Fantasy Football: The Case Against Isaiah Crowell

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This article is part of The Fantasy Court series, be sure to check out The Case For Isaiah Crowell by Matt Okada (@FantasySensei).

Check out where Andy, Mike, and Jason have Isaiah Crowell ranked.

Opening Statement

Your honor, what I present before you today is the simple truth and evidence against Isaiah Hassan Crowell (I love NFL middle names) and the tomfoolery fantasy owners are succumbing to in fantasizing about his illusionary 2017 prospects. Crowell’s faulty yards-per-carry average, the hype surrounding his offensive line upgrade, and his current ADP all should be taken into consideration when deciding this case. My main plea is that owners would use caution and reason before selling their souls to an undrafted running back from a 1-15 team who’s colors radiate pure poop.

Yards Per Carry Conundrum

This case is not meant as a long rant against this statistic but I think it’s valid to at least point out the lack of “stickiness” that yards per carry has in evaluating year-to-year fantasy value before getting a tattoo across our chests of The Crow. In mathematical terms, the small sample size allows for ypc numbers to fluctuate at inordinate levels and therefore be subject to volatility. Chase Stuart from FootballPerspective.com recently conveyed this precedent in a case study with none other than The Crow as his prime witness.

Crowell finished 2016 at 4.8 yards-a-tote which seems like a solid measurement of his ability and gives you the impression this guy was consistently seeing chunk gains. The problem is that his ypc “average” is completely skewed by two long runs. Crowell’s 85 yard burst in Week 2 against Baltimore (which the OL did most of the work) and a meaningless 67 yard run in Week 17 versus Pittsburgh are outliers when you considered the other 195 carries he had in his season. Taking these 2 runs out leaves our stumbling and bumbling runner falling to a pedestrian 4.19 ypc for the season. His end of season numbers are erroneous considering he had 19 carries for 152 yards (8.0 ypc) in that pointless Week 17 game against a Steelers team that rested all of their starters. Crowell’s yards-per-carry before this matchup stood at a seemingly boring 4.4. PFF’s Scott Barrett highlighted that 37% of Crowell’s yards came on just 5% of his carries. His yards-per-expectation was just 4.1 per carry on the season.

Here’s a couple of recent cases of “extremely efficient” and uber-hyped yard-per-carry backs and how they faired the following season.

Player 2014 YPC 2015 YPC 2016 YPC
Justin Forsett 5.4* 4.2 3.3
Jeremy Hill 5.1 3.6 3.8
Lamar Miller 5.1 4.5 4.0
Todd Gurley --- 4.8 3.2
Thomas Rawls --- 5.6* 3.2
Isaiah Crowell 4.1 3.8 4.8
*Denotes league-leader

If you spent an early round draft pick on the likes of any of these hooligans, fantasy owners know the pain that they inflicted upon their hearts. Let us not base any excitement and hopes on this loosely based and ever-changing year-to-year metric. In 2016, 68% of Crowell’s runs went for 4 yards or less so let’s not assume this guy was beasting it out there. I had the good pleasure of watching Browns film on NFL GamePass and what I found was a lack of overall elusiveness in Crowell’s game. His juke rating, according to PlayerProfiler, was 60th(!) among RBs.  To add in, he saw 12 total touches on 3rd down the entire season as Duke Johnson, recently highlighted in “All Hail Duke Johnson in 2017?“, still is a vital part of their plans. I don’t want an RB with hollow numbers who does not see 3rd downs at all.

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Gregory Shamus/ Getty Images

Offensive Line Upgrade?

While my counterpart might bring up the fact that Cleveland’s offensive line was recently ranked No. 2 to start the 2017 by Pro Football Focus, we need soberly remind ourselves of how flimsy OL projections can be. Cleveland finished 2016 as the 16th ranked OL by none other than PFF. If we are to believe that FA acquisitions Kevin Zeitler and the often injured J.C. Tretter help “leapfrog” many other well equipped lines, then we certainly have a short sided view of year-to-year inconsistencies and the time it takes for a offensive line to create chemistry. These guys need to gel and I need to see them actually play together before you can “anoint” them as OL saviors.

Here is a look at PFF’s preseason 2016 list and where the top 10 finished the season.

2016 Preseason PFF 2016 End of Season PFF 2017 Preseason PFF
1 Dallas Cowboys Tennessee Titans Philadelphia Eagles
2 Oakland Raiders Dallas Cowboys Cleveland Browns
3 Green Bay Packers Pittsburgh Steelers Pittsburgh Steelers
4 Cincinnati Bengals Oakland Raiders Tennessee Titans
5 Atlanta Falcons Green Bay Packers Chicago Bears
6 Carolina Panthers Atlanta Falcons Atlanta Falcons
7 Philadelphia Eagles Washington Redskins Oakland Raiders
8 New Orleans Saints Philadelphia Eagles Green Bay Packers
9 Arizona Cardinals Baltimore Ravens Dallas Cowboys
10 Buffalo Bills New England Patriots Buffalo Bills

Clearly this is not an exact science as the Titans were ranked 25th heading into last season before finishing the year No. 1! I believe in PFF as I spent a previous summer analyzing game film for them but we cannot use these grading systems as gospel. This O-line will be protecting Browns quarterbacks who are deficient to say the least. A good offensive line still needs playmakers in order to shine and unless DeShone Kizer sets the world on fire, I doubt that a Browns signal caller (Kizer, Kessler or Osweiler) will intimidate defenses enough and force less men in the box for Crowell. Cleveland’s line should be better than last year but to crown them a supreme, overwhelming, slam dunk for Crowell’s case is simply not valid.

Bad Team and a Bad Draft Price

Let’s remember that this team was 1-15 last year. In other words, there was a steaming pile of poo in north Ohio. Some might claim that “there’s nowhere to go but up” which lends positive sentiments and good tidings of great joy towards owners of The Crow in 2017. But how much better in terms of fantasy will this team be? Cleveland ran 59 plays inside their opponents 10 all season long, the lowest total in the league according to NFLsavant.com. Even with slight improvement in this category, Crowell would have to also increase his success rate inside the “10-zone” drastically to jump into double-digit TD range.

He ranked 32nd among RBs in fantasy point per opportunity (combined carries and targets) and I don’t expect that number to improve much more. According to the Ultimate Draft Kit Consistency Charts, he has finished outside RB2 weekly numbers over 53% of time the last 2 years, a number worse than Jaguars backups Chris Ivory and TJ Yeldon. Crowell is being taken at the beginning of the 3rd round and the 12th RB off the board according to FantasyFootballCalculator.com. Even if you project the game scripts for the poo-poo Browns to be slightly better, do you really want to draft a RB at the very top of his fantasy ceiling? To return that value you’re asking for almost 1300 scrimmage yards and 8 TDs, numbers the RB12 has averaged the last 3 years. I currently have ZERO shares of Crowell on the year and I feel bullish on his prospects as a bust in 2017.

Closing Argument

In closing, I believe it’s clear that owners have been hypnotized into believe that Isaiah Crowell is some sort of fantasy RB deliverer and up-and-coming fantasy star. His yards-per-carry average is not to be trusted as a cornerstone of this fantasy foundation and I can certainly see this house falling down when the wind and the rain start coming Week 1 against Pittsburgh.