Fantasy Football: Is Isaiah Crowell a Value as the New York Jets' Starting Running Back?
Isaiah Crowell was a popular pick in fantasy football leagues last year. The then-Cleveland Brown was, on average, the 12th running back selected and going off the board around the second to third round turn.
But after a disappointing season, Crowell left the Browns to sign with the New York Jets, and he's now an all but forgotten fantasy asset heading into 2018.
According to FantasyPros' Best-Ball Average Draft Position (ADP) data, Crowell is the 40th running back off the board this year, often lasting until the ninth round or later. Overall, the Jets' running back situation is going largely ignored for the mess that it is. Crowell's new teammate Bilal Powell is being drafted a few rounds later at RB49 while Elijah McGuire and Thomas Rawls are going undrafted in the majority of leagues.
With the renewed desire to draft running backs early and often this year, it can be difficult to find potential starters in the mid-to-late rounds of drafts. And if you miss out on running backs early, the Jets' starter is likely sitting there in Round 9 (or even later). But is Crowell the back to target in the Jets' backfield?
Should Crowell Be the Starter?
Under Todd Bowles, the Jets have been one of the more run-heavy teams in the league. Over the last three seasons, the Jets have never ranked outside the top-13 in rushing attempts in any given year, and they've ranked inside the top-10 the past two seasons.
Bowles is no stranger to having one back handle the majority of carries. In 2015, Chris Ivory finished with 247 carries -- 6th-most in the league -- and a year later Matt Forte managed 218 carries, which ranked as 15th-most that season. From a fantasy perspective, Ivory finished as the RB6 in PPR leagues that season while Forte finished as the RB21 in 2016.
With the Jets moving on from Forte this offseason, they signed Crowell and Rawls to compete with Powell and McGuire for carries. But based on their previous performances, Crowell appears to be best-suited for the Jets' lead back role come Week 1.
Crowell has started 41 games over the past 3 seasons, and he's never had fewer than 185 carries in a season during that stretch. Meanwhile, Powell's career-high is 178 and Rawls had just 147 during his breakout season in 2015.
Beat reporters have written that the Jets view Powell as a complementary back best utilized with fewer than 170 carries, and his past shows that he may be better suited for that role.
Last season, Powell had the volume, but on his carries he posted the worst success rate (a number that measures the percentage of runs that resulted in positive net expected points, NEP) of his career. In fact, among the 33 backs with at least 150 carries that year, Powell's success rate was the second-worst, better (barely) than only Ameer Abdullah (30.30%).
Powell didn't even compare favorably to his teammates in this metric. McGuire had a success rate of 31.82% on 88 carries while Forte had the best numbers on the Jets, posting a 34.95% success rate on 103 carries. For further comparison, the league-average success rate was 37.2% in 2017.
Meanwhile, Crowell's success rate has never dipped below 34.95% and he's had no fewer than 148 carries in a season.
Crowell has never been an incredibly efficient ball carrier, even falling below the 2017 league average success rate, but he's shown that he is better suited for a heavier workload. He has also proven to be extremely durable over his four-year career, never missing a game and starting all 32 for the Browns over the past 2 seasons.
Is Crowell a Fantasy Value?
With slim pickings for potential bellcow backs in the middle rounds, it can be difficult to draft a running back group you're confident in if you miss out on the run of backs early.
Still just 25 years old, Crowell is only two years removed from being the RB14 (in PPR) as a member of a Browns team that went 1-15. Maybe he's not a breakout player in 2018, but volume is king in fantasy football, and Crowell is set up for 200-plus carries out of the Jets' backfield.
Sure, the Jets might not be a great team in 2018, but game script should be better for Crowell in 2018, because it can't get much worse than it was in Cleveland last year. Even during a 5-11 season last year, Jets' running backs combined for eight top-15 scoring weeks.
Having Powell in the mix as a change-of-pace back caps Crowell's upside, but Crowell's projected volume gives him RB2 potential. He's almost always available in the ninth round, and he's a good guy to grab behind the 35 backs currently going ahead of him in drafts.