2017 Positional Previews, Browns

What does Isaiah Crowell need to do to achieve greatness?

It doesn’t seem real, but it’s close. It doesn’t seem possible, but it is. It requires multiple double takes and eye rubbing, but the numbers are right there. I’m talking of course about Isaiah Crowell’s place in the history of Browns running backs.

Despite not having a 1000 yard rushing year, Crowell is already No. 12 on the all-time rushing list. Three years, 48 games, 531 carries, and 2,265 yards puts him within reach of history that most fans can recite from memory: Byner, Motley, Mack, heck even the Pruitt’s are within reach. We already know that Isaiah wants to be considered a Top 5 running back in the league, so why not a Top 5 running back in team history? How much does Hue Jackson have to feed The Crow to get him into that rarified air?

First things first, let’s get the contract out of the way. Crowell is an unrestricted free agent after this season but has expressed interest in staying with the team. As stated by the great Josh Poloha, the Browns want to sign him to an extension, but he has hired agent Drew Rosenhaus so an extension would be costly. Given that information, let’s split the difference: a two year, $11.5 million extension. Money might seem a bit steep, but is lower than Devonta Freeman’s cost and gets our guy two years to make his mark on the Browns record books.

Two years is not a long time in running back years but in a run heavy offense, including one year with an expected rookie starting quarterback, Crowell should see an increase in touches. How much of an increase you may ask? Last year, he set a personal high with 198 carries and 40 receptions for 238 touches. With Duke Johnson Jr. getting more time in the slot, Crowell will see more rushes/fewer receptions, which is what we are measuring here anyway. Johnson got 73 carries and 53 receptions. If you take even 20 carries away from Johnson and give them to Crowell, at 4.8 yards per attempt (his YPC last year), you get a 1,048-yard season.  Replicating last year’s output along with the projected addition will give Crowell 3,313 yards for his career. If you do that twice more, for his two years after 2017 in which he is still signed for, Crowell has 5,407 yards rushing, good for No. 5 all time ahead of Earnest Byner, Marion Motley and Kevin Mack, within a few variance yards of Greg Pruitt.

All of this is well and good, and projections are almost always seem to be sunshine and rainbows. When the rubber meets the road, how likely is all of this to happen? The concocted situation set up above is admittedly a very insulated and is very much is a “best case scenario” look at Crowell’s future production. Even if you take out the “increase” and replicate his 2016 production, he gets to 5,160 which is still above Mack and the others. It’s easy to see this happening, but it does depend on the contract situation.

With an improved offensive line and Duke playing more on the outside where he is more useful, Crowell is the bellcow back that is needed for the young offense as a help for Deshone Kizer. His is the running type, the downhill style that bruises defenses, that will keep him on the field and keep the offense churning out first down after first down, even with a receiving corps that leaves much to be desired. A 4.3 YPC average for his career, Crowell is more than capable of becoming a league rushing leader. Hopefully, some sort of extension can be worked out and we can all say we were there to see one of the greats perform.

It’s time to feed The Crow; he’s hungry.

Other 2017 Cleveland Browns preview articles at WFNY