This week’s throwdown highlights the debate between running backs Carlos Hyde and Matt Forte. My TFA teammate Justin McCasland and I duke it out over who you should take in the fourth round. As always, please let us know which side you fall on with #TFAthrowdown!
(Jen Smith @FF_female920)
Light in a Dark Tunnel
Fantasy owners can’t be thrilled with the recent headlines out of San Francisco. First, Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the National Anthem before the preseason game against Green Bay. To say this created a “stir” is an understatement (I won’t be commenting since Hyde is my focus). Gabbert is the favorite for the starting QB job, especially now with the rumors of SF releasing or trading Kaep (Chip Kelly denied these claims). On a positive note, at least we gained some clarity on the quarterback situation. We’ll soon see how this impacts the few relevant SF fantasy players.
Then, Bruce Ellington, one of my favorite late round WR sleepers, tore his hamstring, leaving Torrey Smith and Hyde as the sole offensive weapons. For Carlos Hyde lovers, this means an even higher likelihood that the offense will want to lean on the run. However, it may also point to garbage time points for Smith or any other receiver that comes out of the woodwork. Since Smith all but disappeared in the preseason, targeted just once in three games by Gabbert, the weight rests on Hyde to create his own success. I think he’s capable. Let me tell you why.
Run that Ball, Chip Kelly
Part of every fantasy player’s success comes down to situation and opportunity. Of course, talent plays a role (which Hyde possesses), but you have to also look at context and the system that will impact their play on any given Sunday (or Thursday….or Monday). Chip Kelly makes his SF head coaching debut this season after being released from Philadelphia following a disappointing 6-9 season. Kelly turned the Eagles around in 2013, ending two consecutive seasons at 10-6. In 2015, he just couldn’t get it to work. He’ll look for a fresh start in San Francisco, with yet another NFL team in desperate need of a turnaround.
Kelly is known for his run-first mentality and his tendency to use a fast-paced spread offensive scheme to open up lanes for his playmakers. During his years in Philly, his lead back was none other than LeSean McCoy. Kelly gave him 314 carries (yes, you heard me right) both seasons. Not only that, but he also kept him involved him in the passing game (28 touches in 2014, 52 in 2013). Despite issues last season with Demarco Murray and his production, Philly still finished as #11 in rush attempts. In 2014, Kelly’s offense finished #7 in rush attempts and #4 in 2013. So, Hyde should have the opportunity and volume to outscore his ADP. Does he have the talent?
Time to Shine
Short answer: yes, he does have the talent. After being drafted in the 2nd round of the 2014 NFL draft, this Ohio State Buckeye paid his dues behind lead back Frank Gore. His chance came just one year later, as Gore left for Indianapolis. Hyde took the reigns right away. Coming off of a monster 26 carry, 168 yard performance with two touchdowns in week 1 of 2015, signs pointed to fantasy success for Hyde. Then came Week 6. He exited the game with a foot injury (stress fracture) and never recovered. After battling the injury for weeks, SF finally placed him on injured reserve in December. Following a successful foot surgery this off-season, Hyde prepared. He shed 15 pounds and worked out with Frank Gore in anticipation for Chip Kelly’s uptempo offense to ensure that he capitalizes on this opportunity.
Hyde averaged 4.1 YPC in 2015. ProFootballFocus.com reported that Hyde earned the 2nd highest elusive rating (rate of missed tackles per rushing attempt) among running backs with 100+ carries with 78.7 (also had a rating of 74.2 his rookie year). To give context, McCoy’s elusive rating was 48.8. Of course, the sample size is smaller, but this guy can clearly run hard and make plays where they don’t exist. The 32 tackles that he avoided in 2015 (in seven games) bested guys that played all 16 (he ranked 13th)! PFF.com described Hyde as “one of the most talented pure runners in the NFL” and “a solid early/mid-round target”. On top of that, Hyde had the seventh-highest percentage of runs of 5+ yards, according to Numberfire.com.
In summary, Hyde is a bulldozer of a runner at 6 feet, 230 lbs who breaks tackles and possesses solid speed and agility. He’s proven that even when he doesn’t have much help, he can make plays happen. That is exactly what he will need this year to be a success. Add the volume that we predict Kelly plans for him, that’s a recipe for a 4th round steal.
This preseason, Carlos Hyde rushed for 85 yards and a TD on 15 carries (5.87 YPC). He had two great looking 20+ yard runs. Confirming our hypothesis that he is the clear bell cow, Philly involved Hyde in all three downs for the duration of his snaps with the first team. Unfortunately, Hyde suffered a concussion versus Green Bay, ending his preseason showing. While this is definitely a concern given Hyde’s injury history, he cleared the first stage of concussion protocol and should return to practice this week. I’m less concerned given the nature of the injury. Plus it is completely unrelated to his nagging foot issues of last season.
Carlos Hyde clearly possesses the talent and drive to succeed. Now this is coupled with a great situation and opportunity for volume. Hyde’s largest barrier to success is his health. Such is the case for many fantasy targets, including those costing some very high draft capital. So, why not get this workhorse RB on the cheap in round 4? At least you know he won’t be sharing carries, battling the wear-and-tear of eight NFL seasons, and turning 31 like…Matt Forte.
(Justin McCasland @MaclandJ)
Age Is Just A Number
It appears that Forte’s age and new home are being held against him more than it should be for a RB as perennially dominant as he has been. Forte may be turning 31 this season, but he has yet to finish outside of the top 12 since 2008 when he came into the league. He finished as the RB7 in 2015 at 30 years old. I would argue that the change of scenery from Chicago to New York could actually help Forte, considering the upgrade in his situation. Forte is still on a run heavy team that utilizes the RB as a pass catcher. Plus, this team should have more positive game scripts. This potentially allows Forte more touchdown opportunities than in Chicago.
One of Matt Forte’s most important traits is his ability to catch passes out of the backfield. He has never had less than 44 receptions in a season. I wouldn’t expect the Jets to ignore that ability. The Jets threw the ball to Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell exactly 100 times in 2015. Ivory had 30 receptions and Powell had 47. It’s safe to assume Forte should absorb all of Ivory’s targets and eat into Powell’s targets as well. At a 76.2% career catch rate, it’s safe to say Forte is a lock for 45 receptions in 2016. That’s assuming a 60/40 split with Powell, which is pretty conservative in my opinion. In a PPR format, he’s been as reliable as they come with weekly floors that give you that week to week consistency necessary to dominate.
As it stands, Forte and Hyde represent a perfect throwdown because they are going one pick apart according to FantasyPros ADP. Hyde is going as pick 41 overall and Forte 42, RBs 15 and 16. Taking what you just read about Forte’s reliability and Hyde’s relative unknown production capabilities, it should be easy to see Forte is the right choice. At this point in a draft, you need to nail your pick. Taking any running back is already a risky choice. If you insist on taking one over a wide receiver, you should most definitely take the sure thing saving the upside RB picks for later in the draft.
If upside is what you’re looking for, and an argument for the Chip Kelly, high octane, fantasy drug offense is swaying you, consider that Forte is not far removed from his 74 and 100 reception seasons. Plus he has only once fallen below 900 yards rushing in a season. New York Jets running backs accounted for 12 total TDs (rushing and receiving) last season. Not only that, but they landed 1562 rushing yards and 668 receiving yards. Khiry Robinson is likely to be a non-factor this season and Bilal Powell is likely going to receive 30% of the work.
Using the RotoViz Projection Machine, Forte could be in for a 1267 yard, 9 total touchdowns, 49 reception for 435-yards season if things all turn up roses. This is calculated using the following: Forte’s career average YPC of 4.2, 70% of the rushing attempts, a .028 TD rate (slightly above league average), 11.6% of the team’s targets (70) with his career 76% catch rate, and a 75 percentile yards per target. That projected performance would earn Forte 277.56 PPR points giving him the #2 running back finish behind only Devonta Freeman in 2015.
I’m on record with the Dynasty Life Podcast saying Carlos Hyde is a “Hurp” player for me. I’m not high on him and it’s going to take quite a bit to change my mind on him. If you’d like to hear more about what I have to say on him just listen to this episode of the podcast. Forte is my throwdown pick hands down between these two and I’d happily roll him out weekly this year. If you follow me on Twitter you’ll know that I’m very much in the ZeroRB camp for drafting. However, if I was going to take a RB in the 4th round I’d want to make it Matt Forte for 2016.