Fantasy Football PPR Battle: Tevin Coleman or Isaiah Crowell

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It all started with a Fantasy Football Twitter poll.

Who will be the better PPR fantasy running back in 2017?

A)  Isaiah Crowell
B)  Tevin Coleman

These are two 24-year-old running backs whose respective teams were at opposite ends of the success spectrum last season. Crowell suffered through a 1-15 season with the Cleveland Browns while Coleman was an integral part of the Atlanta Falcons trip to the Super Bowl. Yet both produced fairly similar fantasy football statistical seasons.

Name Rus. Att. Rush. Yds AVG TD Targets RECPT YDS TD FL PPR FPTS
Isaiah Crowell 198 952 4.81 7 52 40 319 0 2 152
Tevin Coleman 118 520 4.41 8 40 31 421 3 0 144

 

Crowell is the better between the tackles runner but is on a much worse offense. Coleman is the better receiver (missed three games due to injury) but shares backfield touches with Devonta Freeman.

It’s time to answer the question:  Who will be the better PPR fantasy back in 2017?
(All statistics from PlayerProfiler).

Fantasy Football PPR Battle: Tevin Coleman or Isaiah Crowell

Fantasy Football Tale of the Tape: Isaiah Crowell

First, we’ll take a closer look at Cleveland’s fourth year running back, Isaiah Crowell. He has been a solid NFL running back during his first three years (NFL.com).

Year Games GS Ru. Att Ru. Yds YPC TDs Recs Yards YPR Long TDs
2016 16 16 198 952 4.8 7 40 319 8 44 0
2015 16 9 185 706 3.8 4 19 182 9.6 53 1
2014 16 4 148 607 4.1 8 9 87 9.7 19 0

 

Several things of note here. First, Crowell has not missed a game in his first three NFL seasons. Next, his rushing attempts, rushing yards, receptions, and receiving yards have all increased each season. Crowell is durable and has consistently improved each and every year.

Better yet, Isaiah Crowell has done all of this while running behind a poor run-blocking offensive line and with below average quarterback production. The Browns have ranked 28th and 17th the last two seasons in run blocking efficiency as per PlayerProfiler. Whether it was Brian Hoyer, Johnny Manziel, Josh McCown, Robert Griffin, or Cody Kessler, Crowell has never enjoyed the luxury of an even average NFL quarterback.

Despite those challenges, Crowell produced a strong fantasy season in 2016. He ranked 20th among all fantasy running backs in PPR points per game (12.9), and 15th (10.3) in standard scoring leagues. He was tenth at the position in total yards after contact and finished sixth with an average of 1.6 yards after contact per touch. Most impressive were his 13 breakaway runs (15 yards or more) despite playing behind that poor offensive line.

Will the Browns offensive line be any better in 2017? Will quarterback Cody Kessler or rookie DeShone Kizer be able to keep opposing defenses balanced? Those are the key questions to answer before drafting Isaiah Crowell.

Fantasy Football Tale of the Tape: Tevin Coleman

Now lets look at the third year Atlanta running back, Tevin Coleman.

Year Games GS Ru. Att Ru. Yds YPC TDs Recs Yards YPR Long TDs
2016 13 0 118 520 4.4 8 31 421 14 49 3
2015 12 3 87 392 4.5 1 2 14 7 10 0

 

Coleman took a huge step forward in efficiency in 2016. Despite playing only one more game than 2015, he improved in every offensive category including a big increase in receptions. Coleman ranked 19th among all fantasy running backs in PPR points per game (14.7) and 17th in standard points per game (12.3). His 11 total touchdowns also ranked ninth among all fantasy running backs.

With only a 44.7 percent Snap Share, Coleman’s upside appears limited. However, the Falcons offense is so potent that his scoring opportunities will still be equivalent to many other top running backs. But there is one major unknown variable with Coleman’s projection, that does not exist with Isaiah Crowell.

The Falcons hired a new offensive coordinator, Steve Sarkisian.

The former USC head coach last worked in the NFL as a quarterback coach for the Oakland Raiders in 2004. Sarkisian’s play-calling tendencies from college lean towards more man blocking schemes, which should produce more rushing opportunities for Coleman. But there is genuine concern in Atlanta about whether a college coach with only one year of NFL experience can keep the Falcons offense at the top of the league.

The roadblock to even greater production for Tevin Coleman is the large presence of Devonta Freeman. With a ninth place finish among all running backs with 1,079 rushing yards and fifth place ranking of 462 receiving yards, Freeman remains the lead running back heading into the 2017 season. It is important to note that Freeman enters the final year of his contract and has not yet signed an extension.

Could Atlanta start a transition to Tevin Coleman as their true RB1, or are those that believe in a Coleman breakout simply waiting for Freeman to get hurt?

The Verdict

The Twitter poll oscillated back and forth over the 50 percent line during the 24 hour posting. It was not until the last hour that the winner became clear. Did the Twitter community get it right?

Tevin Coleman produced an amazingly efficient season in 2016. He had the highest Production Premium (+50.9) of any NFL running back, meaning he was more productive across league average situations than any other NFL running back. Coleman was second in fantasy points per touch and seventh in fantasy points per opportunity. His 4.44 (90th Percentile) 40-yard-dash time at 206 pounds makes Tevin Coleman a top offensive weapon.

But he will not be the better PPR running back in 2017.

Isaiah Crowell suffered through poor offensive line and quarterback play and still managed a solid PPR fantasy RB2 season. He has continuity with coach Hue Jackson and is the undeniable goal line back for Cleveland. Crowell also caught 40 passes last season, proving he is more than just a between the tackles grinder.

With their current ADPs separated by just one spot, it is important to make the right draft day selection between these polarizing running backs. In this case, the Twitter community made the right choice.

Isaiah Crowell will be the better PPR running back in 2017.

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