A lot of you out there might disagree with that statement, but it's awfully tough to win a league championship with a mediocre or bad backfield. Just ask anyone who drafted Montee Ball or Zac Stacy last season. That's why being knowledgeable about backs in your draft is so important. I'm not just talking about the superstars like Adrian Peterson or Marshawn Lynch, either ... you need to know all the runners who could slide into prominent offensive roles for their respective teams. It's also important to know the tendencies of their coordinators, who call the shots and ultimately put them in a position to score points for your fantasy team.
That's where I come in.
Below is a list of all 32 teams, including projections (carries/touches) for their top two running backs. I've also included team run percentages from 2014 in the case of teams with incumbent coordinators, with data on how new coordinators have handled the run in previous stints at the pro or college level. You'll also find a FPPT (fantasy points per touch) average from 2014, which can help you do your own fantasy point projections based on the prognosticated rush attempts and touches.
The Cardinals ran the football 40 percent of the time last season, with Andre Ellington seeing the lion's share of the workload in the 12 games he started. In fact, he averaged 16.7 carries and 20.6 touches per contest. The rest of the backfield averaged 9.7 carries and 11.5 touches, and those totals include the four games that Ellington missed. ... Arizona has never run the football more than 40.7 percent of the time in two seasons with Bruce Arians/Harold Goodwin at the helm of the offense, and the additions of David and Chris Johnson could mean a backfield committee will emerge. ... In Arians' last seven seasons as either a head coach or coordinator, he's had one top-20 fantasy back five times. Only one finished higher than 13th (Rashard Mendenhall, 2010), however. ... Ellington is a poor bet for more than RB2/3 production.
The Falcons ran the football on just 35.9 percent of their offensive plays under former coordinator Dirk Koetter last season, which ranked as the third-lowest total in the league. Of course, it didn't help that Steven Jackson (190 carries) was past his prime and Devonta Freeman (65 carries) averaged a mere 3.8 yards per attempt. ... New offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan ran the football 47.2 percent of the time with the Cleveland Browns in 2014, with Terrance West (171 carries) and Isaiah Crowell (148 carries) sharing he workload. Don't expect this to happen in Atlanta, though, as Shanahan ran it more than 40.8 percent of the time just once in his four previous years in Washington. ... In his last seven season as an OC, Shanahan has had just two runners (Steve Slaton - 2008, Alfred Morris - 2012) finish better than 15th in fantasy points.
The Ravens leaned on the run (as expected) in 2014, as the team averaged a 43.9 rushing percentage. That ranked as the ninth-most in the league and was part of the reason for Justin Forsett's success. ... Under new coordinator Marc Trestman, however, that total is destined to change. In his final season with the Chicago Bears, his offense ran the ball 35.3 percent of the time (second lowest total in the NFL). ... The good news for Forsett is Trestman's knack for using his running backs as receivers, as the Bears runners hauled in 108 passes in 2014. That ranked as the fifth most in the NFL. ... Matt Forte put up 102 of those receptions. ... In his last four seasons as an OC at the NFL level, Trestman has had top-10 fantasy running backs three times. That includes Forte (2013, 2014) and Charlie Garner (2002). This bodes pretty well for Forsett.
The Bills ran the football 39.4 percent of the time in 2014, but that figures to rise under new offensive coordinator Greg Roman. His offense in San Francisco had a run percentage of 46.6 last season, which ranked seventh in the NFL. In his previous three years, Roman's offenses ran the football no less than 50.2 percent of the time. That includes a league-high 52.5 percent in 2013. ... During his time with the New York Jets, new coach Rex Ryan's offenses ranked sixth or higher in rush percentage five times. ... This is all good news for LeSean McCoy, who figures to see 300-plus carries with his new team. McCoy, 27, should be able to handle the load as he's averaged 313 carries over the last two seasons. ... In four campaigns as the Niners OC, Roman helped Frank Gore to four top-16 finishes (including one top-11 finish) at the position.
The Panthers had a 44.6 rush percentage last season, which ranked eighth in the league among all offenses but was down four spots compared to 2013 (48.3). Surprisingly, Carolina backs had the sixth-fewest touches (404) due in large part to the fact that their entire backfield combined for a mere 52 catches. ... Jonathan Stewart led the team in carries (175) and touches (200) despite missing three games. He did average 4.6 yards per attempt, however, and will now be the team's true lead running back. If he can avoid injuries, Stewart figures to see 225-250 carries for coordinator Mike Shula in 2015. That's a mighty big if though, as the Oregon product has missed a combined 20 games since 2012. ... Fozzy Whittaker will enter training camp as the second runner on the depth chart, but keep an eye on rookie Cameron Artis-Payne this summer.
The Bears ran the football a mere 35.3 percent of the time in 2014, which ranked next to last among NFL offenses. So how did Forte have such a huge season? Well, it was all in the receiving stats. Chicago backs had the fifth-most catches (108), with Forte accounting for 102 of them. That is likely to change with Trestman out and new coordinator Adam Gase at the helm of the offense, however. ... Last season in Denver, Gase ran the ball 41.5 percent of the time. What's more, his runners combined for just 68 catches (or 34 fewer than Forte had alone). In 2013, Gase ran it even less (39.9 percent of Denver's offensive snaps). So while Forte should rack up a good number of catches, he's destined to see a decline under Gase. ... On a positive note, Gase had two top-11 fantasy backs (C.J. Anderson - 2014, Knowshon Moreno - 2013) while in Denver.
In his first season as the coordinator in Cincinnati, Hue Jackson ran the football on 50.1 percent of the team's snaps and finished fourth in run percentage. That's not a surprise, as the Oakland Raiders finished fourth in run percentage the last time Jackson was a coordinator (2010). What's more, Jackson has produced a top-10 fantasy runner in each of his last three seasons as an OC. ... Jeremy Hill led the team in backfield touches (249), but Giovani Bernard wasn't that far behind (211) on a team that ranked fifth in the category (494) among all NFL teams. ... In the seven games where Hill saw 15 or more carries, he averaged 109 rushing yards and hit the 100-yard mark a total of five times. He also scored seven touchdowns ... On the flip side, Bernard saw 15 or more carries five times, averaging 79.2 rushing yards in those contests.
The Browns ran the football a ton under former coordinator Kyle Shanahan last season, posting a 47.2 run percentage. Cleveland also recorded the second-most carries (474) among runners, as West (171 carries) and Crowell (148 carries) toted the rock 319 times between them. ... The new offense will look a lot like the old one under new coordinator John DeFilippo, who has coached quarterbacks for two different NFL teams (Oakland, New York Jets) in his career. He's never been an OC at the pro level, though he did serve in that role at San Jose State in 2011. That season, the Spartans averaged more than 30 rushes per game. It's college, but it's notable. ... Crowell figures to open the season as the starter, but look out for Duke Johnson. The rookie out of Miami (FL) could push for the top spot on the depth chart during the regular season.
The Cowboys were a rushing machine in 2014, finishing fourth in running back carries (422), second in touches (502) and third in run percentage (50.1). That was with DeMarco Murray as the centerpiece and Bill Callahan as the offensive line coach, though.... Scott Linehan will now handle all duties of the coordinator, while Joseph Randle and Darren McFadden battle in training camp for carries. ... In five seasons as the coordinator in Detroit, Linehan's squad never ran the ball more than 40.4 percent of the time. Furthermore, he had just one running back (Reggie Bush, 2013) finish better than 20th in fantasy points in that time. Overall, Linehan has produced five top-20 runners during nine years as either a head coach or OC. Still, Randle figures to be a popular breakout candidate behind the Cowboys impressive offensive line.
The Broncos put up a rush percentage of 41.5 last season under Gase, which was up from 39.9 percent the previous campaign. The offense will now roll through Rick Dennison, who served as the coordinator in Houston from 2010-2013. Fantasy star Arian Foster rushed for an average of 94.7 yards per game and scored 47 total touchdowns in his first three seasons under Dennison. ... In his last 12 seasons as either a head coach or OC, Gary Kubiak has produced eight top-12 fantasy runners. That could have been nine had Foster not been injured in 2013. ... C.J. Anderson led the Broncos with 213 touches last season, and that came while starting just seven games. Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman will also be in the backfield mix, but Anderson is the favorite to see more of that featured role much like Foster in Houston. He has first-round value.
In his first season as the coordinator in Detroit, Joe Lombardi had his troops run the football 37.9 percent of the time. That ranked 25th in the league. As a result, it's no surprise that the Lions ranked 22nd in running back carries (346) but fourth in receptions (113). ... Joique Bell led the team in backfield touches (257), and it wasn't close (Reggie Bush was second with 110). Bell is coming off Achilles and knee ailments, however, which allowed rookie Ameer Abdullah to shine during offseason team activities. ... During his final three seasons at Nebraska, Abdullah averaged more than five yards per rush attempt and recorded a combined 72 receptions with seven touchdown catches. He's a good bet to eat up a lot of the carries and touches Bush left behind, and could even overtake Bell as the top runner during the regular season.
Green Bay Packers
You might see the Packers as a pass-laden offense, but this unit actually ran the football 43.5 percent of the time last season. That was good for 11th-most in the NFL. Furthermore, the team's run percentage has increased in each of its three seasons under coordinator Tom Clements (now the associate head coach). ... Green Bay doesn't throw the football to its runners much, as the position accounted for 65 catches a season ago. However, Lacy accounted for 65 percent of those receptions. He was a touches monster overall, racking up 288 of the team's 436 backfield looks (66 percent). That is likely to remain the scenario in 2015, as Lacy has little competition to retain his featured role. ... James Starks, who is the preferred handcuff in fantasy football drafts, finished a distant second in Green Bay's backfield touches (103).
In 2014, no team ran the football more than the Texans (51.9 percent). Houston was also tops in running backs rushes (474) and touches (535). Even with the announcement that George Godsey will serve as the offensive coordinator this season, there won't be much of a change to the offense (Godsey was the team's quarterbacks coach last season). ... Foster led the team with 260 carries and averaged 22.9 touches in his 13 starts, so his absence for part of the season with a groin injury hurts. Alfred Blue figures to lead a committee in the interim, with Chris Polk and Jonathan Grimes also in the mix. Blue will be the best option, but he shouldn't be drafted as more than a No. 4 fantasy back. Keep in mind, Foster is expected to return at some point during the regular season and is still a very draftable asset.
To the surprise of no one in football circles, the Colts ran the football just 37.6 percent of the time last season. That ranked as the sixth-lowest percentage in the NFL, and was lower than the 40-percent clip the team ran the ball under coordinator Pep Hamilton the previous season. ... The Colts did rank eighth in running backs catches (92), as Ahmad Bradshaw (38), Trent Richardson (27) and Dan Herron (21) all had 20-plus receptions. ... The addition of Frank Gore gives the Colts a veteran runner who should thrive with Andrew Luck under center. In his final season with the 49ers, Gore faced eight-plus defenders in the box more than any other runner. That scenario isn't going to happen in Indianapolis, making the veteran out of Miami (FL) a legitimate No. 2 fantasy runner in 2015 drafts. Gore could be a third-rounder.
The Jaguars ran the football on 36.4 percent of their offensive plays last season, which ranked as the fourth-lowest. As a result, it's no surprise that their running backs also finished dead last in carries (297) and touches (373). ... New coordinator Greg Olson will look to improve the ground attack, but he couldn't get that done in Oakland. In fact, the Raiders were last in run percentage (33.9) at the end of 2014. In his last seven seasons as a OC, Olson has produced just two top-15 fantasy backs (Steven Jackson - 2006, 2007). He hasn't had a top-20 fantasy runner in his last five campaigns, however. ... Still, fantasy fans can hold some level of optimism for rookie T.J. Yeldon. He's expected to be a three-down back as a rookie and will hold flex-starter value in drafts. Yeldon could emerge as a No. 2 back in 2015.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs ranked 10th in run percentage (43.7) last season, making it two years in a row that the team has run it 43 percent of the time or more under offensive coordinator Doug Pederson. The strange part of that stat is that the team still ranked in the lower half of the league in running back carries (351), catches (72) and touches (423) in 2014. ... Jamaal Charles was the leader in backfield touches (246), but he carried the rock 206 times. That was his lowest total in his last four full seasons. Charles' 246 touches were also 83 fewer than he recorded in 2013, when he led his position with 308 fantasy points. ... Since 2000, coach Andy Reid's offense has produced eight top-10 fantasy runners. Furthermore, his system has also accounted for a combined 12 top-20 fantasy runners including McCoy, Brian Westbrook and Duce Staley.
In Bill Lazor's first season as the coordinator, the Dolphins ran the football on just 38.4 percent of their offensive plays. As a result, fantasy fans shouldn't be surprised that the team finished in the bottom half of the NFL in both running back carries (334) and touches (410). ... Lamar Miller led the team with 254 touches, and no other runner was close. The Miami (FL) product did well with his opportunities, averaging 0.73 fantasy points per touch and finishing among the top 10 fantasy players at his position. Miller also ran behind an offensive line that was ranked next to last in run blocking, according to PFF. ... The addition of rookie Jay Ajayi is likely worse for the value of Damien Williams than it is for Miller, as Williams now has to compete for the second spot on the backfield depth chart during training camp.
The absence of Adrian Peterson didn't keep the Vikings from running the football 42.1 percent of the time last season, which was up from 41.8 in 2014. ... If you combined the number of carries (277) and catches (71) Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon combined to produce last season, the total touches (348) would have been fourth among running backs. Their combined fantasy points scored would have ranked ahead of Charles, Forsett and Miller. ... Coordinator Norv Turner has had a ton of success with runners in his career as a coach. In fact, Gore, LaMont Jordan and Ricky Williams all had their best fantasy numbers with Turner at the helm. In his last 14 season as either a head coach or OC, Turner's system has produced eight top-10 fantasy backs. He's also had 11 backs finish in the top 20 in fantasy points during that time.
New England Patriots
The Patriots ran the football 40.8 percent of the time last season, which was the lowest rate the team has had since coordinator Josh McDaniels re-joined the team (2012). ... New England didn't have a single back with 100 rushes last season. Instead, we saw a confusing committee that included Shane Vereen (96), Stevan Ridley (94), Jonas Gray (89) and LeGarrette Blount (60) all share the workload. Blount's career high in carries is 201, which occurred during his rookie season (2010). ... In his nine seasons as either a head coach or OC, McDaniels has produced just two top-11 fantasy runners. Three others have finished in the top 20 at the position. ... Travaris Cadet had 38 catches in New Orleans last season, but it looks like the Patriots will use James White to replace Vereen as their pass-catching runner.
New Orleans Saints
The Saints will have a new look to their backfield, as the departures of Pierre Thomas and Cadet opens up over 80 backfield targets. ... The Saints ran the football on 37.1 percent of their offensive snaps in 2014, which ranked as the fifth-lowest in the league. ... In his six seasons as the team's coordinator, Pete Carmichael's offenses have run the football fewer than 39 percent of the time in five different seasons. His offense ran it 45.3 percent of the time in 2009. The re-signing of Mark Ingram and the additions of C.J. Spiller, linemen Max Unger and Andrus Peat could signal an increase in rush attempts for 2015, however. ... No team had more running back receptions (132) than the Saints last season, and only two (Houston, Dallas) had more touches (501) at the position. More than 26 percent of those touches were passes.
New York Giants
The Giants ran the football on 41.3 percent of their offensive plays in Ben McAdoo's first season as coordinator. The offense also produced 426 running back carries, which ranked as the third-most in the NFL. ... Giants backs also had 488 touches, which was seventh-most among the 32 teams. ... McAdoo's backfield wasn't as prominent in terms of catches, however, as runners hauled in a combined 62 passes. That was the seventh-fewest in the NFL. The addition of Vereen is likely to increase that number, however. ... Andre Williams led the team in backfield carries (217) and touches (235), though Rashad Jennings averaged 15.1 carries and 17.9 touches in the 11 games he was active for the G-Men. ... With Vereen in the mix, Williams is likely to see the biggest decline in carries and will be left undrafted in many leagues.
New York Jets
It should come as a shock to no one that the Jets were one of the run-heaviest teams in the league last season, running the football 48.2 percent of the time. That was the fifth-most in the NFL. ... The Men in Green didn't throw the ball to their runners, though, as the position caught 57 passes. That was tied for the fourth-fewest in the league. ... Chris Ivory (216) and Chris Johnson (179) shared the workload, but Ivory should see more work with CJ2K now out of the mix. Of course, that depends on the health of Ridley's knee. ... New coordinator Chan Gailey has not run the football more than 45 percent of the time in his last four seasons in that role. However, he has had four top-16 fantasy backs in his last six seasons as either a head coach or coordinator, including Spiller (7th, 2012) and Lamar Smith (10th, 2000).
No team in the league ran the football less than the Raiders, who finished with a 33.9 percentage last season. As a result, Oakland also finished with the third-fewest running backs carries (303) and the fifth-fewest touches (397). On the bright side, only six teams had more catches (96) out of their runners. ... McFadden led the team with 191 touches, most of which will fall into the lap of Latavius Murray in 2015. Murray had just 82 carries a season ago, but he averaged an impressive 5.2 yards per carry. ... New coordinator Bill Musgrave will no doubt look to run the football much more, and he's proven to be a run-based coach based on his past. In fact, he's produced four top-10 fantasy runners in his last five seasons as a coordinator. Of course, it doesn't hurt that he coached Peterson and Fred Taylor in that time.
In 2014, the Eagles had a run percentage of 42.1 percent, which was down from the 47.4 percent clip the previous season. Their runners still ranked fifth in rushes (415) and sixth in touches (489), however. ... The Eagles will have a new look to their backfield after the offseason trade of McCoy and the additions of Murray and Ryan Mathews, making it unlikely that Murray will replicate the ridiculous 449 touches he had in Dallas. In fact, fantasy fans can expect him to see a decline of around 100 touches (McCoy averaged 353 in two seasons under coordinator Pat Shurmur). That's if Murray can avoid injuries, which is a concern after his massive 2014 workload. ... Matthews and Darren Sproles will also eat into some of the backfield action, which is the reason Murray's stock has fallen. He's now a second-round choice.
The Steelers ran the football 39.6 percent of the time last season, which ranked just 20th in the league. However, Pittsburgh did rank seventh in running back catches (95) and 11th in touches (461). That is due in large part to the presence of Le'Veon Bell, who touched the ball 373 times (second among running backs behind Murray). He also made up almost 81 percent of the team's total number of touches out of the backfield. That figure is likely to decrease in 2015, though, as Bell has been suspended for the first two games. Still, he'll be the first pick in countless drafts. Veteran DeAngelo Williams is the favorite to start the first two games and is a viable late-round handcuff. ... Coordinator Todd Haley has produced five top-15 fantasy runners in his last eight seasons in the league, including three top-10 backs.
San Diego Chargers
The Chargers didn't run the football much (39.4 percent) in their first season under coordinator Frank Reich, but that had much to do with the fact that Mathews missed 10 games. It didn't help that the offensive line was ranked as the ninth-worst run blocking unit according to PFF. San Diego runners did put up 83 receptions, though, which was good for the 10th-most in the league. That's good news for Danny Woodhead, who is back in the fold after missing all but three games with an injured knee. He had 76 catches for the Bolts in 2013. ... The addition of Melvin Gordon should shock some life into the ground attack, as he figures to lead the team in backfield touches. In his final campaign at Wisconsin, he rushed for 2,587 yards (343 carries) while averaging 7.5 yards per carry. Gordon also found the end zone 32 times.
San Francisco 49ers
The Niners ran the football 46.6 percent of the time last season, but that was under former coach Jim Harbaugh and with Roman running the offense. The team also ranked in the bottom half of the league in running backs catches (44) and touches (397). ... New coordinator Geep Chryst, who spent his first four years as the team's quarterbacks coach, hasn't been an OC at the pro level since 1999-2000 (San Diego). In '99, the Bolts ran the rock 39.5 percent of the time. In 2000, no team had a lower run percentage (35.7). If you look at those rosters, though, you won't find a lot of backfield talent (LaDainian Tomlinson wasn't drafted until 2001). ... Carlos Hyde replaces Gore as the lead runner, so a season with better than 250 touches is likely. He won't be a huge PPR asset, though, as Bush was signed in the offseason.
The Seahawks are one of the most successful run-based offenses in the entire NFL, so it's not a surprise that their run percentage (51.4) was the second highest among all 32 teams. Furthermore, Seattle has finished either one or two in run percentage in each of the last three years under coordinator Darrell Bevell. The team doesn't throw the ball to it's backs, though, as Seahawks runners had just 57 catches (tied for the fourth fewest) in 2014. ... Marshawn Lynch recorded 280 carries last season, which was 72 percent of the team's running back rush attempts. While he will enter his age 29-campaign, "Beast Mode" has shown no signs of slowing down (4.7 YPC in 2014) despite touting the rock a ton in the last four years. ... Veteran back Fred Jackson will be the top fantasy handcuff for Lynch in 2015.
St. Louis Rams
The Rams ran the football on 41.3 percent of their snaps last season (16th in the league) under former coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. As a result, St. Louis runners had the sixth-fewest carries (328) and the seventh-fewest touches (410) in 2014. ... Tre Mason led the team in running back touches (195), but he's destined to see that number decrease after the addition of rookie Todd Gurley. How much of a decrease depends on how quickly Gurley returns from reconstructive knee surgery. ... New coordinator Frank Cignetti, who had served as the team's quarterbacks coach, has never held the OC position at the pro level. His last run came at Rutgers (2011), where he directed an offense that averaged 35.5 rush attempts per game. In the two previous years, Cignetti's Pittsburgh Panther offenses averaged 36 rushes.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers recorded a run percentage of 37.7 last season, which ranked as the seventh-lowest among NFL teams. As a result, you can't be surprised that Tampa Bay also ranked fifth-worst in running back carries, ninth-worst in catches and third-worst in touches (383). ... New coordinator Dirk Koetter was the OC in Atlanta for three seasons, and the team didn't run the ball more than 37 percent of the time. To be fair, though, his lead running backs were a broken down version of Michael Turner and a past-his-prime Steven Jackson. In five seasons (2007-2011) as the coordinator in Jacksonville, Koetter led three offenses that had a run percentage of 48.8 or better. His system also produced three top-10 fantasy runners and never had a back finish worse than 13th (Maurice Jones-Drew) based on fantasy points.
In their first season since 2007 without Chris Johnson, the Titans offense ran the football on 38.7 percent of their offensive snaps. This unit also finished with the fourth-fewest running back carries (304) and the second-fewest touches (378) under first-year coordinator Jason Michael. ... Bishop Sankey led the backfield with 152 carries, but he averaged 3.7 yards per attempt and lost opportunities to Shonn Greene near the goal line. Sankey also lost a number of backfield targets to both Dexter McCluster (26) and Leon Washington (22), who both bested him in receptions. ... This lack of a running game could be part of the reason the Titans drafted David Cobb, who has some deep sleeper appeal due to the lack of an established starter ahead of him on the depth chart. For now, Sankey remains the best fantasy option.
In their first season under coach Jay Gruden and coordinator Sean McVay, the Redskins rushed the football 39.9 percent of the time. That was lower than each of the previous two seasons under the old regime of coach Mike Shanahan and his son, Kyle. ... Washington also finished 26th in running back carries (333) and 25th in touches. On the flip side, their runners hauled in the ninth-most catches (84). Half of those went to Helu, who is now with the Raiders, so there are some backfield targets to be had in 2015. ... Alfred Morris (265) continued to dominate the team's backfield carries, as he handled 75 percent of the workload. He's now compiled no fewer than 265 carries in each of his first three NFL seasons. ... Gruden's offenses have produced just one top-15 fantasy back (Morris, 2014) over the last four seasons.