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What You Need to Know
- Crowell’s 3rd NFL season was his best so far. He finished 14th among RBs in PPR and non-PPR points.
- He should return to the same role in 2017 as Cleveland’s lead ball-carrier — and a significant part of the passing game.
- The Browns upgraded the offensive line in free agency and now sport 1 of the best-looking groups in the league.
Crowell turned in something of a breakout 2016 campaign. He set career highs across the board with 198 carries, 952 rushing yards, 40 catches and 319 rushing yards. His 7 scores were up 2 from 2015 but trailed his 8 rookie-year TDs.
Bloated yards per carry
Crowell’s biggest jump came in the yards-per-carry department. After tallying marks of 4.1 and 3.8, respectively, in his first 2 seasons, he busted off 4.8 last year. That ranked 9th among 42 RBs who carried 100+ times.
Crowell wasn’t quite as good as that mark suggests, though. It was boosted by runs of 85 and 67 yards. Remove those and his yards per carry drops to 4.1. Crowell failed to reach 4.1 yards per carry in 9 of 16 games, including 7 of his final 9.
But let’s not dump on him too much. Crowell managed to rank 14th among RBs in both PPR and non-PPR points — despite playing on the league’s 31st-ranked scoring offense. And he ran behind an offensive line that finished 28th in Football Outsiders’ Adjusted Line Yards. Crowell, meanwhile, ranked 8th among 42 qualifying RBs in Football Outsiders’ DVOA.
Crowell also emerged as a weapon in the passing game. After totaling just 28 grabs over his first 2 seasons, he racked up 40 last year. He posted a nice 75.5% catch rate and 8.0 yards catch. His 6.02 yards per target ranked a solid 19th out of 42 RBs with 30+ targets.
What to expect in 2017
The Browns return the same backfield duo of Crowell and Duke Johnson. Crowell out-carried his teammate 198 to 73 last year. And considering they combined for 4.8 yards per carry, there’s no reason for the Browns to go away from that 73/27 split.
The team’s total rushing volume figures to grow, though. Cleveland’s 350 total carries last year tied for dead last. That was at least in some part due to the fact that they went 1-15 and were often playing from behind. Any step forward in 2017 (and it’d be tough for them not to take a step forward) should mean more running.
Even more important for Crowell are the upgrades the Browns made to the offensive line in free agency. They gave a 5-year, $60 million deal to Kevin Zeitler, who was Pro Football Focus’ 7th-best G last year. And they inked C J.C. Tretter to a 3-year, $16.75 million contract. He spent much of his time in Green Bay as a backup but impressed when he got on the field. The 2 new guys join rising star LG Joel Bitonio and future Hall of Fame LT Joe Thomas to form 1 of the best-looking offensive lines in the game.
Crowell should also remain busy in the passing game. Johnson actually bested him last year in targets (73), catches (54) and receiving yards (514) and figures to do the same in 2017. But Cleveland lost its top 2 targets from a year ago in WR Terrelle Pryor and TE Gary Barnidge, who combined for 222 looks. New arrivals Kenny Britt and David Njoku will soak up most of those. And Corey Coleman is set to play a bigger role in his 2nd season. But Crowell should at least approach the 53 targets he saw last year.
Draft Sharks Bottom Line:
Crowell finished 14th among RBs in fantasy points last year, despite playing in the league’s 31st-ranked offense and behind a subpar offensive line.
The Browns upgraded the O-line in free agency, and the entire offense should at least take a small step forward in 2017. (And maybe a big one if they can find competent QB play.)
That means good things for Crowell, who should maintain his role as a lead ball-carrier and a contributor in the passing game. He’d make a fine RB2 and an excellent RB3 for your squad.