After a hiatus of a few years, 2017 is the year fantasy football running backs are back. Of course, no one knows for sure if this year’s backs will match the red zone production of last year’s. However, running backs will still go early and often in many fantasy drafts for this coming this season.
There will be a rush on running backs in the early rounds and that will open up favorable opportunities for talent at other positions. While Le’Veon Bell, Ezekiel Elliott, and David Johnson, among others, will be long gone by the third round, a certain Browns running back is someone for fantasy football owners to keep an eye on. In 2017, Isaiah Crowell is a solid RB1 option that won’t cost a first or second round pick.
Isaiah Crowell is an RB1 in 2017
Based on a number of 2017 Fantasy Football rankings, Crowell is only about a Top 40 player. On top of this, Crowell is figuring to fall in at around RB15. Most fantasy football rankings will have at least five running backs in their top ten. This means that the cream of the crop of the backfield will likely go in the first round of most fantasy drafts. However, it is possible to look elsewhere for a productive running back. Snatching a more than competent RB1 in the fourth round could be instrumental in winning a fantasy league championship. At only 24 years old, Isaiah Crowell is a player who has yet to hit his prime and could thus be a useful value pick.
Crowell is Exception to the Rule
At first, some may question starting a Browns player at any position, let alone one of the most important in fantasy football. However, Crowell makes a strong case for being the exception to the rule. To begin, Crowell is entering his fourth season in the NFL. In his three previous seasons, he has only continued to improve. From 2014 until 2016, his rushing yardage has hiked from 607 yards, to 706 yards, to 952 yards. Furthermore, his receiving yards have also increased from 87 yards, to 182 yards, to 319 yards last year. This trend looks likely to continue as the Browns can only improve from their last few seasons. After a draft that brought in three first-round talents and an off-season of proven veteran signings, the Browns are hopeful for brighter days ahead.
Improved Offensive Line
One of the ways Hue Jackson and company looked to make improvements heading into 2017 is by beefing up the offensive line. The signing of veteran interior linemen Kevin Zeitler and JC Tretter will make waves in helping Crowell finally eclipse the 1,000-yard mark. These additions should also help in the pass game which could lead to the Browns sustaining longer drives. In his previous three seasons, Crowell’s highest touchdown count came in 2014 when he found the endzone eight times. If the Browns offense can get rolling, the improved offensive line could inspire more rushing attempts in the red zone.
Running Back by Committee Should Not Be An Issue
One concern fantasy owners often have with running backs is the increased usage of “running back by committee” systems. In Cleveland, Crowell is likely to split time again with Duke Johnson. However, this should not be a deal-breaker. Johnson has assumed the role of the passing down back while Crowell is the clear starter. This is demonstrated by the fact that Johnson’s receiving totals have been greater than his rushing totals in his first two years, and Crowell’s had more than twice the rushing attempts of Johnson in the same time frame.
Hue Jackson’s Comments
While all signs mentioned above point at a promising season for Crowell, one of the best indicators of future success comes straight from the top. Coach Hue Jackson has said in the off-season that he beat himself up, and rightfully so, for not running Crowell more in 2016. Looking at the top 20 rushers of 2016, only one back had fewer than 200 carries. That back was Crowell. Jackson blamed a reccurring theme of having to play from behind as a cause of this, but emphasized that he hopes to get back to running the offense his way. This would entail getting the rock to Crowell early and often. He states, “I think Crowell is poised for a big year. He deserves it.”
With a repeated improvement in stats, an upgraded offensive line, and a promise from the head coach to run the ball more, look to snag Crowell somewhere between the third and fifth round in fantasy drafts. It could go a long way towards winning a fantasy championship.