Touches are an important stat for fantasy running backs

The number of carries and red-zone rushing attempts a running back receives is vital to his production and fantasy appeal. But the number of touches a runner sees during the course of a season is an even truer testament to his value on the field and in fantasy land. That's even more important now, as featured backs have become mostly extinct around the league. Here's our look at the busiest backs in the NFL last year, and what owners can expect from them in 2011.

1. Arian Foster, Texans (393 touches): Foster received 38.1 percent of the Texans' touches last season, but that number could decline in 2011 with the return of Ben Tate. Still, it's going to be tough to pass on fantasy's top scorer with one of the top three picks on draft day.

2. Steven Jackson, Rams (376 touches): Jackson will remain the bell cow for new offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and should at least duplicate the 35.7 percent of touches he saw in 2011. More of those looks could be as a receiver out of the backfield, so Jackson will have added PPR appeal.

3. Ray Rice, Ravens (370 touches): The versatile Rutgers product made up for 36.3 of the Ravens' total offensive touches in 2010, and that number could increase now that the team has parted ways with Willis McGahee. Look for Rice to be a surefire first-round draft selection.

4. Chris Johnson, Titans (360 touches): No running back saw a greater percentage of his team's offensive touches than Johnson, who was involved in nearly four of every 10 plays. With a favorable schedule ahead, CJ2K will warrant the top overall pick in 2011 fantasy drafts.

5. Cedric Benson, Bengals (349 touches): While he saw the fifth-most touches among running backs, Benson still finished a mediocre 16th in fantasy points at his position last year. New offensive coordinator Jay Gruden will use Benson as his bell cow, but fantasy owners need to temper expectations.

6. Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers (347 touches): Mendenhall saw an impressive 34.9 percent of the Steelers' offensive touches last season, but that number will decrease in 2011. Keep in mind, four of those games last year came without Ben Roethlisberger at the helm of the offense.

7. Michael Turner, Falcons (346 touches): Turner isn't going to catch many passes out of the backfield, but he still saw more than 31 percent of the Falcons' offensive touches last season. He also saw the most red-zone carries at the position, so he'll hold his value in 2011.

8. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars (333 touches): "Pocket Hercules" saw 32.6 percent of the Jaguars' offensive touches, and his overall touches would have been higher had he not missed the final two games. Even coming off knee surgery, Jones-Drew still has first-round fantasy appeal.

9. Peyton Hillis, Browns (331 touches): One of last season's biggest sleepers, Hillis was a workhorse for the Browns while seeing better than 35 percent of their offensive touches. Unfortunately, that number seems destined to decline with Montario Hardesty back in the mix.

10. Ahmad Bradshaw, Giants (323 touches): Despite the presence of Brandon Jacobs, Bradshaw still saw a solid 31.2 percent of his team's touches. Fantasy owners should expect more of the same in 2011, making Bradshaw a legitimate No. 2 fantasy running back across the board.

11. Adrian Peterson, Vikings (319 touches): The top overall player on NFL.com Fantasy 2011, Peterson has been and will continue to be a workhorse for the Vikings and fantasy owners alike. He saw better than 32 percent of the team's total offensive touches last season.

12. Matt Forte, Bears (288 touches): One of the most versatile runners in the NFL, Forte made up for better than 30 percent of the Bears' offensive touches last season. His workload isn't likely to decline moving forward, so consider Forte a nice No. 2 option in drafts.

13. LeSean McCoy, Eagles (285 touches): McCoy, who led all running backs in receptions last season, has the skills and abilities to be a surefire No. 1 fantasy option. He'll also continue to see opportunities -- he saw 27.4 percent of his team's total touches in 2010.

14. Jamaal Charles, Chiefs (275 touches): While he lost a total of 259 touches to Thomas Jones, Charles still finished among the best fantasy players at his position last season. Look for him to see a nice bump in opportunities -- and value -- in most fantasy leagues.

15. Darren McFadden, Raiders (270 touches): McFadden missed three games last season, but he still finished with close to 26 percent of the Raiders' total offensive touches. If he can avoid injuries, McFadden could become an absolute fantasy superstar moving forward.

16. Fred Jackson, Bills (253 touches): Though he started only 13 games, Jackson still saw close to 27 percent of his team's offensive touches. Whether C.J. Spiller can make an impact remains to be seen, but Jackson is clearly the Bills runner to target in drafts.

17. Frank Gore, 49ers (249 touches): Amazingly, Gore saw more than 26 percent of the 49ers' touches despite the fact that he missed five games with an injured hip. If he can steer clear of the trainer's room, the veteran runner could be a top fantasy scorer in 2011.

18. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Patriots (241 touches): In 2010, Green-Ellis saw 24.4 percent of the Patriots' offensive touches and was in the top five in red-zone carries. However, the addition of Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley will put a huge dent into his opportunities.

T-19. Ronnie Brown, Dolphins (233 touches): The Dolphins will have a new backfield look this season, as rookie Daniel Thomas could see a featured role. The fact that Brown, a free agent, saw 22.4 percent of the team's touches in 2010 bodes well for his chances to make a fast impact, wherever he plays.

T-19. Felix Jones, Cowboys (233 touches): Jones, who saw 22.5 percent of his team's offensive touches last season, will no doubt be the first Cowboys running back taken in most fantasy drafts. However, rookie DeMarco Murray could put a dent into his chances in 2011.

21. Jahvid Best, Lions (229 touches): Best is an explosive playmaker who received 21.9 percent of the Lions' touches in 2010, but the addition of rookie Mikel Leshoure is certain to affect his overall value this season. In fact, Best is now more of a low-end No. 2 option.

22. Knowshon Moreno, Broncos (219 touches): Despite missing three games, Moreno still saw 21.5 percent of his team's offensive touches in 2010. With a featured role looking likely -- and if he can avoid major injuries -- Moreno will be a fantasy breakout candidate.

23. LeGarrette Blount, Buccaneers (206 touches): Blount started just seven games in his rookie year, but he still saw better than 21 percent of the Buccaneers' total offensive touches. That number is destined to rise in 2011, making Blount a viable early-rounder.

24. Shonn Greene, Jets (201 touches): LaDainian Tomlinson (271) led the Jets backs in touches last season, but Greene is slated to take over the featured role in 2011. Barring injuries, he could see 300-plus touches this year in an offense that's based on the run.

T-25. Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks (186 touches): Despite the fact that he started just 11 games for the Seahawks, Lynch still saw close to 20 percent of the team's touches for the entire 2010 season. However, his inconsistent level of production limits his stock in most drafts.

T-25. Jonathan Stewart, Panthers (186 touches): In 2010, Stewart saw 19.3 percent of his team's total touches. Unfortunately, that number is likely to decrease with the re-signing of DeAngelo Williams. That's unfortunate, as Stewart would have been a breakout option.

27. Ryan Torain, Redskins (182 touches): If Torain can avoid injuries, he'll have a chance to see far more touches in the Redskins' offense this season. That's a pretty big "if" based on his track record, though, so owners should consider Torain a risk-reward pick this season.

28. Ryan Mathews, Chargers (180 touches):Mike Tolbert (207) had more touches than Mathews in 2010, but that should change moving forward. Barring injuries, Mathews should take on a greater role in the Chargers' offense and could develop into a tremendous draft-day bargain.

29. Tim Hightower, Cardinals (174 touches): The versatile Hightower saw 53 more touches than Beanie Wells last season, but Wells is now the Cardinals back to target with Hightower dealt to Washington. Rookie Ryan Williams is also in the mix for the Cardinals.

30. Joseph Addai, Colts (135 touches): Addai, who missed eight games last season, was on pace to finish with 270 touches before being injured. His lack of durability makes him a risk-reward option, but Addai still has flex-starter value as a member of the Colts.

31. Pierre Thomas, Saints (112 touches): Thomas missed several games last year due to injury and is now in a crowded Saints backfield that includes rookie Mark Ingram, Darren Sproles and Chris Ivory. Ingram, not Thomas, is the Saints runner to target in drafts.

32. Ryan Grant, Packers (8 touches): Grant missed the majority of last season with an ankle injury, but he's still a good bet to lead the Packers in touches in 2011. Unfortunately, the presence of James Starks means a committee situation is possible moving forward.

Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on NFL.com. Have a burning question for Michael on anything fantasy football related? Send it to AskFabiano@nfl.com or tweet it at Michael_Fabiano!

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