Isaiah Crowell is one of the biggest wildcards for the upcoming fantasy season. He’s coming off a big performance in 2016 and has an improved offensive line for the upcoming season, but it still feels like he’s an under-the-radar running back for the upcoming fantasy season. Many players see the Browns’ logo next to his name and feel hesitant to take the chance on him; it’s understandable given the up and down nature of the Cleveland season, but statistically Crowell is an above average fantasy running back.
He averaged 4.8 yards per carry last year, which put him at ninth in the league last year. That puts him in the range of runners like Bell and Ajayi (4.9), Elliot (5.1) and Jordan Howard (5.2). More impressive than his yards per carry is the fact that he was doing it in a struggling offense, with only Jordan Howard seeming to deal with similar levels of offensive incompetence.
There’s no doubt that Crowell saw a decline in effectiveness as the season progressed, but much of that was due to the overall competence of the offense declining as the season went on. When the Browns were forced to play from behind they threw the football more, but in fairness Crowell saw a decent number of those passes (as evidenced by the increase in passing yardage that Crowell saw in the midseason).
Around the NFL: Former Boston Patriots’ QB, Babe Parilli, passes away at 87
What’s Trending: Texans’ RB, D’Onta Foreman, arrested on Sunday on possession charges
That’s not to say that Crowell’s success isn’t tied to the success of Cleveland in general; obviously if the offense thrives Crowell will as well, but if 2016 proved anything it was that he’ll still see touches even if the Browns struggle offensively. In the November game against the Cowboys (the Browns lost 10-35) Crowell only saw six rushing attempts (for a paltry four yards), but he also caught four passes for 63 yards. That’s averaging 15.8 yards per catch in a Browns passing attack that was one of the worst in the league last year.
Crowell proved that he could rack up the yardage even in weaker games for the offense last season, but that was 2016. Looking ahead to 2017, the Browns are better on all sides of the football. The new and improved defense should help keep the Browns in games and increase the overall rushing attempts and the offensive line should help increase the yards per attempt that the Cleveland backfield averages.
Crowell is currently going around the fourth round in a lot of leagues, great value for a back that is running behind one of the best offensive lines in football. Hovering around the 37th spot in drafts puts Crowell in the company of players like Carlos Hyde, Alshon Jeffery and Joe Mixon.
With all the talk about Joe Mixon being part of a committee in Cincinnati, he’s no guarantee to get the same amount of touches that Crowell is, even if Mixon is likely to have a higher fantasy ceiling.
If you’re in the fourth round and are still looking to draft a running back, Crowell is a solid player that offers a high floor and a solid ceiling. Behind one of football’s strongest offensive lines, he has the potential to be one of the league’s most consistent backs. Going the Crowell route is a safer pick, but players who like to take more risks with their backfield may like the potential that Mixon brings.
Crowell is likely to see more carries and thus more yardage in 2017, especially given the overall improvement of the Browns offense.
One of the big drawbacks with Crowell is the lack of touchdowns he seems to get when compared to traditional elite fantasy backs. He finished with seven touchdowns last year, respectable but still paling in comparison to touchdowns behemoths like LeGarrette Blount (18) or David Johnson (16).
Touchdowns are huge in fantasy football and Crowell didn’t see a lot of red zone action last season. If he is going to make that leap and become a top ten fantasy back, the Browns need to give him more red zone carries.
Another worry with Crowell is the Duke Johnson factor. Last year Johnson saw 73 carries for 358 yards and a touchdown, averaging 4.9 yards per carry. He’s a bigger threat to Crowell when it comes to the Cleveland passing game, where last year he caught 53 passes for 514 yards, with a hefty average of 9.7 yards per catch.
Crowell is still the lead back in this offense and he should break 1000 yards, but it’s unclear how large a role Johnson is going to play. Because Johnson’s impact is primarily in the passing game for the Browns, it’s difficult to analyze the potential scenarios without knowing who is going to be helming the Browns at quarterback this season.
If everything breaks right for Crowell, he has the potential to be a top ten fantasy back. If he progresses from last year’s numbers, Crowell will at least be a consistent fantasy starter, if not a solid RB 1.
Even if you believe in the potential of Crowell, it’d be a big reach to draft him before the fourth round. Players that draft Crowell earlier than the fourth round are passing on players that have a much higher floor or a much higher ceiling.