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Is Matt Forte better than people think?

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NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at New York Jets Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

I think it is good to consistently reexamine your beliefs. None of us is perfect, and it is entirely possible we are missing something.

Over the last two years, it has become common knowledge among Jets fans that Matt Forte is finished as a productive player in the NFL. I have said something to this effect a few times this year.

The other day I started thinking about the season and how many games I left thinking Forte had a productive game. This made me want to dig a little bit deeper.

I set out to examine some of the most common things people say about Forte.

Talking point #1: Todd Bowles and the coaching staff insist on treating Forte like the go-to back even though Bilal Powell and Elijah McGuire are better.

Human nature makes it difficult to shake a first impression. The first impression many Jets fans had of Forte was that talking point. It was totally accurate last year to suggest the coaching staff viewed Forte as the go-to guy at Powell’s expense.

The numbers don’t back up this fan gripe in 2017, though. Last year Forte had two games with 30 or more carries and five games with 20 or more carries. He averaged over 15 carries a game last year.

Last Sunday against Kansas City, Forte set a season high with 15 carries.

The Jets have gone to more of a split backfield this year with Powell averaging 11 carries per appearance to Forte’s 9.

Elijah McGuire’s 79 carries are just 3 less than Forte’s 82. Granted some of this came because Forte missed time with an injury earlier in the year, but McGuire has four games with at least 10 carries to Forte’s three.

The bottom line here is the Jets have greatly reduced Forte’s workload this season contrary to many complaints.

Talking point #2: Forte is totally useless and washed up.

I don’t think anybody would question Forte is no longer the difference-maker he was in his days with the Bears, but his average per rush is 4.0, which is equal to the NFL average this season. He is doing that without the benefit of a strong run blocking offensive line.

Yards per attempt can be deceiving a bit so I dug a little deeper. PFF keeps tabs on how much yardage backs gain after contact. Forte’s average after contact is 2.87 yards per rush. That is 12th best in the league.

Talking point #3: Forte isn’t in the same league as Powell or McGuire.

Forte’s average per rush is 4.0. Powell’s is 4.2. McGuire’s is 3.8.

Forte averages 2.87 after contact. Powell averages 2.58. McGuire averages 2.37.

One area where this statement does seem to be accurate is the big play. Forte is less of a threat to rip off a huge gain. Only 15.7% of his rushing yards have come on big plays (gains of 15 yards or more) compared with 34.3% for McGuire and 40.8% for Powell. This probably contributes to the perception. The eyeball test shows us Powell and McGuire are more apt to break memorable runs, while Forte looks slow churning out short gains.

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There are valid criticisms of Forte. I’m not trying to argue otherwise.

The reason behind his lack of big runs is evident on film. There are too many instances where he fails to make people miss, and his ability to accelerate is gone.

His contract is one of the top twenty at the league for his position, which is less than ideal value for part of a three man backfield committee.

This contract was likely a result of the Jets overestimating what he had left in the tank and led them to give him a full workload last year. He showed he was not capable of handling that job effectively. He is no longer a three down workhorse.

For where the Jets are as a franchise, you could also argue that giving Forte’s carries to McGuire to develop him would be a better use of playing time.

Those are all fair things to say.

Matt Forte just might not be as washed up as you think. As a role player, he still has some value.