Embrace Debate: Forte v. the Other Guy

Well well well, here we are yet again. Due to an unfortunate combination of a slow day at work, a comment from Tyno about Forte v. AP, and my love of arguing endlessly about a topic no one will change their minds on, I am writing an article to try and change someone’s mind.

Over the years, AP has been regarded as the best running back of our generation, maybe even the best running back ever. Why is that? Was it because he was drafted high? Was it because he was the focal point of his offense for years? Was it because he won the MVP in 2012? We may not know which factor plays the largest part in those who believe AP is the GOAT, but we do know one thing: they are confused, misguided souls.

How do we know this? Stats ladies and gentleman. By nearly every key metric, there were other running backs that were better. Adrian Peterson was a work horse for a crappy team, and as that work horse, he gobbled up rushing yards. These did not lead to playoff appearances, but they did lead to some gaudy stat lines. But there were other running backs that were on similarly crappy teams that were the work horses of those squads and put up similarly gaudy numbers. Now in order to keep this focused, I will focus on Matt Forte, but I would also argue Jamaal Charles was a superior player to AP as well.

So before we get into the stats, lets get something straight. I weigh total touchdowns, total rushing yards, and total receiving yards less than other stats that I find to be more telling about a player such as yards per touch, yards per carry, yards per reception, catch rate, and fumbles. A player cannot control how a coach uses him, but they can control what they do when their number is called. I also excluded from his average AP’s 2 seasons where he was suspended and/or injured for most of the year. Neither player had a great QB so I think that is a wash. At different times, both players were surrounded by other playmakers like Percy Harvin, Kyle Rudolph, or Brandon Marshall, so also a wash. Finally, BOTH RUNNING BACKS ARE AMAZING, NO ONE IS SAYING OTHERWISE. Anyone who wants to see a native excel can contact me and I will send my work, but the screenshot is below.

Now what do these stats tell us? Well, AP was the better pure rusher, no surprises there. He averaged .3 more yards per carry, not an insignificant amount, especially considering most years teams knew what the Vikings were going to do. He also averaged approximately 150 yards more per season and 8 yards per game if we exclude the years he was suspended. Now the yards per season difference seems large, but in the key seasons AP averaged 17 touches more per season. Adjusting for this, AP actually averaged around 68 more yards per season than Forte and about 4 yards per game. This is reflected in his slightly better yards per touch at around .15 yards more than Forte’s. AP also had a better nose for the goal line, with 30 more touchdowns than Forte, despite playing 11 less games over that period. Impressive, but as noted above, play calling plays a large part in this as well as some amount of luck.

Now the key takeaway from the above is that Forte and AP were very similar players in yards per season, yards per game, and yards per touch. No surprises, they were high volume work horses. It is at this point, I reveal the twist.

There can be no doubt that Forte was not only a very capable runner, averaging nearly 4.2 yards per carry, but was an extremely gifted receiving back. Forte had 4,379 receiving yards from 2008-2016 as compared to AP’s 1,945. Over double. Now I know that some of this is due to play calling, but when you get into the details, it is clear Forte was a more gifted receiver. Forte had .5 more yards per catch than AP and caught the ball nearly 6% more often than AP did. He had better hands and did more with the ball when he caught it. There were multiple years where Forte averaged almost a first down per catch. That is a game changer. And Forte’s versatility allowed him to have over 44 catches per season every year he was in Chicago. His best season as a receiver Forte had 102 receptions for 808 yards, to go with over 1000 yards on the ground. At his best, AP had 436 yards receiving in a season. In his MVP season, he had only 217. Forte’s versatility gives him the clear edge here. He also played in more games per season – dependability.

The final and most important metric: fumbles. As we all know, turnovers cost you games. AP had 39 fumbles as compared to Forte’s 21, despite having fewer touches in this timespan. AP fumbled a whopping 1.46% of the time he touched the ball as compared to Forte’s .75% fumble rate. This is a nail in the coffin.

COMMISSIONER’S VERDICT: Forte is the better all around player. First, the number one ability is availability, and Forte never missed more than 4 games in a season and never got suspended for anything for a whole season. Second, ball security. AP either did not do enough wet ball drills or was eating too much popcorn on the sidelines. Third, Forte was more versatile. Fourth, Forte was still a well above average runner who was capable of running the ball down a team’s throat.

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