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Fantasy Debate: Matt Forte vs. Stevan Ridley

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Which "22" is the better No. 2 option for your team? Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

With the incredible depth at the wide receiver position in 2013, running backs have become more valuable than ever. Beginning a fantasy draft with two top notch backs is extremely beneficial and can be the start of a well-rounded fantasy team. The most difficult part of this process is finding a second round running back to pair with the stud selected in Round 1. Gone are the sure-fire running backs that can be counted on for huge hauls of rushing yards and receptions, leaving fantasy owners with a heap of RB2 candidates. Two of the players available as Round 2 selections are Matt Forte and Stevan Ridley. Either of these talented backs would make solid sidekicks to first round picks such as Ray Rice or Trent Richardson, but one has the clear edge in upcoming fantasy production.

The first aspect of our running back debate is workload. Since Ridley has only one season as a lead back to his credit, let’s quickly look at both his and Forte’s 2012 numbers to see how each player was utilized as their team’s top rushing option. Last season saw Ridley grab 296 total touches, while Forte clocked in at 292 touches for the Bears. With both players receiving almost exactly the same amount of touches and even averaging the same yards per carry average of 4.4, the question now boils down to which running back is more likely to see an increase in offensive involvement. Ridley lost a fellow backfield mate with Danny Woodhead’s departure, but he will most likely see Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden fill the void of Woodhead’s leftover 76 carries and 40 receptions. With this in mind, we can safely suspect that Ridley’s workload will remain fairly similar to last season.

In Forte’s case, the Chicago backfield remains the same in 2013 with fellow Bears, and red zone hog, RB Michael Bush back in the fold. Although Bush will continue to see a moderate dose of carries and his fair share of goal line plunges, Forte’s fantasy prospects are actually on the rise. Due to an offseason coaching change in the Windy City, Forte is now in line for a healthy increase in receptions in 2013. The Marc Trestman regime promises to ignite Forte’s receiving talents, which makes him the better bet to receive an increase in workload this season, as he could easily top the 60 reception mark.

Another important piece to the debate between Matt Forte and Stevan Ridley is the absence of receiving skills in Ridley’s bag of tricks. In 30 career games with New England, Ridley has caught nine passes. Nine. In 2011, Forte once caught 10 passes in a single game (Week 2 at New Orleans). With Forte averaging 53.4 receptions per year over his five year career, the Chicago star has a massive edge in this department. My personal fantasy philosophy always gives the edge to more dynamic running backs, as too many times one-dimensional backs get left on the sideline as their team attempts to conduct a comeback with a running back more adept at pass catching instead. In leagues that award a half point or full point per reception, the gap between these two running backs grows even wider.

The news isn’t all bad for Stevan Ridley, as he does provide some reason for optimism in 2013. His 1,263 rushing yards were good for seventh in the NFL in what was essentially his first full season, and he is also the lead back in a New England offense that appears more ready than ever to lean on the ground game after losing targets Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez and Brandon Lloyd over the offseason. While the opportunity is certainly present for Ridley, is it safe to assume that he will be as productive in his third season? Will the Patriot workhorse out rush C.J. Spiller, Ray Rice, Trent Richardson and LeSean McCoy again as he did in 2012? Without room to improve in the passing game and a very high benchmark set in the touchdown category (12 scores in 2012), Stevan Ridley may have already shown fantasy owners his ceiling. While that ceiling is extremely impressive, fantasy owners must face the very real chances of Ridley’s statistics regressing in 2013.

A second round pick of Stevan Ridley won’t be scoffed at in draft rooms this fall, but the simple fact remains that Matt Forte provides fantasy owners with more ways to accumulate points in 2013, which is the ultimate goal in imaginary football team management. If you find yourself drafting from the latter stages of round one in your draft this season, simply snag the best available running back that slides to you in the first round and pair that with a nice 2013 Matt Forte, a strong, dynamic flavor for any palate.