The journeyman back surprised many when he came out of nowhere to be one of the best rushers in the league last season. Many are skeptical that he'll be able to repeat such a great performance. I however, am thinking the complete opposite.
He saw an opportunity, and took it.
Following the suspension of starter Ray Rice, Justin Forsett, the little guy who had bounced around from team to team ever since he was drafted in the seventh round became a star seemingly overnight. He managed to post one of the best stat lines in the league last year, with 1,266 yards and 8 touchdowns on the ground. This was good for the fifth most yards of all backs, and Forsett led his peers in YPC. This was all accomplished by a guy who had never been a starting back in his entire career, and by a guy who wasn't even the definitive #1 back in Baltimore to begin the season.
Yet all of this, appearances on the Pro Bowl and All-AFC squads, and multiple player of the week awards haven't been enough to satisfy the critics. Many think last year was a fluke, and that Forsett's old age (he turns 30 this season) will hold him back.
I disagree wholeheartedly, in fact, I'll take it to another level.
I believe that Justin Forsett could be the best running back in the NFL this year.
No, I'm not crazy, just a little delusional. And yes, my 'purple tinted' (Ravens bias) glasses are off.
You see, all of the pieces are there for Forsett to have a great season. Here's why I think he could be the best in the league in 2015.
There's a New Coordinator in Town
Think about it. The new OC, Marc Trestman has a huge track record of running the ball. Matt Forte got many carries with Trestman, averaging 17.3 carries and 5.5 catches per game while he was there. Trestman also loves to get the ball through the air to his backs, as Forte was a PPR beast and was third in the league with 102 receptions last year. There have been seven instances where a running back has caught at least 69 passes in a season under Trestman. (per Jamison Hensley) Forsett has also been a third-down back/pass specialist for most of his career, so he shapes up perfectly for the role. He is surely preparing for the role too, as he tweeted that he was working on his receiving game with Raiders QB Derek Carr this offseason. Even if Trestman doesn't force the ball to Forsett as much as he did Forte, checkdowns and PA passes have been a critical component to Ravens' offenses over the years. This is a guy who recorded 44 receptions last year while not even being the definitive #1 back to begin the season, so I wouldn't be surprised if he can double that reception total.
Baltimore's O-Line is Really Good
A running back's best friend is a great offensive line, and Baltimore has one. Despite not receiving the mainstream praise that the units of Dallas and Philadelphia have had, the Ravens have quietly assembled one of the best lines in the NFL. Last season, Pro Football Focus ranked their O-Line third best in the NFL. The group is solid from bottom-to-top, and is primarily composed of younger guys. The team also boasts the best guard combo in the league, with Kelechi Osemele and Marshal Yanda. Expect this group to wreak havoc on opposing defenses, and create big lanes for the small Forsett.
Where's the Competition?
No one is going to usurp Forsett any time soon. Behind him on the depth chart is second-year back Lorenzo Taliaferro, who looked promising, but has had fumbling issues. Taliaferro looks to square off against rookie Javorius 'Buck' Allen for the backup position. Rounding them out is second-year back Fitzgerald Toussaint. To be honest, I don't see any of them overtaking Forsett, or even challenging him for a timeshare. The talent gap between Forsett and his backups is large, and I foresee him being a 'bellcow' back this year.
Age Isn't an Issue
As I mentioned before, Forsett's age is the thing holding him back, at least in the eyes of the critics. However, they're overlooking one critical component, mileage. You see, the reason so many flags are raised when running backs turn 30 is because they've amassed so many carries, and are no longer in their prime because they simply can't keep up physically. This is not the case with Forsett, who has never had a starting role, and thus only recorded 582 carries in his career, 235 of which came last year. In comparison, fellow 2008 draftee Matt Forte (who is also 29 years old) has 1,817 career caries, or three times more than Forsett does. Forsett is a back with the maturity and experience of a seven-year veteran, but has the legs of a second or third-year player.
His Competition Is On the Downfall
Please note that this is not a diss to the backs of the NFL, it's just that there is no true consensus 'best back' in the NFL at the moment. Any of the 'bellcows' could easily have the best season. For the record, by 'best season', I mean the player who finishes near the top of most of the important statistical categories. (like DeMarco Murray did last season)
For Forsett to be the 'best back', he of course has to beat his competition, so let's take a look at these guys and their odds to be the best next year.
(graphic courtesy of Pro Football Reference)
Let's go one-by-one down the list, recapping the competition.
- DeMarco Murray (PHI) - He absolutely scorched the league, almost hitting the coveted 2K mark. Yet that came at a price, with the often-injured Murray clocking in 392 carries, 80 more than the next guy, LeSean McCoy. It remains to be seen what Chip Kelly will do with him, but he almost certainly won't get that many carries. Expect a regression from him in Philly no matter what.
- Le'Veon Bell (PIT) - If it weren't for his three-game suspension, I might not be writing this article at all. He'd be my favorite to lead the league. I absolutely love to watch him play, and respect his game. He's dynamic through both the ground and air. But you can't have the best season if you miss three games.
- LeSean McCoy (BUF) - If you'll notice, LeSean has one of the lowest YPC on this list. His high ranking is sort of fluky. I expect a regression from LeSean behind a weaker Buffalo O-Line, and less carries from Rex Ryan than Kelly.
- Marshawn Lynch (SEA) - He's got his haters, but he seems to produce as promised every year. The Seattle line may be questionable, but 'Beast Mode' doesn't seem to need one. I expect him to be near the top.
- Arian Foster (HOU) - This guy scares me. He could easily take the crown from Forsett if he stays healthy. When he isn't sidelined with a calf/ankle injury, he's arguably the best in the business. Plus, he's got a great situation in Houston to be handed the ball a lot.
- Eddie Lacy (GB) - Limited injury history, great supporting cast, consistent. He's set up to have a really good season, but I don't see him getting enough carries to be the best.
- Jeremy Hill (CIN) - Love the guy, but as long as Cincinnati keeps the timeshare between him and Gio Bernard, I don't see his ceiling growing higher.
- Frank Gore (IND) - It's not gonna happen. He'll inexplicably notch Top 12 numbers yet again, however.
- Lamar Miller (MIA) - For some reason Miami has never let the promising young Miller of the leash. If they did, this could be a different story. As long as Miami isn't committed to Miller, he'll never post those top-tier numbers.
- Alfred Morris (WAS) - His draw isn't flashy numbers, but rather consistency.
- Matt Forte (CHI) - The best receiving back in the game lost his main man, Trestman. Expect those receiving numbers to regress. While Forte has all the talent in the world, he's just in a bad situation.
- Jamaal Charles (KC) - Athletically, the best guy on this list. Charles is extremely talented, and has a knack for finding the end zone. Kansas City however, will limit his carries in an effort to prevent injury. A good strategy for the team and Charles, not so good for numbers.
- Adrian Peterson (MIN) - The biggest wild card of the bunch. The 30-year old returning from a year off could either return to 'Purple Jesus' form and set the league on fire, or fall flat. We really don't know.
I personally think Murray, Lynch, Foster, and finally Forsett will battle for No. 1. The aforementioned three have all received large workloads before, so I could see them posting big numbers.
A Stupid "Statistic"
The #1 fantasy running back was ranked #8 at the end of the previous season, this has held true for three consecutive seasons. Forsett just so happened to be the 8th ranked RB in standard leagues.
But in the end, this discussion is about as stupid as that statistic. I've said some things, backed it up with numbers and personal musings, and thought it through. But when all is said and done next February, I'll probably be hoping no one remembers that I once foolishly said that Justin Forsett would be the #1 back. Although if by some stroke of luck I'm right, you guys will never forget this.
Prove me right Justin, please.