It's all about Matt Forte, who will be asked to replace 1,000-yard rusher Chris Ivory as the lead dog in the Jets' backfield. Forte will be highly motivated after getting the cold shoulder from his forever team, the Chicago Bears. Forte, 30, is battling Father Time and a cranky knee that sparked some concern in free agency, but he's said to be healthy and rejuvenated as he approaches his ninth season. His workload will be an ongoing story. As a three-down back for the Bears, he averaged 315 touches (rushes and receptions) per year. That's a bit steep for an aging runner, so look for a time-share system with Bilal Powell.
There was a noticeable improvement last season in Powell's speed and quickness. He set career highs in yards per rush (4.5) and receptions (47), becoming a valuable member of the offense. He was the ideal complement to the bruising Ivory, but the dynamics have changed. Powell and Forte have similar skill sets, so it'll be interesting to how it plays out in terms of role definition.
Khiry Robinson could wind up as the short-yardage/goal-line back (fantasy alert). Don't be surprised if he starts camp on the physically-unable-to-perform list. Robinson sat out the offseason as he recovered from a broken leg, but he should be good to go in the preseason.
Forte may lose carries to Powell and/or Robinson, and is unlikely to score many rushing touchdowns. But if he's utilized regularly in the slot, he should be able to catch at least 50 passes, maybe more. Jets running backs caught a total of 90 balls last season under OC Chan Gailey. Forte hasn’t finished outside the top 12 in PPR formats in his eight-year career.
The Jets let Bilal Powell know how they felt about him by signing him to a three-year, $11.25 million contract in free agency. Powell is one of the few holdovers left from the Mike Tannenbaum era. Powell’s ability to stick with the Jets through three general managers and four offensive coordinators shows how valued he is.
The Jets revamped their running back corps this offseason, but Powell remains in the middle of it. It will be interesting to see how Gailey divides up the carries between Powell and Matt Forte, who arrives with a great reputation and resume. Powell complemented former Jets running back Chris Ivory, who was more of a bruising back than he is, but Powell and Forte have similar skill sets, so this could be a trickier division of labor for Gailey.
You can count on Powell getting major touches this season, though. Gailey will figure out a way.
Bears beat writer Brad Biggs:
Right now, I think most consider Jeremy Langford the odds-on favorite to be named the starter after he got 148 carries during his rookie season. But what you have to keep in mind is the Bears are more likely to go with a shared backfield than any time over the last eight seasons when Matt Forte got the bulk of the work (and nearly all of it in some seasons).
Coach John Fox has consistently used a backfield by committee in the past in time with the Broncos and Panthers and it’s a situation where the coaches look for the hot hand and ride it. This regime did not draft KaDeem Carey so right now I’d probably expect to see Jordan Howard emerge ahead of him. But Howard will have to earn that opportunity and he’s going to have to prove he’s adept at pass protection.
The Bears saw enough from Langford to convince the team to let Matt Forte walk. Langford averaged 21.3 touches for 122 yards and 1.3 TD in the three games that Forte missed. He finished as the #23 RB in standard formats with a significant role even when Forte was healthy enough to play. He only averaged 3.6 YPC and caught just 22 of the 42 targets that came his way. His NFL talent is a topic of hot debate this offseason, but no one can question the opportunity he has in Chicago.
Offensive coordinator Chan Gailey still is figuring out ways to deploy Matt Forte, the NFL's most prolific pass-catching back since his rookie year, 2008. When asked how Forte fits into his system, Gailey replied, "That's not the question. The question is, how do we adjust the system to fit Matt Forte?"
A good reference point might be C.J. Spiller, formerly of the Buffalo Bills. From 2011 to 2013 under Gailey, Spiller caught 115 passes. Gailey moved him around the formation, sometimes lining him up wide or in the slot. Forte has that kind of versatility.
Spiller caught 115 passes in three years under Gailey as a part-time player. In the 12 games that then-starter Fred Jackson missed, Spiller averaged 3.42 receptions per game. Forte may lose carries to Bilal Powell and/or Khiry Robinson, and is unlikely to score many rushing touchdowns. But if he's utilized regularly in the slot, he should be able to catch at least 50 passes, maybe more. Jets running backs caught a total of 90 balls last season under Gailey.
After Matt Forte spent the last eight seasons as the offense's heartbeat, coach John Fox seeks to keep it pumping with a committee approach. Replacing Forte's production, dependability and steadying presence is one of the team's greatest challenges entering Fox's second season.
"Maybe not one can do all that Matt brought to the table," running backs coach Stan Drayton said. "But they all bring a strength that can probably add up to what he brought. To say you're going to replace Matt Forte — it's going to take years, right?"
Probably. But Fox at least has a feel for managing a committee of backs, having deployed it as coach of the Panthers and Broncos. He knows what he's looking for as the competition progresses through spring practices, the preseason and into the regular season. Typically, he settles on two backs after analyzing a variety of factors.
"Who they are, what their strengths and weaknesses are," Fox said. "Then situationally, it can be…whoever has a hot hand."
While the uncertainty involving Jeremy Langford centers more on how he'll perform than whether he'll be in the rotation, the rest of the time share offers more questions than answers.
Jordan Howard's bruising style appealed to the Bears as a complement to Langford's speed. He'll have to prove his durability over a full NFL season, but the Bears like his chances to do so as part of a committee.
Related players: KaDeem Carey
The Bears fed the ball to Langford in the three games that Forte missed last year (21.3 touches per game), but Fox has always favored a committee approach at the position. The team tried to sign C.J. Anderson, so clearly they weren't sold on Langford as their workhorse back. He should lead the team in RB touches, but he'll share the workload with Howard and/or KaDeem Carey.
Forte finished as the #9 RB in standard (#7 in PPR) despite missing three games. He's on the wrong side of 30, and his YPC is down over the last couple of years, but he's still a very capable runner and is fantastic in the passing game. Chris Ivory has already signed elsewhere and it appears that Bilal Powell may be gone as well, so Forte figures to serve as the Jets' three-down back barring another big signing/draft pick.
"Despite my wishes, my days as a member of the Chicago Bears have sadly come to an end. I was informed earlier this week from the GM that they will not be attempting to re-sign me in free agency. I will remain forever grateful for my time spent in Chicago and being able to play for an organization with such a rich history. My only regret is not being able to win a Lombardi trophy for the best fans in all of sports. I'm excited about the next chapter of my NFL career. But, Chicago will always be home. God Bless and Bear Down!"
Related players: Jeremy Langford
The Bears saw enough from Jeremy Langford to convince the team to let Forte walk. Langford averaged 21.3 touches for 122 yards and 1.3 TD in the three games that Forte missed. Langford finished as the #23 RB in standard formats with a significant role even when Forte was healthy enough to play. Langford is going off the board near the 2/3 turn of early 2016 fantasy drafts. He's likely to be a late 2nd round pick by summertime. As for Forte, he's on the wrong side of 30, but he's still a highly productive player and should be a hot commodity on the free agency market.
Friday, January 1, 2016, 6:26pm
Bears RB Matt Forte (back, questionable) took limited practice reps all week and is questionable for Week 17. Forte was dealing with a bad back late in Week 16. Jeremy Langford is shaping up as a Sneaky Start with Forte ailing. If Forte is inactive, Langford would turn into a great start. The Bears play early on Sunday.
Wednesday, December 30, 2015, 6:13pm
Langford is only averaging 3.2 YPC compared to Forte's 4.0, but the rookie has made some big plays in the passing game. Forte should still be startable, but is not the bankable RB1 that he once was.
CB Charles Tillman (knee)
WR Corey Brown (shoulder)
DT Dwan Edwards (ankle), WR Ted Ginn (knee), LS J.J. Jansen (head), G Andrew Norwell (hamstring)
CB Morris Claiborne (hamstring, ankle), DE Ryan Russell (abdomen)
WR Dez Bryant (foot, knee), WR Brice Butler (hamstring), CB Brandon Carr (shoulder), S Barry Church (ankle), DT Nick Hayden (ankle), S Jeff Heath (shoulder), LB Anthony Hitchens (ankle), CB Byron Jones (ankle), DE Demarcus Lawrence (back), LB Rolando McClain (foot), RB Darren McFadden (groin), QB Tony Romo (back, left shoulder), LB Kyle Wilber (toe)
QB Sam Bradford (concussion, left shoulder), C Jason Kelce (knee), T Jason Peters (back)
LB Kiko Alonso (ankle), LB Connor Barwin (quadricep), LB DeMeco Ryans (hamstring), DE Cedric Thornton (ankle), S Walter Thurmond (hamstring)
S Don Carey (back), WR Calvin Johnson (ankle), DT Caraun Reid (ankle), CB Darius Slay (neck), DT Gabe Wright (ankle)
CB Crezdon Butler (teeth), TE Eric Ebron (quadricep, hand)
Green Bay Packers
S Micah Hyde (hip), C Corey Linsley (ankle), DE Mike Pennel (quadricep), CB Damarious Randall (hamstring)
WR Davante Adams (ankle), T David Bakhtiari (knee), T Bryan Bulaga (knee), S Morgan Burnett (ankle), LB Jay Elliott (ankle), RB Eddie Lacy (ankle), G T.J. Lang (shoulder), LB Clay Matthews (ankle, knee), RB Aaron Ripkowski (ankle), G Josh Sitton (knee)
For the Panthers, if Corey Brown is out, then Devin Funchess figures to be a Sneaky Start once again. With Zach Ertz and Ryan Mathews out, Brent Celek and Darren Sproles both get a bump. Celek is a top 10 play this week in a nice matchup with the Lions. Calvin Johnson is questionable but is expected to play. With Martellus Bennett sidelined, Zachary Miller is also a Sneaky Start at the tight end position. He has been very involved the last few weeks and the Packers just gave up a boatload of fantasy points to Kyle Rudolph last week. Alshon Jeffery and Matt Forte are both expected to play, but the Bears have been very devious when it comes to handing out injury information. Don't be shocked if either is inactive on Thursday evening. If they both return, it will obviously put a dent in the upside of Marquess Wilson and Jeremy Langford, respectively.
“We’re going to see on Thursday,” Jeffery said.
Offensive coordinator Adam Gase is certainly eager to have a full complement of weapons available to him again. Gase and the Bears’ offense have only had their top three playmakers – Forte, Jeffery and quarterback Jay Cutler – together for three games this season, left to adapt and reinvent itself on a week by week basis.
Forte’s return , Gase said, will be an obvious bonus to a running attack that averaged just 3.4 yards per attempt in Sunday’s loss to the Broncos.
Sounds like Jeffery will be a game-time call, but Forte's presence puts a fantasy hit on Jeremy Langford's value. Before dumping Langford, owners may want to see how the workload is split first, at least for a week. Langford has earned more time but it remains to be seen just how much with Forte active.
The Chicago Bears fell just short of coming up with a much-needed win against the Denver Broncos on Sunday, but the next time they take the field, they'll likely be a little closer to full strength. According to a report from ESPN.com, running back Matt Forte "appears on track to play" on Thanksgiving day against the Green Bay Packers.
Forte has sat out the last three games with a knee injury. At the time he went down, Forte had 767 total yards in seven games. Rookie backup Jeremy Langford has started in Forte's place, carrying 51 times for 170 catches and three touchdowns while also adding 13 catches for 196 yards and another score. The story said Langford seems likely to return to the backup role when Forte returns, but probably earned more of a spot in the rotation than he had before Forte was injured. The Bears play the Packers in the night game on Thanksgiving.
Friday, November 20, 2015, 6:29pm
Bears RB Matt Forte (knee, questionable) returned to take limited reps Friday after missing practice Thursday and is questionable for Week 11. Forte was limited last week but wasn’t close to playing. If he’s out again, Jeremy Langford can be dialed up as a solid RB2 against the Broncos. We’re betting that Forte is out another week, but we’ll know early on Sunday since the Bears have a 1:00 p.m. kickoff.
Thursday, November 19, 2015, 5:53pm
Bears RB Matt Forte (knee) missed practice Thursday after taking limited reps Wednesday. Forte was limited last week but wasn’t close to playing. If he’s out again, Jeremy Langford can be dialed up as a solid RB2 against the Broncos.
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