs. Barkley was also highly efficient as a rusher, with 5 yards per carry. His efficiency was all the more impressive for his heavy rookie workload of 352 touches.

Barkley finished 2018 as the RB1 in total PPR points and was RB2 in PPR points per game. Barkley is now the consensus first overall startup pick.

Forte’s Rise

As a rookie in 2008, Matt Forte was an immediate superstar, racking up 1,715 scrimmage yards and 12 TDs. He was particularly impressive as a receiver with 63 receptions for 477 yards and four TDs. In fact, Forte was even more efficient than Barkley through the air, with a YPT of 6.3 to Barkley’s 6.0. But he finished well short of Barkley’s 2018 rushing efficiency, posting a sub-par 3.9 YPC. Despite being less efficient overall, Forte handled an even heavier workload out of the gate, seeing 379 touches as a rookie.

Forte finished 2008 as the RB1 in total PPR points and was RB2 in PPR points per game. As a result of his outstanding rookie season, Forte skyrocketed from a startup ADP of 51 to third overall. This represented a more than doubling of his trade value.

But in 2009 Forte’s production fell off dramatically. Despite playing 16 games, he was just RB12 in total PPR points and just RB19 in PPG. 

What Went Wrong?

In 2009, the Bears saw a change in QB play that took a toll on the entire offense. Kyle Orton hadn’t exactly set the world on fire in 2008 … so if anything new signal caller Jay Cutler was seen as a positive signal for Forte’s 2009 outlook. Unfortunately however, Cutler went on to have the worst Adjusted Yards per Attempt of his career in 2009 at just 5.5.

Cutler would eventually get on track with the Bears. He rebounded in 2010 with an AYA of 7.0 and then set his early career high in 2011 with an AYA of 7.2. But that first year … Cutler was terrible. In 2009 he set a career high with 26 interceptions and averaged just 6.6 yards per attempt.

Inefficient QB play slowed down the offense as a whole, and the Bears averaged three points less per game in 2009. But Forte’s fantasy owners felt the impact the hardest. Forte’s rushing attempts fell by nearly four per game and his efficiency regressed to 3.6 YPC — the worst of his career. Forte did at least remain heavily involved in the passing game with 57 receptions and 471 yards. But he scored zero receiving TDs despite having four the season before. In fact, Forte’s TD production as a whole dropped dramatically from 12 in 2008 to just four in 2009.

Impact on Dynasty Value

After 2009, Forte’s dynasty stock took a major hit. His ADP fell nearly all the way back to where it had been before his rookie season, dropping from from 3rd down to 48th. And his dynasty trade value plummeted from 87 (out of 100) to 33. In other words, despite staying health and maintaining control of his backfield, a disappointing second season caused Forte to lose more than 60% of his trade value.

Subsequent Seasons

Forte’s fantasy production recovered along with the Bear’s QB play. In 2010 and he totaled 1,616 scrimmage yards and nine TDs, with some of the best efficiency of his career: 4.5 YPC and 10.7 YPR. And although it took until 2013, he eventually outperformed his rookie season in PPR points as well.

As a result of his improved performance in 2010 and beyond, Forte’s dynasty value rebounded. He was the 18th player off the board in 2011 drafts, starting a 4 year streak of going in the top 20. However, the closest he ever got to his peak 2009 trade value was his 2014 ADP of 12 with a trade value of 60.

How it Applies to Barkley

Like Forte, Barkley’s rookie season caused a major increase in his dynasty value. That may strike you as off, given that Barkley was already going fourth overall in startups last year. However, by rising from and ADP of fourth to the consensus dynasty 1.01, his trade value has improved by more than 20%. But like Forte, Barkley could be in for a QB change and a resulting drop in QB effectiveness. Daniel Jones may ultimately deliver improved QB play for the Giants, but he’s unlikely to do so as a rookie. And frankly, even if Eli Manning keeps his job, it may feel as though there was a QB change — due to the loss of Odell Beckham.

Since 2014, Eli has played 59 games with OBJ and 20 without. Manning has posted a credible 7.1 AYA with OBJ and an abysmal 5.9 AYA without. Let’s put it this way, with Beckham, Manning was in line with Andrew Luck‘s 2018 efficiency. Without Beckham, Eli was a stationary Josh Allen.

Like Forte, Barkley will be somewhat insulated from bad QB play by involvement in the passing game. Barkley caught a ridiculous 91 receptions last year and that number could increase even in a down year overall. So the bigger concern is Barkley’s TD total, which has a fair amount of downside risk from his lofty 2018 total of 15. Barkley’s 11 rushing TDs are particularly vulnerable if the Giants offense is less effective at getting into scoring range.

Higher Initial Value

When looking at the downside risk for Barkley’s 2020 trade value, we can’t discount the fact that Barkley was going top five in startups before playing a single NFL down. This — combined with an even more outstanding rookie campaign than Forte’s — will provide him with much more insulation from trade value loss than Forte had. When Forte turned in a bad sophomore season, drafters acted like his terrific rookie year had been a mirage, and docked him 62% of his trade value. If Barkley follows the same pattern by dropping to just above his rookie year value… he’d still be 3rd overall–losing approximately 10-20% of his current value.1 That loss in value would certainly sting, but it wouldn’t be the devastating loss that Forte owners dealt with in 2009.

Outlook Beyond 2019

Assuming 2019 plays out along the 2009 Forte script, Barkley is in both better and worse shape for 2020 than Forte was for 2010. Barkley is in better shape because he’s so talented that, outside of health, it’s hard to see him dropping out of the dynasty top 10 for the next few years at least. But Barkley is in worse shape than Forte was when it comes to his QB situation, which is much more likely to turn into a long-term quagmire.

Barkley’s early career value will never swing as wildly as Forte’s did, but he has downside risk for a multi-year production slow down that Forte managed to avoid.

How to Play It

Even if you mortgaged your team to draft Barkley in 2018, he still earned you a profit … and it might be time cash in. If you’re in a championship window, moving from Barkley to an older stud like Melvin Gordon could yield you D.J. Moore2 as the difference. Or if you’re looking more long-term you may be able to move Barkley for for Moore and Juju Smith-Schuster.3 In fact, given how clear cut Barkley is as the dynasty 1.01, those hauls may even be light. According to at least one popular trade calculator you could ask for a 2018 buy-low candidate like Rashaad Penny or Ronald Jones to be added to either package.4

Make no mistake, Barkley is the 1.01 for a reason, he was basically the perfect RB prospect and had an incredible NFL debut, so you should demand the premium he deserves. But I would definitely recommend shopping him around at least. By moving some of his incredibly high value out of the RB position you’re in a much safer position to conserve dynasty trade value. And, crazy though it may seem… given what we saw from Forte in 2009, moving off of Barkley for multiple premium dynasty assets may in fact yield a higher scoring 2019 fantasy team as well.

Image Credit: Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: Saquon Barkley.

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  1. Barkley would less value if he became the consensus 1.03 than if he was just first among a pack of players all going around 1.03.  (back)
  2. RotoViz’s 21st ranked dynasty player  (back)
  3. RotoViz’s 3rd ranked player  (back)
  4. Of course, what you should be able to get in a trade and what you can actually get from your league-mates can be very different things.  (back)

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