Every year, the weeks and months after the NFL Draft are spent trying to project new players—both veterans and rookies—in their new homes.

Talent and team fit are definitely important, but we know that opportunity is king when it comes to fantasy scoring. Without volume, talent alone won’t score fantasy points.

In the first piece of this two-part series, I broke down each team’s relative targets, target share, and percentage of Air Yards available for the upcoming 2017 season. This piece will focus on a position that is sure to be up for tumultuous debate as it pertains to the first round of upcoming drafts: running backs.

Below, you will find every team’s running back opportunities (attempts plus targets) and percentage of red-zone (inside of the opponents’ 20-yard line) that are available from 2016.

While this exercise is helpful in identifying not-so-obvious situations to exploit (and avoid), I would caution against broadly applying the data on principle alone. Running backs get injured more often than wide receivers and middling talents are often replaced—or placed in a timeshare—every single year. What’s more, new talent added both in the NFL Draft and in free agency are sure to shake loose some opportunities that are not initially “available” from the 2016 season.

With that disclaimer aside, let’s hit the data.

Team

Available Opportunities

% Of 2016 Opp. Available

% of RZ Att. Available

ARI

26

5.6%

11.1%

ATL

13

2.6%

0.0%

BAL

80

14.5%

7.0%

BUF

143

30.3%

25.3%

CAR

0

0.0%

0.0%

CHI

3

0.7%

0.0%

CIN

94

19.1%

16.9%

CLE

0

0.0%

0.0%

DAL

33

6.6%

4.9%

DEN

72

17.7%

12.5%

DET

41

10.3%

2.7%

GB

180

50.7%

35.7%

HOU

41

8.2%

1.6%

IND

9

2.0%

4.6%

JAC

50

11.6%

0.0%

KC

32

7.2%

7.6%

LAC

63

13.9%

8.7%

LAR

42

10.5%

7.0%

MIA

40

9.0%

5.5%

MIN

224

46.7%

61.5%

NE

342

63.3%

69.4%

NO

133

24.9%

30.2%

NYG

198

40.7%

35.7%

NYJ

12

2.4%

6.7%

OAK

195

38.5%

66.7%

PHI

47

9.5%

9.1%

PIT

100

20.0%

21.7%

SEA

168

38.8%

35.0%

SF

184

42.3%

27.4%

TB

27

5.7%

3.5%

TEN

2

0.4%

0.0%

WAS

0

0.0%

0.0%

 

Please note that I did not broadly adjust these statistics to account for new 2017 free agent signings. The data above is based on what is available from the 2016 regular season.

 

Teams Teeming With Touches

New England Patriots – 342 Opportunities Available (63.3% of team share); 69.4% of Red-zone Attempts Available

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room first. With LeGarrette Blount out of the fold and still on the market as a free agent, the Pats’ have a massive hole to fill in their backfield in 2017. That’s obvious. The second part—actually figuring out what in the world Bill Belichick will do with this river of opportunity—is another test. I’ll admit it: I have no clue what type of roles Rex Burkhead and Dion Lewis will have. No one, except Belichick, knows what he will do with his backfield on a weekly basis. In very limited samples for different reasons, both Lewis and Burkhead have carried the rock inside of the tackles and both backs are capable of catching passes.

Here is the rub, though — James White will still catch passes (he caught 60 last year, third-most among backs) and Mike Gillislee is probably the best bet to at least fill the majority of the Pats’ massive 69.4% of red-zone carries that are available. As Bills’ fans and fantasy players well remember, Gillislee dominated in the red-zone last year but based on T.J. Hernandez’s regression-based analysis, Gillislee scored 3.2 more touchdowns than what you would normally expect given his workload. Still, there is no denying Belichick and Tom Brady are excellent at setting the stage for lay-up scores. In fact, over the past three years, New England has finished 1st, 8th, and 1st in total carries inside of the opponents’ 10-yard line. In that same span, New England has ran on 54.5% of their plays inside of the opponents’ 10-yard line, the ninth-highest rate in the league. Getting the Pats’ backfield right for fantasy this year will be important, but it won’t be easy.  

Minnesota Vikings – 224 Opportunities Available (46.7% of team share); 61.5% of Red-zone Attempts Available

We move on from New England to another murky backfield; except this time, the quarterback and coach aren’t the greatest of all-time and the offensive line isn’t in the upper echelon of the league.

In a weird tandem that possibly may generate some fantasy players to overthink it, Dalvin Cook and new-addition Latavius Murray have found their way into the same backfield. Never mind the fact that Cook and Murray don’t do much of anything to complement each other stylistically — let’s look on the bright side. The Vikings have a bunch of open opportunity. In fact, New England and Minnesota are the only two teams that have at least 40% of their opportunities and 40% of their red-zone attempts vacant from 2016. The sharp money should be on Dalvin Cook to eventually become the lead-man in touches very early on in the season after the Vikes’ traded up to land him in the early 2nd round. Running behind one of the league’s premier offensive lines, Latavius Murray is a former 6th round selection that finished last behind two rookies on his own team in yards gained after contact per attempt in 2016. Minnesota’s offensive line was third-worst in run blocking last year, per FootballOutsiders. The Vikings’ offense isn’t a sure thing in the trenches, but Dalvin Cook should immediately gobble up most of the Vikings open opportunities. At the very least, Cook has a ton of experience dominating behind a horrible offensive line.

 

A Seat at the Table

New York Giants – 198 Opportunities Available (40.7% of team share); 35.7% of Red-zone Attempts Available

With Rashad Jennings out of the picture, the Giants’ sneakily have nearly 200 opportunities up for grabs. In two years as the Giants’ HC, Ben McAdoo has seemed to favor running back committees while mixing and matching his backs based on situation. McAdoo’s committee-based strategy likely won’t change with the talent on their roster, but newcomer Wayne Gallman and vets Paul Perkins plus Shane Vereen are at least all relatively inexpensive in early-May fantasy drafts. Per the most recent average draft position data, Perkins’ cost is hovering near 90 overall while Vereen and Gallman are being treated as dart-throws. It’s hard to get excited about a singular Giant back in particular, but at least one offense in New York isn’t short on talent. Eli Manning and Co. could generate a few extra lay-up scoring attempts with their juiced up attack, sporting Brandon Marshall and Evan Engram.

Oakland Raiders – 195 Opportunities Available (38.5% of team share); 66.7% of Red-zone Attempts Available

Welcome back, BeastMode. With nearly 67% of their 2016 red-zone carries available (second-most behind New England), the Oakland Raiders are likely entrusting Marshawn Lynch to hammer the rock from in close while Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington continue to play similar roles as in 2016. Both Washington and Richard each played about 15-20 snaps per contest last year. While Lynch spent a year from football and battled injuries in his last season in the league, there is no denying this is a pristine spot for him. Not only does Oakland have 195 opportunities plus a ton of short-scoring potential open, they also own a top-tier offensive line that allowed just 17% of their team carries to be stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage in 2016 (eighth-best rate in the NFL). Marshawn Lynch is a candidate to be over-drafted in leagues because of the other pieces that are present on the Raiders’ offense, but I for one am glad he’s giving it one more ride for Oakland.

Green Bay Packers – 180 Opportunities Available (50.7% of team share); 35.7% of Red-zone Attempts Available

After their running back corps fell apart last year, the Packers’ offense lost their foundational running game and left it up to Aaron Rodgers to shoulder the entire load on offense. In retrospect, it shouldn’t be surprising that Rodgers tied for the Packers team-lead in red-zone carries with Ty Montgomery last year. While Green Bay surely can’t allow for that to happen again, the Packers have quite a serving of touches open for the taking. In an attempt to fix their leaks at running back, Green Bay elected to take a buckshot approach instead of selecting one player with a premium capital selection. Green Bay was stagnant in free agency once more, but instead of paying for a pricey free agent, they added Jamaal Williams (#134 overall; 4th round), Aaron Jones (#182 overall; 5th round), and Devante Mays (#238; 7th round) in the low-probability range of the draft. The sole purpose of taking Williams, Jones, and Mays was for competition—maybe one back pops and becomes a big contributor—and for depth. Still, with a full offseason to prepare for the perils of the season, Ty Montgomery is in a quietly fantastic spot to improve upon his semi-breakout year.

Seattle Seahawks – 168 Opportunities Available (38.8% of team share); 35% of Red-zone Attempts Available

Getting a one year deal to “prove it” with Seattle, former-Packer Eddie Lacy likely needs to perform early to extend and revitalize his career out west. Lacy has always had quick feet for a big back, but an ankle injury plus weight concerns zapped Lacy’s availability in 2016. Seattle seems to believe in him. Lacy signed a $5.5M deal with $3M in guarantees that places him as the 11th-highest paid back (so far) heading into the new league year. Lacy’s presence alone is bad news for Thomas Rawls and should keep C.J. Prosise’s fantasy cost in a palatable range. Regardless, Lacy had multiple wires, two screws, and a metal plate inserted into his right ankle during his surgery last November and Rawls has really only had a handful of “good” games throughout the course of his career. Not only does Prosise add another dimension to Seattle’s attack that Lacy or Rawls can’t provide, he may very well end up being their best interior runner at some point in 2017, too. Based on the money Lacy received in free agency it’s clear that they want him to be the premier back in the offense, but there is still a lot of uncertainty in Seattle’s backfield.

New Orleans Saints – 133 Opportunities Available (24.9% of team share); 30.2% of Red-zone Attempts Available

I wrote in-depth about what the Saints’ are signaling by signing Adrian Peterson and bringing in Alvin Kamara in the third round, but New Orleans’ backfield is rough to project. Tim Hightower’s exit opens up 133 opportunities from last year, but because the Saints’ fantasy pie is so large — there is enough room for at least two backs to co-exist in New Orleans. Over the last five seasons, Saints' running backs have combined to rank 1st, 2nd, 1st, 2nd, and 1st in cumulative PPR points. At a bare minimum, Alvin Kamara should operate as the Saints’ pass catching back while Peterson and Ingram split carries.

 

Unseating Vets With Premium Picks

The Bengals (94 Opportunities Available; 19.1% of team share), Jaguars (50 Opportunities Available; 11.5% of team share), and Panthers (0 Opportunities Available) each drafted running backs in the 2017 Draft with premium capital picks and all of the veterans are still on the roster (for now).

Let’s be clear here, though: Jacksonville did not select Leonard Fournette at #4 overall to give Chris Ivory 15 carries per game. In the same vein, Carolina did not select Christian McCaffrey inside of the top-10 to only let him play on third downs and return punts while the Bengals have clearly grown tired of Jeremy Hill. Coupled with Hill’s woes and inefficiency over the past two seasons, Gio Bernard is coming off of a torn-ACL sustained last November. Out of Carolina, Jacksonville, and Cincinnati, Joe Mixon probably has the clearest path to become a workhorse early on but Fournette and McCaffrey’s premium selections should negate any fantasy player’s concerns about the remaining depth chart. Fournette and McCaffrey did not land in a pristine spot like Ezekiel Elliott did in Dallas last year, but their respective coaching staffs will give them every opportunity to take over the backfield as early as possible.