FLAFFL FEUD: Which Way Does the Crow Fly?

Welcome to the second in a new series of FLAFFL Feud articles. If you listen to the FLAFFL House podcast (Available on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/flaffl-house-podcast/id1084230452 ) then you know not everyone at FLAFFL agrees all the time. To be fair, the guys on the podcast do so well together because they really hate one another. [Editor’s Note: Steve loves everybody, Sal hates everybody and Kevin only hates Sal] 

Last week Tony Reimer and Rob Schwarz squared off in the battle of Bears fans and debated how high to draft second year running back Jordan Howard.  As a side note from your editor here, I have to say Rob won that battle and I’m fully on board with JoHo being a second round pick.

This week another hotly debated running back in up for discussion and we’ve brought in our AFC North expert Corey Snyder to battle the man who recently professed his love for the Denver Broncos’ backfield, Derek McCreath. They will tackle (get it? Tackle?) the recent buzz surrounding the polarizing Isaiah Crowell and whether or not you should be buying the hype. Enjoy!

You don’t want to be eating Crow

By Derek McCreath (@theffrx)

Cleveland Browns running back Isaiah Crowell has been getting a decent amount of buzz throughout the offseason. I’m here to tell you why you should ignore it. Listen up or you could be eating it.

Crowell started his college career at the University of Georgia where he was named the AP Freshman of the year in 2011. After some off-field issues, and his subsequent dismissal from Georgia, Crowell re-emerged at Alabama State. There he played for 2 seasons before declaring for the NFL draft in 2014. He ended up going undrafted and signing as an UDFA with the Browns. We all know NFL GM’s care about draft capital because, like anything else, the more capital you have to invest in an asset, the more committed you are going to be to using and protecting it. The capital invested in Crowell is minimal. Not to mention the fact that Crowell is only under contract through the 2017 season, after which he will be a free agent.

Just one year after bringing in Crowell as a UDFA the Browns spent their 3rd round pick, 77th overall, on Duke Johnson out of Miami. These two make up the current 1-2 punch in the Browns backfield and to my previous point, the team has significantly more capital invested in Johnson compared to Crow. It is also important to mention that Johnson is under contract through the 2018 season. While the two do profile differently, with Crowell being a better runner between the tackles for first and second down, and Johnson more of a change of pace/receiving back who is effective in space. However, Johnson was more of a workhorse back in college. As long as he is there he will continue to siphon touches away from Crowell.  As I’ve already alluded the team has more invested in him.

While many have argued that the Browns schooled everyone at this year’s draft, and they definitely are heading in the right direction, they are coming off a 1 win season. It is hard to paint a rosier picture than maybe a 4-5 win season, and that’s being optimistic. So, why is that important? Well, if the Browns are losing a lot, which is very likely, they are going to be playing pass heavy football.  This is more than likely going to feature the aforementioned Duke Johnson. While Crowell has improved in the receiving game each season since he came into the league, Johnson has had more than 50 receptions in each of his first two seasons, amassing a 114-1048-2 line over that time period.  Compare that to Crowell’s 68-588-1 in his three seasons combined and you see DJ is clearly the superior back when trailing.

In 2016, Crowell was not used very reliably or consistently. Can you guess how many times he got more than 20 carries in a game? The answer is ZERO. He only had two games in which he had 20 or more total touches, and he maxed out at 22. In fact, 22 touches in a single game is his career high and he has only had one game with 20 carries in his three years as a Brown. In 2016, Crowell had 11 games with 15 or fewer total touches. Even if you only plan to start him as your RB2 you probably aren’t going to feel as comfortable as you would starting a 20-25 touch per game guy. As I already laid out, game scripts aren’t likely to favor Crowell, so there is a high probability this sort of low volume usage continues despite Browns Head Coach, Hue Jackson, saying he wants to use him more.

 Crow’s Gonna Eat

By Corey Snyder (@csnyder128)

I get it.  Drafting Isaiah Crowell in the third or fourth round feels kind of gross.  However it is not the worst decision you will make in this year’s draft. I promise. To say that the Browns are lacking proven offensive weapons would be kind and that is the point. This team will need to find production and that will come in the form of an Isaiah Crowell monster year.       

This team has three players that have had more than 40 receptions in a season on the roster, but two of them are running backs. After letting both Terrelle Pryor and Gary Barnidge go this offseason the team has went full youth mode. Kenny Britt, who is coming off his only 1,000 yard season, is basically the only guy considered a veteran.  If that is not worrisome enough just remember that of the three quarterbacks fighting for the starting job this offseason only one has more than 130 completions in a season. That would be the salary dump himself, Brock Osweiler, who had 301 completions last season. To put this in prospective Joe Flacco had more completions in his 16 games than Kessler and Brock did in their 24 games.

This all brings me Crowell. The Browns are going to need to look somewhere for offensive production this year and it seems like a slim chance that that is coming through the air. Crowell eclipsed the 1,000 total yard mark last year seeing 198 carries and 40 receptions. Both career highs. I do not have high hopes for the Browns passing game to start in full swing this year. However, the one area they should see day one improvement from last year is the O-line. The Browns spent big in free agency, bringing in a few key additions to the line and bolstering it to the point the PFF has them ranked as the second offensive line this pre-season (profootballfocus.com).  The improved line play should help improve the offences as a whole and making life much easier for Crowell.  With only the threat of pass catching back Duke Johnson, who saw his carries drop by 25% from a year ago, Crowell will see the vast majority of the carries this year. Where Johnson saw his work load in the running game drop Crowell saw his climb for the third year in a row. It would seem Cleveland is willing to feed him the ball and they may not have a better offensive option this year. If PPR is more your thing, and these days it most likely is, it is worth noting that Crowell’s receptions more than doubled last year. This puts him in-line with the same pass catching work the team gave Johnson last year. While Johnson is the more explosive back when catching the ball out of the back field the team seems to have no issues with keeping Crowell out on the filed for all three downs. This gives him plenty of opportunities in the passing game.

Trust me, I get it. The offense is not great and the team seemingly has questions at every position.  But if there is one thing we know about the Browns this year it is that Crowell will get his. That workload behind that line should easily put him over the 1,000 yard mark making him a great pick in the early 4th round.  Crowell is not the sexy pick that will get you cheers on draft day but coming away with a player with his workload both as a runner and as a pass catcher is the right move.