The Ravens announced today that they came to terms on a one-year deal with former Houston Texan running back, Justin Forsett. Though not a household name, Forsett has proven capable in his limited opportunities, and although he is 28 years old, his legs haven’t gone through much wear-and-tear, having only accrued 374 career carries.
Forsett is a versatile running back who has been utilized equally as a ball carrier and pass catcher over the first six years of his career. After being drafted by the Seattle Seahawks in the seventh round out of Cal (233rd overall), Forsett was waived a week into the season. Picked up by the Indianapolis Colts not long after, he played three games in Indy before being waived by the Colts, and picked back up by the Seahawks.
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He stayed with the Seahawks for the next four seasons, and his second year (’09) was his most productive as a pro. On 114 carries, Forsett totaled 619 rushing yards (5.4 YPC) and 4 touchdowns to go along with 41 receptions for 350 yards. That season, in the two games that Forsett started, he ran for 123 yards on 17 carries and 130 yards on 22 carries against the Cardinals (17th against the run that year) and Rams (27th) respectively. Those performances came a week apart, and though he only rushed for 9 yards on 8 carries in the interim, he had 8 receptions for 80 yards that game.
The following season introduced Beast Mode to Seattle, and that year in the playoffs, Marshawn Lynch broke off one of the most amazing runs in NFL history, rumbling into the endzone and breaking the will of the Saints defense in his path. However, also in the trails of Lynch’s earthquake-inducing run was the future of Justin Forsett. Since that postseason, Lynch has averaged 300 carries a season in Seattle.
Forsett served as backup to Lynch for 2011, before signing with Houston in 2012. This would be the second backfield that Forsett played in that featured a star, workhorse running back, and Arian Foster rushed for over 1,400 yards on 351 carries. To add to the depth at the position, the running back with the second most carries that year was recent Cleveland Brown signee, Ben Tate, who received 65 carries for 279 yards. But many may be surprised to find out that Forsett actually outperformed Ben Tate that season, as he had two less carries than Tate but nearly a hundred yards more (374). The most carries that Forsett received that season was 14 in Week 12 against the Tennesee Titans, and he rushed for 63 yards.
Forsett signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars — who despite already having MJD at starter, represented the best opportunity for Forsett since 2009 — only to falter due to injuries. He missed all of the preseason due to turf toe and found himself on IR by mid-December due to a foot injury. He only carried the ball six times for the Jaguars totaling 31 yards, to go along with 15 receptions for 82 more. The Jaguars released Forsett on March 11 of this offseason, and the Ravens and Gary Kubiak scooped him up.
This is a good, cheap move for the Ravens. With uncertainty at the running back position due to Ray Rice’s legal troubles and Bernard Pierce’s shoulder, running back has been marked as an area of focus heading into the draft. There is a reasonable expectation that Rice will miss time due to suspension (in the event that he isn’t charged with his third degree aggravated assault charges, in which case he would miss more time incarcerated) and Pierce has had trouble staying healthy. In an offense that runs as often as Kubiak’s does, it is vital that the team have ample depth at the position, as evidenced by the 2012 Texans having three rushers with over 60 carries.
Forsett is one of those journeymen who never got a real shot, but produced wherever he got opportunities. Kubiak came from the Denver Broncos, Mike Shanahan era, and that offense was renowned for turning relative unknowns at running back into 1,000 yard rushers. Clearly Kubiak feels as though Forsett is more than capable in his zone-offense, and there seems to be some untapped potential in the former Cal Bear. Add to the fact that Forsett appears to be very capable catching the football, and this is a very low-risk, high-reward signing for the Ravens at a position that needs depth.
Forsett, who is only 5-foot-8 and 190-pounds, has never been asked to shoulder the load at running back except in his senior season at Cal. In that season, however, Forsett exploded for 1,546 yards on 305 carries with 15 touchdowns, tacking on over 200 yards receiving, too.
Here is NFL.com’s analysis of Forsett entering the 2008 Draft:
Positives: Lacks the size you look for in a tailback, but has a well-defined, muscular upper body and, while he displays shorter-than-ideal arms, he has large hands and thick calves for a frame his size…While some assume injury will be an issue due to size issues, Forsett has never missed game time due to injury…Has a great passion for the game and is a favorite of the Cal staff, not only for his work ethic and character, but for the way he took many of the younger players under his wing…Has above-average balance, change-of-direction agility, body control and hand-eye coordination…Reaches top speed quickly…Might not have the explosive first step you look for in a scatback, but he does get to top acceleration nicely…Student of the game who studies film and is smart enough to devise a game plan (takes notes with the staff)…Aggressive runner attacking the hole and even though he will usually get absorbed running in-line, he has the feet to bounce wide and pick up yardage (needs to take better angles, as he can be captured from behind)…Won’t overpower bigger defenders, but has enough strength to impact on secondary players…Instinctive runner with good vision to find seams and avoid trash, as he picks up his feet and jumps over legs with good balance…Might not generate long finishing speed, but has good acceleration turning the corner…Even though he is not sudden, he becomes much quicker once he is on the move, showing crispness in his plant and drive…Presses the hole to make cuts at the line of scrimmage, knowing how to get skinny running though small areas…Not going to be the type that will move the pile, but has the vision to locate another crease…Runs inside with no hesitation, but even when he lowers his pads and falls forward, he is just marginal being used in short-yardage, goal-line situations…Shows good patience letting blocks develop and can change direction quickly when he reaches the corner…When he changes his angle, he can easily bounce outside…Has good in-stride acceleration once he’s rolling, but must change his angle in order to prevent defenders from chasing him down (does not have the sudden burst to win long footraces)…Shows quick jump cuts to avoid in the hole and is shifty in space, but must do this with consistency…Fumbles were not an issue in the past, but he did have problems with defenders attacking the ball…
The bolded portions pretty much define what is looked for in a zone running back, where running backs have to be as decisive as possible hitting a hole that may not have even opened yet (which makes vision and anticipation paramount). Combine this with the fact that Forsett has never really been overworked, and this could be an absolute steal for the Ravens. Time will tell if the organization brought Forsett in to compete for a starting spot, however players like Mike Anderson and Olandis Gary were presumed no-names as well. That is until Gary Kubiak turned them into 1,000 yard rushers.
Let’s see what happens.