Isaiah Crowell seems to be trending in the right direction as it relates to his fantasy football prospects. He finished last season as a top-15 fantasy running back regardless of format (thanks in part to his 40 receptions) as he provided double-digit fantasy point in half of his games.
2016 Season Recap
Coming into Cleveland last season, new head coach Hue Jackson had a reputation for running the ball. As Oakland’s offensive coordinator in 2010, the Raiders finished second in the NFL in rushing yards and tied for second in rushing touchdowns. As the head coach in 2011, Oakland ranked seventh in both categories. After moving on to the Bengals, Jackson was named offensive coordinator prior to the 2014 season in which Cincinnati finished sixth in yards and second in touchdowns on the ground. In 2015, even though the yardage slipped somewhat (13th), the Bengals still finished tied for fourth in rushing touchdowns.
Even though the Browns didn’t enjoy near as much success running the football last season, some of that can be attributed to the fact that the team was trailing early and often. That meant having to abandon the run, which is why Cleveland finished tied for last in rushing attempts. That’s not what you want to see if you decide to invest in a Browns running back, until you discover that the Browns still finished 19th in yards and tied for 16th in rushing touchdowns and, perhaps most impressively, second in yards per carry (4.9). So when Cleveland did run the ball, the offense was effective and did so quite a bit around the goal line. The Browns ran the ball 62 percent of the time when inside the 5-yard line (eighth highest rate in league) and converted half of those attempts into touchdowns (seventh).
Those numbers are reasons to be bullish on Crowell, who ran the ball 198 times for 952 yards and seven touchdowns, averaging a robust 4.8 yards per carry in the process. He also caught 40 of 53 targets for 319 yards to give him 1,271 total yards from scrimmage. His numbers certainly don’t jump off of the page, but he showed plenty of promise and has a head coach who was willing to feed him the ball.
This offseason, the Browns tendered Crowell with a second-round value, all but assuring they were holding onto him as they look to sign him to a long-term deal. More importantly, Cleveland signed guard Kevin Zeitler and center JC Tretter in free agency, bolstering an offensive line that already was set on the left side with tackle Joe Thomas and guard Joel Bitonio. This further underlines the Browns’ commitment to running the ball and is a huge plus for Crowell's fantasy outlook this year.
Where to Draft
While an old-school fantasy owner won't draft Crowell just because of where he plays, a forward-thinking owner will value Crowell based on his improving skills, O-line and expected volume in a run-centric offense. He's not a bad pick once you get to the latter part of Round 3 and early into Round 4.
— Written by Michael Horvath, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Horvath is a Canadian who also happens to be a fantasy football (not to be confused with CFL) and fitness nut. Follow him on Twitter @realmikehorvath.
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