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Fantasy football backfields set for big changes in 2017

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The running back position saw a massive re-emergence in the world of fantasy football last season, and a major part of it had to do with personnel changes around the league. The Dallas Cowboys picked Ezekiel Elliott in the first round of the NFL draft, DeMarco Murray thrived in his first season with the Tennessee Titans, Jordan Howard roared for the Chicago Bears as a rookie, and Melvin Gordon was a touchdown machine once the then-San Diego Chargers lost Danny Woodhead. With a number of big-name runners set to become free agents and a loaded rookie class about to be drafted, there promises to be lots of backfield movement once again ahead of the 2017 campaign.

Here's a list of the teams that could experience the biggest backfield changes in the weeks to come, and what sort of situations we can expect from these NFL movers and shakers.

Baltimore Ravens


The Ravens love Kenneth Dixon, who is going to be listed as a sleeper or breakout candidate in just about every fantasy football draft kit. Maybe that's reason to avoid him? Terrance West is slated to become a restricted free agent, so the Ravens could either retain him or look for another back in the draft or free agency. If Dixon gets a chance to be the man, his stock is going to soar.

Indianapolis Colts


The Colts can't lean on Frank Gore forever (he'll be 34 in May), and Robert Turbin is set to become a free agent. As a result, I'd be shocked if the team didn't draft a running back, maybe Dalvin Cook in Round 1, to be the future featured runner once Gore retires. We could even see a backfield committee next season in a worst-case scenario, which wouldn't thrill fantasy owners in seasonal leagues.

Green Bay Packers


Eddie Lacy is scheduled to be a free agent, James Starks has been released, and Green Bay's best running back is a converted wide receiver (Ty Montgomery). With that said, the Packers could re-sign Lacy on a one-year deal or go after someone like Adrian Peterson (wouldn't that be fun?). Whoever ends up as the starter, even if it remains Lacy, is going to have plenty of appeal because of that Aaron Rodgers dude. This is one of the most important backfield situations to watch.

Kansas City Chiefs


The Chiefs released Jamaal Charles, so it looks like Spencer Ware is in line to become the featured back for coach Andy Reid (a role he saw in 2016). Charcandrick West is still under contract, but the team could add a change-of-pace complement to Ware. Whether that potential addition alters Ware's value is going to be the million dollar question in fantasy football.

Minnesota Vikings


Minnesota won't pick up Adrian Peterson's 2017 option, making him an unrestricted free agent. With Matt Asiata also scheduled to be free, the Vikings have Jerick McKinnon and little else. I'm not a huge fan of McKinnon and I doubt the team sees him as a true featured runner, so don't be shocked if a big-time free agent or rookie is added in the offseason. Lacy going to the rival Vikes would be fun ... or Latavius Murray?

New England Patriots


LeGarrette Blount, 30, finished seventh in fantasy points among backs last season, but he's scheduled to be a free agent and the Patriots don't pay running backs. If he's out the door, Dion Lewis and James White would move up the depth chart until another runner (maybe Peterson or rookie Christian McCaffrey?) is added. This backfield is likely to look different next season, so monitor the situation.

New York Giants


The G-Men have released Rashad Jennings, so the Paul Perkins hype train is already roaring down the fantasy football tracks. He played in over 50 percent of the snaps over the final two weeks of last year, and all signs point to Perkins taking on a featured role. Of course, that could change if Big Blue decides to add a free agent or rookie runner in the draft. For now, Perkins' arrow is pointing upward.

Oakland Raiders


Latavius Murray is set to become a free agent, and I doubt the team will extend him a big contract with DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard waiting in the wings. Oakland could also look to add a runner in the draft, maybe Peterson, to become part of a committee. The future lead runner will have some definite upside in what has emerged as a productive offense under quarterback Derek Carr.

Philadelphia Eagles


The Eagles could release Ryan Mathews, which would open the door for Wendell Smallwood to see a bigger role in the offense. Of course, that depends on what else the team has in mind in its backfield. Remember, coach Doug Pederson has ties with Charles from their time together in Kansas City and could add him to compete for the starting role. Expect some changes in the near future.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers


Doug Martin will be suspended for the first three games of 2017 and is a candidate to be released. What the Bucs do with him will determine the value of this backfield, but Jacquizz Rodgers (a pending free agent) and Charles Sims will be in the mix. A free-agent or rookie may also be added, however, so Tampa Bay's backfield is in a serious state of flux at this point.

Other notables


Rob Kelley and Chris Thompson (set to be a restricted free agent) look to form a backfield committee for the Washington Redskins, but does the team see Kelley as a true featured back? If not, and the Skins add another via the draft, this backfield would look somewhat different. ... The Jacksonville Jaguars have Chris Ivory and T.J. Yeldon in-house, but that duo took a statistical dirt nap last season. There have also been some mock drafts that have the team taking LSU's Leonard Fournette with the No. 4 overall selection. Stay tuned. ... Jonathan Stewart will be 30 when next season starts, and he hasn't been the most durable dude at the pro level. If the Carolina Panthers decide to grab an impact rookie like Fournette to become their future runner we could be looking at a committee situation in 2017. ... There have been links to Peterson and the Cowboys, but I'm not buying it. Look for them to try and deal Alfred Morris and re-sign pending free agent Darren McFadden. Regardless, this will remain Elliott's backfield.


Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on NFL.com and NFL Network and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA) Hall of Fame. Have a burning question on anything fantasy related? Tweet it to @Michael_Fabiano or send a question via Facebook!

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