Fantasy Football: The Case for Isaiah Crowell
This article is part of The Fantasy Court series, be sure to check out The Case Against Isaiah Crowell by @kyle_borg.
Check out where Andy, Mike, and Jason have Isaiah Crowell ranked.
What if I told you there was a 24-year-old running back who had more yards per attempt last year than David Johnson and DeMarco Murray? What if he also had more touchdowns per touch than Le’Veon Bell and Jordan Howard? And what if he was going behind all those backs and nine others in 2017 fantasy drafts?
Welcome to the case for Isaiah Crowell.
While arguments can be made against the Browns offense as a whole — and we will address those shortly — no one can deny Crowell’s production. His 4.8 yards per attempt ranked 9th in the league last year among backs with at least 100 carries. He did boost that number with eight rushes of 20 or more yards (5th in the league), but the volume indicates that Crowell can be relied on to break these big gains consistently.
Despite the presence of pass-catching maven Duke Johnson, Crowell also hauled in 40 receptions for 319 yards. While his 8.0 yards per reception rate was not elite, it was better than other backs praised for their pass-catching ability, including Ty Montgomery (7.9) and LeSean McCoy (7.1).
Now entering his fourth year in the league, Crowell’s carries, yards, and receptions have all increased year-over-year, positioning him for a potential jump into RB1 status in 2017.
The Browns tied for last in the league in rushing attempts in 2016 (350). And before you go blaming this result entirely on game script, note that the Packers also ranked in the bottom four, and the 49ers ranked in the top five. In other words, regardless of record, the Browns have some room to run in 2017 (pun intended).
And head coach Hue Jackson knows it. When asked about the lopsided play calling, Jackson said, “Gotta run the ball more … I beat myself up about that. I’m a coach that likes to run the ball.” In five seasons calling plays as either a head coach or offensive coordinator, Jackson’s teams have ranked in the top ten in the league in rush attempts four times. The one exception was last year.
The coach also spoke highly of his lead back. “I think Crowell is poised for a big year,” Jackson said. “He deserves it.” If Crowell can get 250-plus carries, in line with other backs on losing teams like Todd Gurley and Jordan Howard, that big year is well within reach.
Additionally, recent reports out of training camp are suggesting that Duke Johnson may commonly line up as a receiver out of the slot. He and Crowell were on the field together often in preseason Week 1, lending further credence to this news. If such a setup carries over into the season, it may mean less carries for Johnson (73 in 2016) and more third-down work for Crowell, both great signs for the Crow’s volume.
The Only Way is Up
Then there is the Cleveland offense, which many will cite as Crowell’s biggest hurdle to top-tier fantasy production. The Browns finished in the bottom three in yards and points scored last year on their way to a 1-15 record. While they could technically lose all 16 games in 2017, expectations are higher (Vegas has the line at 4.5 wins).
The offensive line is drastically improved with the additions of J.C. Tretter and Kevin Zeitler, earning the squad Pro Football Focus’s 2nd overall grade for 2017. While the quarterback situation is still in question, rookie DeShone Kizer looked extremely good in his first preseason game and Cody Kessler played respectably in limited action last year. If one of the two can win the job over Brock “Just the Worst” Osweiler, either should be competent supporting Crowell in a run-first attack. Kizer could be especially beneficial to Crowell’s game, as mobile quarterbacks tend to soften defenses and open up rushing lanes for their RBs.
The best part about drafting Crowell is his price. He currently sits as the RB14 according to Fantasy Football Calculator, and is dropping all the way to the beginning of the third round. Even if Crowell only manages to repeat his 2016 finish — which should probably be considered his floor — he will justify your pick at that spot. But if he gets the workload Jackson intends, maintains a solid yards per attempt rate, and adds a couple more touchdowns, you’ll have snagged a solid RB1 at an excellent value.
Plus, you can spend the entire season shouting and/or tweeting #FeedtheCrow and #CawCaw at all your league mates. It’s an all-around win.