Bilal Powell retains fantasy value despite signings of Forte, Robinson
The Jets have re-signed 27-year-old running back Bilal Powell to a three-year $11.25 million contract.
After losing Chris Ivory to Jacksonville, the Jets made a move to sign 30-year-old veteran Matt Forte to a three-year contract worth $12 million. The Jets also added New Orleans Saints running back Khiry Robinson to a one-year $1.175 million contract.
Despite adding two new additions to the running game, the Jets’ decision to re-sign Powell comes as little surprise following the success he found in Offensive Coordinator Chan Gailey’s offense last season. The Jets were 9-2 and averaged 25.6 points per game in the 11 games Powell played, as opposed to going 1-4 and scoring only 21.0 points per game in the five games he did not.
For those wondering what Matt Forte’s signing might mean for Powell’s fantasy prospects, let’s take a look back at Gailey’s last three seasons as a head coach or offensive coordinator:
In 2011 with the Bills, Fred Jackson averaged 17.0 carries per game and 5.0 targets per game, while C.J. Spiller averaged 6.7 carries and 3.4 targets per game. In 2012, Gailey’s final season with Buffalo, the 31-year-old Jackson averaged 12.9 carries and 3.6 targets per game, while Spiller averaged 11.5 carries and 4.2 targets per game. Last season, Ivory averaged 16.5 carries per game and 2.5 targets per game, while Powell averaged 6.4 carries and 5.7 targets per game.
In 2011, Jackson finished fourth and Spiller finished 35th among running backs in fantasy points per game. In 2012, Spiller finished ninth in fantasy points per game and Jackson finished 25th. Last season, Ivory finished 16th, while Powell finished 26th. However, Powell’s numbers are skewed from two games he was forced to exit early due to injury. Last season, in the nine games he started and finished (he left Weeks 4 and 6 early with injuries), Powell averaged 14.7 fantasy points per game, good for 13th best in the league. During those games, he averaged 7.3 carries, 35.0 rushing yards, 6.8 targets, 41.7 receiving yards, and .33 touchdowns per game.
Powell was primarily used on third downs and clear passing situations last season. He saw 41.2 percent of his targets on third down, and 83.8 percent of his touches when the offense had more than six yards to go for a first down or touchdown.
Powell’s 2016 will likely not stray far from what we saw from him in 2015, nor Spiller in 2011 and 2012. Forte, like Jackson, serves as an accomplished veteran commanding the bulk of the work, while Powell will mix in on occasion, but primarily as an extension of the passing game. The additional signing of Khiry Robinson complicates matters, but it’s hard to imagine he and his 25 career receptions eats heavily into Powell’s role in the passing game.
Although Forte is an accomplished pass-catcher in his own right – he broke the single season reception record with 102 just two seasons ago – it seems unlikely they would sign Powell to an almost identical contract to have him start ceding touches to Forte on third downs. It makes sense too, as Powell had a higher grade via the pass last season and blew Forte away when it came to blocking. Forte recorded our 11th-lowest blocking grade among backs last season, while Powell recorded our ninth-highest (out of 68 qualifying).
Although Powell should remain as the passing down specialist in 2016, this is not necessarily a significant knock on Forte’s value heading into the new season. As we saw last season, and during his tenure in Buffalo, Gailey’s offense is more than capable of sustaining two productive fantasy backs. The reverse is true as well. Despite the signing of Forte, Powell is firmly back in the RB2 conversation.