Isaiah Crowell is an incredibly divisive player this off-season as opinions on him wildly vary from person to person with some arguing that he’s worth a mid-2nd round pick to others making a case for him not belonging in the first 3 rounds at all. The positives for Crowell are his 4.8 YPC, his 6th ranked 1.7 yards after contact per touch, and most importantly his line which ranked 4th in yards created before contact last season and just added JC Tretter and Kevin Zeitler. PFF also has the Browns line #2 in the latest rankings they released. As we know, many times in fantasy when you draft a RB you’re really drafting the line.
The negatives are that he gained 152 of his 952 ground yards against the Steelers in week 17 who weren’t playing for anything and his inconsistent volume (5 games under 10 carries) as his workload was often limited by poor game scripts. Another factor is how much of Crowell’s production came on big runs as he ranked 7th with 13 rushes of 15 or more yards which accounted for 6.6% of his runs, the 13th highest percentage in the league. So ultimately Crowell was lacking in volume but despite that he was among the league leaders in long rushes. How you view this likely comes down to personal opinion. Some will argue that those runs can be largely fluky and you can’t expect him to repeat that efficiency, while others will say that because of how much talent they have on the line, and Crowell’s own personal running style, it’s a category he can continue to excel in. I’m not here to tell you it’s one or other as I believe both are legitimate arguments, but I do think that line can help him create those big runs.
Hue Jackson’s Bengals offense ranked 7th in 2015 with 467 rushing attempts and his 2014 team ranked 5th in the league with 492 attempts on the ground. Last year’s Cleveland Browns team ranked 31st in the league in this category with just 350 rushing attempts. Despite negative game scripts that kept Jackson from running his offense how we had previously seen, Crowell was still featured when they leaned on the run and produced 1,271 total yards and 7 TDs on 238 touches. His carries increased by 13 from 2015 but the biggest change for Crowell came in the receiving game as he more than doubled in both targets and catches, going from 19 catches on 22 targets in 2015 to 40 catches on 53 targets last season. This occurred while Duke Johnson, often thought of as the primary 3rd down back for the Browns, saw his targets stagnate as he received the exact same amount (74) as he had the previous season. Johnson’s carries were also reduced by 31. So even as the targets to the RB position for the Browns increased in 2016, all of that was felt by Isaiah Crowell, not Duke Johnson. They’ve already said this off-season that Duke may be used as a slot receiver, which could be mean even more snaps for Crowell in the backfield.
With the selections of Myles Garrett and Jabrill Peppers in the 1st round, as well as 3rd and 4th round picks on that side of the ball, it’s clear that the Browns understand their need to improve on the defensive end. If you couple that with additions they’ve made up front on offense it becomes evident that they want to play typical AFC North ground-and-pound football. It’s likely that their best chance of winning games comes from leaning on their backs behind a great offensive line and limiting the mistakes of their young QBs.
How do you feel about Crowell for the 2017 season? Can we expect him to get up to 230ish carries where I’m sure Hue would like him to be? Can he continue to rip off big chunks of yardage like he did in 2016? And if he does get that volume, should we be expecting a drop in his efficiency if he doesn’t keep breaking off those long gains? Where are you willing to take a chance on the Crow Show?