Sep 21, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns running back Isaiah Crowell (34) runs for a touchdown past Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw (91) during the third quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Ravens won 23-21. Mandatory Credit: Ron Schwane-USA TODAY Sports
Browns rookie running back Isaiah Crowell has been a hot topic amongst fantasy circles in recent weeks. Once a “big time” running back in the SEC, Crowell was dismissed from Georgia following a gun possession arrest. He landed at Alabama State where he continued to run well enough to keep himself on the NFL radar, but barely. After going undrafted, he landed with the Cleveland Browns and has earned his way into the lineup following Ben Tate’s knee injury. The rest is history. And based on this brief history, fantasy players are beginning to add the rookie back. But after only a few performances, is this really prudent?
Isaiah Crowell could be fantasy gold. This week it’s been reported that Crowell received first team reps while Terrance West worked with the second team, but here’s how it reads.
"But Crowell took the first reps in individual drills during the portion of Wednesday’s practice open to the media. West went second. Tate rode a stationary bike instead of practicing."
There is no confirmation that Crowell was their exclusive choice with the first team considering it only confirms he received these reps during the media portion of practice; portion being the operative word. Drawing much from this report could be misleading from a fantasy perspective.
Ben Tate will likely take carries from Isaiah Crowell. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
The Browns remain adamant that Ben Tate is their starter despite the recent success of both Crowell and West. Running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery had this to say this week.
"“That’s what we brought Tate here for, to be the starter. He’s the No. 1 running back in this offense. Right now, you can say we miss him. We miss his experience. We miss his leadership with the group. Speaking from that standpoint, we’ll be open arms and welcome to have Ben back into the fold, so he can come out and help us win more ballgames.”"
Carries is the name of the game in fantasy and with the Browns potentially working three running backs, Crowell may be hard pressed to find enough carries to justify fantasy worth; I envision something like Chris Ivory while he was in New Orleans.
Yet, Crowell continues to tease for a few reasons. First, Crowell has proven he can handle the “tough yard” carries, which means goal line work is a possibility. This reality comes with a caveat though, Crowell has three touchdowns, yet despite his goal line potential, Terrance West has two goal line touchdowns himself: 3-yard and a 9-yard carries.
Also an appealing reality is Ben Tate’s significant injury history as pointed out by Mike Wilkening. Although coach Mike Pettine says he isn’t concerned with Tate’s durability, fantasy owners must be.
When looking at Crowell’s body of work, it’s tough to decipher true value. His performance against the Steelers was impressive, but was a small sample size while the Steelers’ defense isn’t what it once was. Surprisingly, Crowell struggled against a porous Saints’ defense. This could be attributed to many things, but regardless, the Browns have a stacked offensive line and if Crowell doesn’t bust the 17-yard carry he had in the third quarter, he finishes the day with only 10 carries for 37 yards; hardly impressive. Though he did add a single catch for three yards, it brings up another point to consider. Crowell doesn’t seem to be a threat in the passing game, so PPR leagues won’t stand to benefit in this regard.
Conversely, Crowell had a fantastic game against the Ravens’ stout rush defense. Crowell had 11 carries for 55 yards, which included a 14-yard touchdown. One particular carry cost Crowell an even more impressive outing. On a pitchout in the fourth quarter, Crowell lost eight yards. Anytime a running back loses eight yards on a pitchout, it’s safe to say it likely isn’t his fault. If this carry is taken away, Crowell finishes the day with 10 carries for 63 yards and a touchdown.
Will Jordan Cameron’s presence help or hurt Isaiah Crowell and the running game. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
A couple of other factors to consider here. First, the returns of Jordan Cameron and Josh Gordon, albeit in Week 11 for Gordon, could be helpful or harmful depending on how you look at it. With Brian Hoyer as quarterback, the Browns need to be a run-first team, so the presence of these two receiving threats could actually balance a defense’s focus and stretch the field; two helpful realities for the running game. The harmful reality is that the Browns will naturally be encouraged to throw the ball more considering the immense skill of both of these players.
Finally, there’s those dynasty leagues out there. Ben Tate has a significant injury history, so his future with the team will always be in doubt. More than that, the Browns signed Tate to only a two-year deal. If need be, or if hurt, Tate could be cut and the Browns would save nearly $3 million against the cap. With players like Jabaal Sheard, Jordan Cameron, and Brian Hoyer, etc. to potentially re-sign, while possessing two talented young runners, the Browns shouldn’t hesitate to move on.
So there you have it, the mess that is the Browns’ running game and hence, Isaiah Crowell’s fantasy situation. If I own a dynasty team, I may be enticed to grab Crowell. If not, Crowell’s situation seems awfully murky going forward and roster spots are so valuable on fantasy football teams. The Browns face the Titans’ defense this week and Ben Tate is expected back. If you do choose to pick him up, be ready to move on for another player with more opportunity. If he’s still available in your league come Sunday–he’s currently only owned in 32% of Yahoo fantasy football leagues–then be sure to pay attention in case Ben Tate goes down once more.