Justin Forsett is a Ferrari

Piggybacking off some recent thought's from our own Captain Morgan and Co., I want to add some of my own thoughts on J-Force.

A few years back, The Discovery Channel aired a series of auto challenges billed as "The Mean Machine Cross Atlantic Challenge".  Although a bit contrived (the challenges were hand picked to add drama to the finishes), it showed an interesting contrast in automaker focus.  

The episode that most caught my attention, pitted a Corvette V06 versus a Ferrari 360 Modena. Five challenges included: acceleration, braking, low speed slalom, high speed slalom, and lateral acceleration. From the outset, the differences were quite clear.  The displacement of the Corvette was head and shoulders above the Ferrari, outgunning it in all of the straight line events in which horsepower had an opportunity to take affect.  It was spectacular in all the marquee events. Ten minutes into the program it dawned on me.  

"This is the damn NFL combine of autos". 

Ferrari won the lateral acceleration and braking challenges with ease.  To an unbiased viewer, these events seemed peripheral in nature. There was no glory in winning a lateral acceleration and braking challenges was there? Although unspoken during the program, the Corvette seemed the clear "combine" winner.  It was bigger, stronger, and much faster on the straight line comparisons. It was Darren McFadden.

Why then, if it appears so dominant in the head to head comparisons, does "Darren McFadden" not win on the streets of Monaco?  Why does the smaller, "slower", Ferrari continue to rack up hardware on the F1 circuit year after year? The answer lies in the differences between torque and horsepower.  Simply put, Ferrari is all about torque and balance, and not about top end, straight line horsepower-driven speed.

Simply put.  Justin Forsett is a Ferrari.  

Torque vs Horsepower

From an F1 drivers point of view, torque is king. Any car, in any gear, will accelerate at the exact same rate as it's torque curve. In layman's terms, this means that a car will accelerate fastest at it's torque-peak, and will not accelerate as hard below (or above) it.  Torque is what a driver feels, and horsepower is merely an esoteric measurement within that context.

X foot pounds of torque will accelerate a car just as hard at 2000 rpm as it would at 4000 rpm in the same gear, yet the horsepower would double. Therefore, it's clear that horsepower isn't at all useful until the car reaches it's torque-peak limit (5252 rpm in a car). At this rpm, horsepower takes over, and top end speed is maximized. In this sense, a car and a running back are very similar.

A runningback's "horsepower" is what we all see on display in the 40 yard dash during the combine.  At about 25 yards, the torque-peak is reached, and the players with loads of  HP surge through the tape with great 40 times due to high top end speeds.  These are your Corvette's.

By contrast, a players torque is on display for the cone and shuttle drills (lateral acceleration & braking). These are your Ferrari's, and from a physical tools perspective, where I place my money (see Barry Sanders, Emmitt Smith, Curtis Martin, Marshall Faulk).

Justin Forsett in the NFL's "Streets of Monaco"

Alright, I admit that the comparison is slightly janky, but the analogy really does fit. When is the last time you saw a player run a straight line 40 on Sunday?  I'll give you a hint.  It was probably after the back was already into the second or third tier of the defense. That finishing horsepower, while obviously a nice bonus, is certainly not "bankable", and it doesn't move the chains with consistency. 

The NFL is far more akin to an F1 circuit than a Nascar oval. The winding "lanes" created by an NFL offensive line, require the breaking and torque of a Ferrari, far more often than the straight line displacement of a Corvette.  For a team running a West Coast Offense, the ability to get to the second and third tier consistently (even if not past it), is much more important than the ability to breakaway with top end horsepower "every once in awhile".

Watch this game tape of Forsett:

Justin Forsett Highlights 2009 (via TheVikingsworld)

The analogies made above are apparent when watching the video.  You simply won't see more functional "torque" out of a player than Forsett. From the backfield to the second level, there are very few NFL backs that can compete. This is why Forsett is so effective running the ball. Although his overall top speed is much slower than even many LB's (4.65 & 4.73), he gets to that top speed much faster than everyone else. This is functional speed. This is Football speed.

40 Yard Dash vs Cone Drills

The following is a comparison of 40 vs 3-Cone drills from running backs in the same draft class as Forsett.  With the exception of Chris Johnson, it's interesting (although certainly not conclusive) that the "3 cone backs" have largely been very effective early in their NFL careers, while players like McFadden, Aldridge, and Simpson stole the show at the combine with impressive 40 times.  

Also of interest: Justin Forsett was amongst the more explosive 3-cone backs, while posting a "career threatening" type of 40 time (4.65).

Ray Rice 6.65 
Kevin Smith 6.74 
Jamaal Charles 6.80 
Matt Forte 6.84 
Jacob Hester 6.85 
Anthony Aldridge 6.88 
Tashard Choice 6.88 
Felix Jones 6.90 
Jalen Parmele 6.96 
Justin Forsett 6.96 
(C. Johnson chose not to run 3 cone or shuttle.)

Chris Johnson 4.23 
Darren McFadden 4.33 
Anthony Aldridge 4.36 
Jamaal Charles 4.38 
Chad Simpson 4.42 
Rashard Mendenhall 4.45 
Matt Forte 4.46 
Jalen Parmele 4.47 
Felix Jones 4.47 
Jonathan Stewart 4.48    

Forsett as Seattle Featured Back

We can assume that things like vision and blocking are important aspects of being an NFL running back. This fan post intends only to address Forsett's perceived lack of physical tools.  Somehow there is public sentiment that Justin is on borrowed time.  That he is... a gimmick if you will.  Sooner or later, the lethargic 40 time, and his diminutive stature will bring him back down to earth.

I would strongly disagree with any of these assessments. Justin Forsett is more than capable of being a dynamic feature back. While he shows poorly in the sexy specifications (horsepower and "curb weight"), he excels (even wins) in categories such as balance and torque.  

The NFL after all, isn't played on oval tracks.  It's played in the winding lanes of Monaco.

I like Seattle's chances with the Ferrari.

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