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2016 fantasy football green zone analysis

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All carries aren't created equally, at least not in the world of fantasy football.

Sure, it's great for your running backs to see 18-plus rushing attempts per game. But where do those attempts really count when it comes to fantasy football scoring? Some would say inside the red zone (inside the opponent's 20-yard line), and that's a nice start. But the most valuable carries come in what my pal Jeff Ratcliffe over at Pro Football Focus referred to as "the green zone." Jeff's reference dates back to a 2012 quote from then New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin.

"Green is go and red is stop," Coughlin said. "What are you trying to do in the green zone? You're trying to score. It's not the red zone. If you're on offense, it's green."

So, let's run with Coughlin's quote (see what I did there, run with ... er, you get it) and take a look at which players saw the most opportunities and ultimately found the most success (touchdowns) or failure from their opponent's five-yard line and in last season. We'll also look at how teams decided to attack the green zone, whether it be the run or pass, and examine what to expect for next season.

1. LeGarrette Blount, New England Patriots (29 carries): No team had more green-zone rushes than the Patriots (39), and 74 percent of them went to Blount. He was successful on 13 of his attempts. With Blount now in Philadelphia, however, I'd look for Mike Gillislee to take over a good chunk of this green-zone role. He could be quite the bargain in the middle rounds of drafts.

2. David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals (25 carries): The best runner in fantasy football, Johnson accounted for 81 percent of his team's green-zone carries. He cashed in on slightly fewer than half (12) of his attempts and led all running backs in total green-zone touchdowns (15). I don't expect his usage to decrease at all next season, so look for D.J. to be the consensus top choice.

T-3. Melvin Gordon, San Diego Chargers (20 carries): The Bolts were one of just 12 teams to have a higher percentage of pass plays (51) in the green zone, but Gordon received 83 percent of their carries and scored 50 percent of the time when the team ran the rock. With no competition and an upgraded offensive line in front of him, Flash will continue to see lot of opportunities.

T-3. Matt Asiata, Minnesota Vikings (20 carries): In his final season in Minnesota, Asiata received 83 percent of the team's green-zone carries and rushed for six touchdowns. Whether or not Dalvin Cook can be a true fantasy force as a rookie will depend on if he absorbs those opportunities ... or the Vikes allow Latavius Murray to earn that role. That's a situation to monitor.

5. Devonta Freeman, Atlanta Falcons (19 carries): Maybe the most underrated fantasy running back in the league, Freeman saw 19 of Atlanta's 26 rushing attempts (73 percent) in the green zone. He found the end zone on seven of those carries. Tevin Coleman had a higher touchdown rate (75 percent), but that's because he was limited to just four rushing attempts in that area.

T-6. Ryan Mathews, Philadelphia Eagles (17 carries): The Eagles were sixth in run percentage in the green zone, and Mathews saw 61 percent of their carries. He had some success, scoring on 41 percent of his looks. With Mathews unlikely to be back on the roster, Blount should absorb most of these opportunities. As a result, a season with around eight scores should be imminent.

T-6. Latavius Murray, Oakland Raiders (17 carries): The Raiders ran the ball just 44.2 percent of the time in the green zone, but Murray saw 74 percent of those opportunities. He cashed in nine times, or at a 50-percent clip. Fantasy fans can expect Marshawn Lynch to take over that role next season, and nothing short of injuries should keep him from posting high-end RB2 numbers.

T-8. Jeremy Hill, Cincinnati Bengals (16 carries) The Bengals ran it a bunch near the goal line last season, posting 28 attempts in the green zone. Jeremy Hill accounted for 16 of those carries, scoring six touchdowns. But with Joe Mixon now projected to be the starter, at least in fantasy circles, there's a good chance that his opportunities in the green area will go, well, down-Hill.

T-8. Jonathan Stewart, Carolina Panthers (16 carries): Carolina ran the ball almost 70 percent of the time in the green zone, and Stewart led the backfield with 16 attempts. He was successful in that area, scoring on 56.2 percent of his carries. He'll need to retain that role to have fantasy value next season, however, as rookie Christian McCaffrey should see a load of touches.

10. DeMarco Murray, Tennessee Titans (15 carries): Murray was the main man for the Titans deep in enemy territory, as he received 15 of the team's 20 carries in the green zone. Derrick Henry was a distance second with four carries, though he did score three touchdowns. Murray should continue to lead this backfield for another season, however, making him a top-15 selection.

T-11. Isaiah Crowell, Cleveland Browns (13 carries): The Browns were limited to just 18 green-zone carries last season, and most of them (13) went to Crowell. With an improved offensive line and coach Hue Jackson's tendency to lean on the running game, fantasy fans should expect Crowell to duplicate or better his 2016 totals. He's a top-50 selection across the fantasy board.

T-11. Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys (13 carries): The Cowboys were among the league leaders in rushing touchdown percentage in the green zone, finding the end zone on 59.1 percent of those attempts. Elliott was the leader, of course, scoring seven times on his 13 carries. Dak Prescott scored three rushing touchdowns from five yards or less as a rookie. Not a bad duo, right?

T-13. Tim Hightower, New Orleans Saints (12 carries): The Saints ranked fourth in green-zone rushes (29) a season ago, but it was Hightower and not Mark Ingram who led the team in carries. Could Adrian Peterson become that lead back down deep for coach Sean Payton next season? It's quite possible, and that's part of the reason this backfield could be one to avoid in drafts.

T-13. Matt Forte, New York Jets (12 carries): The Jets had 18 rushing attempts in the green zone, and Forte accounted for 67 percent of them. Bilal Powell was limited to just three carries, but we could see a flip-flop between these two backs based on what we saw at the end of last season. Regardless, neither is projected to see a volume of scoring opportunities in this offense.

T-15. LeSean McCoy, Buffalo Bills (11 carries): McCoy's 11 carries might seem low, but he missed a game and was limited in others due to injuries. He also lost 10 attempts to Gillislee, who is now in New England. A good portion of those carries should swing back to McCoy next season, unless you're a firm believer in fullbacks Patrick DiMarco or Mike Tolbert near the goal line.

T-15. Spencer Ware, Kansas City Chiefs (11 carries): The Chiefs had one of the worst rushing touchdown success rates in the green zone (37.5 percent) last season, as Ware found the end zone just three times on his 11 carries. With talented rookie runner Kareem Hunt now in the backfield mix, one could argue that Ware's rushing touchdown potential could have a much lower ceiling.

T-17. Mike Gillislee, Buffalo Bills (10 carries): Gillislee scored on seven of his 10 green-zone rushes last season, and the Patriots like to run it down deep as we saw from Blount's totals.
T-17. Frank Gore, Indianapolis Colts (10 carries): Gore's touchdown totals will have a ceiling with Robert Turbin and rookie Marlon Mack in the backfield mix. Maybe Christine Michael too.
T-17. Todd Gurley, Los Angeles Rams (10 carries): Gurley accounted for 71 percent of the team's total green-zone rushes, but he scored just five touchdowns. Improvement is needed.
T-17. Jordan Howard, Chicago Bears (10 carries): Howard's carries were limited in his first three games as a rookie, so look for this total to rise in 2017. He's a top-20 selection.
T-17. Rob Kelley, Washington Redskins (10 carries): The Redskins chucked it 54.8 percent of the time in the green zone, and Kelley is no lock to be featured alongside Samaje Perine.
T-17. Robert Turbin, Indianapolis Colts (10 carries): Turbin actually had a much better success rate (50 percent) than Gore (20 percent) inside the green zone last season.
T-23. C.J. Anderson, Denver Broncos (9 carries): Anderson would have projected for 20 green-zone carries based on his totals from a season ago (seven games).

T-23. Mark Ingram, New Orleans Saints (9 carries): With Peterson now in the backfield, Ingram's green-zone opportunities aren't going to rise from 2016.
T-23. Chris Ivory, Jacksonville Jaguars (9 carries): Leonard Fournette will lead a team that ran it 53.8 percent of the time in the green zone last season.
T-23. Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9 carries): Even playing in just eight contests, Martin still led the Buccaneers in 2016 green-zone rushing attempts.
T-23. Christine Michael, Seattle/Green Bay (9 carries): Michael is no lock to make the Colts roster, but if he does he could eat up a few green-zone touches during the season.
T-27. Jay Ajayi, Miami Dolphins (8 carries): Ajayi's attempts are deceiving, as he opened last season second on the depth chart in Miami behind Arian Foster. He's a top-20 choice.
T-27. Lamar Miller, Houston Texans (8 carries): The Texans had just 15 rushing attempts down deep last season. That was tied for the sixth-lowest in the entire league.
T-27. Terrance West, Baltimore Ravens (8 carries): No team had fewer green-zone rushing attempts (12) than the Ravens, and West will remain in a committee situation in 2017.
T-30. Le'Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers (7 carries): Don't be alarmed. Bell missed four games, and the Steelers ran just 29 total plays in the green zone. He's a lock top-3 selection.
T-30. Jeremy Langford, Chicago Bears (7 carries): This is much ado about nothing for Langford, who is now buried on Chicago's depth chart behind Howard. Langford won't be drafted.


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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