Fantasy football play selection analysis: RB carries lost

Fantasy football is all about the stats, right? You win by scoring more points than your opponent. It's not rocket science ... or even trying to remember the names of all the characters in the new Star Wars movies. NFL players score fantasy points when allowed opportunities. The more opportunities, the better the chance they'll help you compete for a championship.

As it pertains to the running back position, the biggest "opportunities" in the NFL's statistical world are rushing attempts (or carries). The top five leaders in rushing attempts last season included Ezekiel Elliott, LeGarrette Blount, David Johnson and DeMarco Murray. It's not a coincidence that no one in this quartet finished worse than seventh in fantasy points at the position, with Johnson and Elliott coming in at numbers one and two. After a hectic offseason that saw a number of notable running backs change teams, rush distributions are very likely to change as well.

So, which teams had the biggest percentage of lost carries heading into the 2017 campaign, and who figures to cash in on them?

Here's a look.

1. Green Bay Packers (83.7 percent): The Packers re-tooled their backfield, cutting ties with Eddie Lacy (71 carries), James Starks (63), Christine Michael (31) and Don Jackson (10). The starter appears to be Ty Montgomery heading into next season, but can a converted wide receiver handle the rigors of an NFL workload for 16 games? Time will tell, but fantasy fans should watch rookie Jamaal Williams in training camp. He could put a sizable dent into Montgomery's work. Fellow rookies Aaron Jones and Devante Mays are also in the mix in a backfield that should be watched this summer.

2. New England Patriots (72.9 percent): Blount and his 299 carries, including 68 red-zone touches and 29 green-zone touches, went to Philadelphia. In his place, the Patriots seemed to sign every running back in the league this offseason. Mike Gillislee looks like the best bet for fantasy fans, as he could take a good chunk of those red- and green-zone looks, but Rex Burkhead, Dion Lewis and James White are also going to see work in what figures to be a tough backfield to decipher. I'd avoid all four of these backs as anything more than No. 4 options when it comes time to draft.

3. Minnesota Vikings (53.5 percent): The departure of Adrian Peterson wasn't as significant based on the fact that he carried the ball a mere 37 times last season, but his absence does open the door for a new starter in Minnesota. With Matt Asiata (121 carries) also out of the mix, rookie Dalvin Cook and veterans Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon will all have a chance to see some work next season. The favorite for the top spot on the depth chart is Cook, who the Vikes traded up to acquire in the NFL draft. This could become a committee, however, so Cook isn't a top-30 pick ... yet.

4. New York Giants (53.1 percent): The G-Men decided not to retain last season's leading rushing, Rashad Jennings (181 carries), so the opportunity exists for a new runner to take ownership of the backfield. That runner looks to be Paul Perkins, who averaged 4.1 yards per attempt including 4.8 YPC in his final three games (47 carries) as a rookie. He won't be a true featured back with Shane Vereen on the roster, and Wayne Gallman, Orleans Darkwa and Shaun Draughn will also compete for work. I'd consider Perkins the best fantasy bet of the bunch, but he should be drafted as a flex starter.

5. Oakland Raiders (50.9 percent): The Raiders lost one running back in the offseason, but it happened to be their leading rusher in Murray. His absence means a featured role is almost guaranteed for Marshawn Lynch. The veteran came out of retirement and figures to see more than Murray's 195 attempts, and most of the team's red- and green-zone opportunities should go to him as well. That makes Lynch a viable No. 2 fantasy back. DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard are behind him on the depth chart, but neither will warrant more than a late flier.

6. Seattle Seahawks (40 percent): The Seattle backfield will look different in 2017, as Michael (117 carries) was cut last season and Lacy was signed to take over as the No. 1 runner. While he's still a young back at 26, Lacy missed 11 games last season and has dealt with health and weight issues since 2015. He'll also lose work to C.J. Prosise on passing downs, and Thomas Rawls is also in the mix for carries in this backfield. Lacy is the most attractive of the bunch, but I wouldn't hitch my wagon to him as more than a flex starter. He's a massive risk-reward fantasy selection.

7. New Orleans Saints (35.8 percent): The Saints let Tim Hightower and his 133 carries from last season walk, but the addition of Adrian Peterson makes this backfield a potential headache for fantasy owners. The expectation is that Mark Ingram will continue to start, but that A.D. will see his share of the workload in what could be an even split in terms of carries. Also keep in mind that Alvin Kamara could etch out a role on passing downs too, so there's little chance for a true featured role. Ingram is the best fantasy option here, but it's close with Peterson and neither is more than a flex.

8. Buffalo Bills (31.7 percent): The big loss in this backfield was Gillislee, who had 101 rushing attempts including 16 red-zone and 10 green-zone touches behind LeSean McCoy a season ago. The Bills will now turn to Jonathan Williams as the No. 2 back behind McCoy, though new additions Patrick DiMarco and Mike Tolbert will no doubt see some work in short-yardage and goal-line sets. McCoy, a first-round pick in all fantasy drafts, should continue to dominate the backfield touches under new coach Sean McDermott. Williams is draftable as a handcuff in larger leagues, but that's about it.

9. San Francisco 49ers (30 percent):Carlos Hyde dominated the backfield work for the Niners last season, carrying the ball 217 times in 13 games (16.7 attempts per game). The team added Hightower, rookie Joe Williams and Kapri Bibbs in the offseason, but this is still Hyde's position to lose and he's by far the best fantasy option in the group. His downfall has been injuries, however, which limit Hyde to being a mid-level No. 2 fantasy runner in drafts. If he falls to ailments again, don't be surprised to see Williams become a popular sleeper selection. Hightower is the handcuff, for now, however.

10. Pittsburgh Steelers (26.7 percent):DeAngelo Williams accounted for 98 rushing attempts last season, which was second behind Le'Veon Bell (261) in the Steelers backfield. With Williams expected to be out of the mix, the team will turn to Fitzgerald Toussaint or rookie James Conner to take over behind Bell on the depth chart. The rookie would be the better handcuff in fantasy drafts, but neither back would see much work unless Bell goes down with a long-term ailment. This is his backfield to be certain, and his talent makes Bell worth one of the first three overall picks in drafts.

11. Denver Broncos (19.6 percent): The Broncos lost a combined 72 carries between Justin Forsett and Bibbs, but the addition of veteran Jamaal Charles boosts the team's backfield depth behind starter C.J. Anderson. Charles will compete with Devontae Booker for carries and could push a few out of Anderson's workload, but overall I still see C.J. as a viable No. 2 fantasy runner.

12. Cincinnati Bengals (18.8 percent): The loss of Rex Burkhead and his 74 carries isn't the biggest news in this backfield. Instead, it's the addition of rookie Joe Mixon. Already a fantasy favorite because of his skill set, Mixon will be the back to draft even with Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard still on the roster. Mixon will come off the board in the fourth or fifth round.

13. Jacksonville Jaguars (13.9 percent): The Jaguars lost a small percentage of carries (Denard Robinson - 41) but added a rookie in Leonard Fournette who figures to eat up a big portion of the workload from Chris Ivory (117 carries) and T.J. Yeldon (130). The fourth overall pick in the NFL draft, he's a lock to see 200-plus carries and should be projected as a third rounder.

14. Los Angeles Chargers (11.9 percent):Melvin Gordon (254 carries) should dominate the backfield touches once again, as the Chargers lost Danny Woodhead but didn't add a running back in the draft. That leaves Branden Oliver and Kenneth Farrow to compete for carries behind him on the depth chart. Gordon should be considered a first- or second-round lock as a true workhorse.

15. Baltimore Ravens (11.3 percent): The Ravens lost a combined 36 carries between Forsett and Kyle Juszczyk, but the team added Woodhead to a backfield that could become crowded with Terrance West and Buck Allen also in the mix. Once Kenneth Dixon returns from a four-game suspension, this could quartet could make life tough for owners. Dixon has the most potential, though.

16. Carolina Panthers (10.1 percent): Tolbert (35 carries) is the lone Carolina back to be lost, but it added a potential playmaker in rookie Christian McCaffrey. While he's going to see a lot of work as a receiver, McCaffrey will also eat into Jonathan Stewart's 218 attempts as well. The rookie will be a top-40 overall pick and is the Panthers back to land in fantasy drafts.

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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