Isaiah Crowell is a Starter in The Making, And Cleveland Knows It
Undrafted free agent rookie Isaiah Crowell isn’t just carving out playing time for the Cleveland Browns with his play, he is skyrocketing onto the field with as much hype as an undrafted Dynasty league prospect can muster (although it will never be more than this awesome video). Crowell isn’t just poised for a larger role in Cleveland sooner rather than later, he is poised to add a dimension to the Browns backfield that they have been searching for years to find.
If you follow any bit of college football, or even just fantasy, then you surely know Crowell’s story by now: Five-star recruit to Georgia, wins SEC Freshman of the year over 2014’s #1 overall talent Jadeveon Clowney, and subsequently is removed from the team for gun charges that never ended up sticking in the first place. Following two years at Alabama State, Crowell received mixed reviews from head coach and former NFL player Reggie Barlow, who all but outright called Crowell a selfish player who was more concerned about his own future than the present predicament of his team, we presume because he didn’t play through more injuries than the coach would have liked. He didn’t question his talent, however.
Selfish, or self-preservation? Either way, perception of Crowell’s character certainly hurt his draft stock, despite not running into any legal issues since joining Alabama State, and having the initial charges against him dropped. Whether Crowell is a good person or not, one thing is clear: He is a hell of a football player, and hasn’t been into any sort of notable trouble in years.
Crowell was contacted by over 20 different NFL teams after the draft, but he chose the Browns because GM Ray Farmer was the only one to contact him personally, and the situation seemed like a good fit too — oft-injured Ben Tate essentially coming in on a rental deal, and only third-round pick Terrance West ahead of him.
Or so he thought…
An early injury forced Crowell to miss a portion of camp, and then sub-par effort in practice caused Crowell to fall as far as 5th on the RB depth chart. Of course, with Crowell’s talent, all he needed to do was get on the field and prove his worth, right? That almost didn’t happen, too. It took until the fourth preseason game for Crowell to get any amount of carries worth noting, which is a clear sign of a player on the roster bubble. If Crowell was going to make a move, he had to do it in one shot. And that’s exactly what he did.
Isaiah Crowell didn’t just look good in the final preseason game against Chicago, he looked like he belonged on another level from the rest of the players on the field, which is exactly what Ray Farmer and company wanted to see. Crowell rushed for 102 yards and a TD on 13 carries, and looked every-bit the five star recruit that won the SEC Freshman of the year.
At 5-11, 225 pounds, Crowell has the prototypical size NFL scouts hope for in an every-down back. And at 21 years old (he’ll turn 22 in January), he has plenty of room still to grow as both a player, and a person. On the field, Crowell possesses a rare combination of power, vision and acceleration that recalls a mixture of Marshawn Lynch and Chris Ivory, but without Ivory’s reckless abandon that has resulted in so many injuries. At 225 pounds, Crowell looks like he is shot out of a cannon when he finds a hole, and he’s extremely economical in his movements, similar to Maurice Jones-Drew in his glory years. Crowell is a true-blue cut-and-go runner, and boy can he go.
It only took that one preseason performance, on the roster bubble, for the Browns to realize he was just too talented to cut, so instead they got rid of long-time staple Chris Ogbonnaya and promising third-down back Dion Lewis to make room for him. And just like that, Crowell went from 5th on the depth chart to 3rd.
When Ben Tate went down with an injury in Week 1, Crowell’s moment to establish himself as the real deal finally came. Now the #2 RB, Crowell received just five carries against Pittsburgh, but went for 32 yards and two touchdowns, one of which was 14 yards out. The rapid productivity in the endzone had many fans already calling it the “Crowzone.” Crowell was never supposed to be a part of the week one plan, being third on the depth chart, but when his number was called upon in limited opportunities, he once again shined.
In week two and three, we saw more of the same from Crowell. With only 11 carries in both, Crowell put up nearly identical stats of 11 carries for 54 and 55 yards respectively, with yet another 10+ yard touchdown coming in week 3. Crowell didn’t just look like a promising talent anymore, he was starting to look like the best running back on the roster, or in the very least better than #2 back Terrance West, who has averaged just 3.4 YPC in the two games following his own week one emergence.
Since then, Crowell has received some limited work ahead of West in practice, however the significance of such a thing was downplayed by the team. With Tate likely returning this week, things are going to get quite muddled in the Cleveland backfield, but the Browns know they have to involve Crowell going forward, because he may very well be their future, if not their present.
If you are in a Dynasty league and looking to acquire Isaiah Crowell, now is the time to do it (actually three weeks ago was, yikes!). Crowell’s value is sky-high right now in the minds of owners, but your best shot of getting him will be to sell the story of a 3-back committee approach from the Browns. If you’re lucky, that’s exactly what will happen, and should you be declined you may be able to return with another trade offer in two games if Crowell isn’t receiving many carries, or if he stumbles at his first opportunity to take on a significant load. Make no mistake, however, Crowell has shown at every opportunity that he has the skills to be a future stud in this league, and it’s only a matter of time until talent wins out. In the NFL, it always does.
If you expect to pick in the mid-late rounds of your draft, Crowell will prove to be worth your first round pick, especially in deep-rostered Dynasty leagues, so don’t be afraid to acquire him for what you can, and sit and wait on him to emerge if you have to. My bet is he’ll be arriving to fantasy stardom by the end of the season, or the start of next season. Dynasty leagues are all about evaluating talent, and taking shots on guys you like, and you’ll be hard-pressed to review Crowell’s games thus far (even dating back to his final preseason stint) and not fall in love with what you see.
Remember, it’s always better to miss on guys you like in Dynasty leagues than miss out on them. Have some conviction, make an evaluation, and go out and get the Crow while you can if you feel the same as I do.