D'Onta Foreman pulled off an impossible return to relevance in 2021. There was very little evidence to believe that he could ever become a factor again after tearing his Achilles' in 2018. Positions requiring short-area explosiveness have not had a high rate of return to the game from this type of injury. Foreman showed some promise in rookie season, and opportunity arose after Derrick Henry's Jones fracture. Foreman seized the chance and averaged the same yards per carry as Derrick Henry this season (4.3).
Amid the rest of the craziness in the tampering period to kick of 2022 NFL free agency, Foreman has signed with the Carolina Panthers. Many of you may have gone from the excitement of possibility with Foreman's free agency to depression given this landing spot. But is it all doom and gloom, or is there hidden upside here?
Foreman's success came primarily in Outside Zone and Gap schemes. The cited 4.3 yards per attempt may have been tied with King Henry, but there are some key differences. Foreman had more success in Outside Zone (OZ) than did Henry, but Henry smashes him on Inside Zone runs. Foreman did enjoy an advantage in Gap runs as well.
We know that Henry is like a persistent hammer creating cracks in the defense which eventually become gaping holes. Foreman is not that type of runner though he can play the role of "hammer" when advantageous to him. Winning differently from Henry isn't a bad thing. We have to evaluate how Foreman was winning to determine his usefulness to his new landing spot.
One data point to note is that Henry did have a 3% advantage based on opponent RBV-ASR. Essentially, this means he faced slightly softer defenses than did Foreman. With that said, the runner does contribute in part to that value and will always be part of the context. Another interesting data point to consider is how the Titans chose to use the two of them. They both ran a good percentage of OZ, but it is clear that the Titans ran Gap at twice the rate of Henry. This is an example of adjusting to the talent you have and something to think about as he puts on the Panthers' uniform.
Let's go snap to finish to see what Foreman has put on tape. His vision grade would be somewhere between good and very good. He displays some patience to allow blocks to develop and defenders to declare. Frequently, Foreman will use good pacing with that patience to hit identify and hit the hole. His ability to do this is scheme agnostic. To further elaborate on his vision, very good play speed is evident as he navigates muddy trenches often finding cutback lanes and running through the smoke. Unafraid to trade paint with offensive linemen, he is able to maximize space between the tackles.
Remember how we discussed the Achilles' injury he suffered in 2018? The expected impact of that injury is that the player's burst would be negatively affected. For D'Onta Foreman, if it did impact his burst it was minimal. Foreman has very good burst through the hole, to the edge, and after making the subtle adjustments in the trenches. This is another testament to his play speed and high-speed decision-making. His burst is also why his vision grade is stuck between good and very good. There is a little bit of "burst ego" (Thanks Jason DiRienzo for the term). Sometimes his belief that he can get the edge despite opponent leverage leads to sub-optimal outcomes.
That very good burst allows him to reach solid homerun speed, so he isn't going to have many extremely explosive plays over 35 yards. He does, however, have enough to punish defenses that cannot overcome the offensive line play or keep containment. Foreman exhibits good play strength to smash one-arm tackle attempts, though it does impact his momentum significantly. Fortunately, good contact balance and acceleration allow him to recover speed quickly. More often than not, Foreman is going to fall forward. To sum up the positives, his vision extends to the open field revealing his self-awareness about his abilities in that space.
What's missing in his finishing qualities? He isn't elusive in the slightest, but his self-awareness leads to positive decisions. He also hasn't consistently shown an effective stiff arm. There were flashes of getting a tad loose with the ball in the open field resulting in a lost fumble after a large gain. It was a good sign he corrected this in the opportunities that followed.
There isn't much of a sample size for this part of Foreman's game, but on the 11 targets he had in 2021, he showed good capable hands. He seemed to be a natural receiver of the ball on the run, though there wasn't much demand for him to adjust as most of his targets were on point. Acceleration after the catch was every bit as explosive as his burst through the trenches. He should be able to help a team as a reliable outlet in the passing game.
The Fit in Carolina
The Panthers' run scheme profile is heavy for Outside Zone. The fit appears to be one-dimensional given the Panthers’ distribution. It’s possible they could have a desire to incorporate more Gap scheme much like Tennesee did to maximize Foreman's skillset. On the surface, it seems they want a hammer to complement Christian McCaffrey in the Outside Zone scheme. Of the 10 most popular names in free-agent running backs, D'Onta had the best ASR in the scheme. Surely we should consider him a net plus to the Carolina backfield.
Unfortunately for his fantasy outlook, Foreman’s value will likely crater in this landing spot. The only upside for Foreman is potential goalline touches. Practically speaking, Foreman could be “injury insurance” for CMC who has played less than 7 games in each of his last two seasons. We all hate to think about it, but Foreman could be the best insurance policy to own.
Another obstacle to Foreman’s road to touches in Carolina is Chubba Hubbard. Foreman outperformed Hubbard in OZ, but Hubbard has the edge in IZ. Again, the distribution in Carolina favors Foreman greatly. Foreman’s demonstrated play strength adds to this edge on Hubbard. The Panthers may have felt they needed some of that play strength for carries inside the five.
D’Onta Foreman is a player that the Panthers can win with consistently in the Outside Zone scheme with his vision, burst, and play strength. His ability to press the point of attack will create deadly cutback opportunities. What he lacks in homerun speed, he makes up in play speed and mental processing which are evident in his burst. Good play strength and contact balance will provide additional yards at the second level. Foreman should consistently fall forward, and thus be a goalline asset. He can contribute as a pass-catcher in the short areas of the field with reliable hands.
D’Onta Foreman is a buy low stash right now. With CMC returning and Chubba Hubbard there, you will likely be waiting a while to utilize Foreman. As we all know, this position is likely to sustain injuries. Foreman could be a valuable role player with goalline opportunities to start, but he could be a play away from a more significant role.