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The Gut Check No.457: Isaiah Crowell - Footballguys

Don't trust Isaiah Crowell but can't sell high? Matt Waldman analyzes Crowell and the Jets' ground game and shows what to expect for the rest of the season. 

The Gut Check likes exploring sticky problems and Isaiah Crowell is one of them. Despite delivering the eight-best totals of any running back in standard leagues, Isaiah Crowell has been a boom-bust fantasy starter thus far.

  • Week 1 vs. Detroit: 10 carries, 102 yards, and 2 touchdowns.
  • Week 2 vs. Miami: 12 carries, 35 yards and 2 receptions for 4 yards.
  • Week 3 vs. Cleveland: 16 carries, 34 yards, and 2 touchdowns and 2 receptions for 17 yards.
  • Week 4 vs. Jacksonville: 4 carries, 0 yards and 1 reception for 3 yards.
  • Week 5 vs. Denver: 15 carries, 219 yards, 1 touchdown, and 1 reception for 12 yards.

Based on the volume alone, Crowell is a committee back with Bilal Powell who has earned red zone touches and big-play runs. If you're only looking at the data and not exploring the on-field context, this is the end of the story; Crowell is a boom-bust guy and not one you can really trust. Stay away or hope to get lucky.

It's a dumb ending that will keep you sleepless at night because many of you with Crowell have tried to trade him but learned what you'll have to give up to get an upgrade isn't always feasible. Now you're stuck with him as one of your potential starters for at least a few more weeks and you don't want to rely solely on luck.

What if you can learn how Crowell and the Jets are winning in the run game and which teams could provide the best match-ups? It could prevent you from making a desperation trade for a running back that involves giving up another player you really can't afford to lose.

It would allow you to seek additional help at a cheaper price — acquiring a quality flex-receiver from waivers or a lesser trade while managing your weekly lineups to maximize your best matchup opportunities. Then you can use Crowell where he has the best shot of delivering his highs while lessening your risk on weeks where he's more likely to underperform.

This sounds great to everyone but most of you won't trust the prognostications on a weekly basis. Yours truly had success projecting the Patriots fantasy cluster-duck of a backfield and receiving corps a few years ago based on film review but many of you were a little late to the party and wanted some future hand-holding.

Before we look at the tape, know that Crowell and Bilal Powell are a true committee with essentially a 50-50 split in touches:

  • Crowell and Powell essentially have similar volume based on down-and-distance situations.
  • The duo earns a near-even split of the workload during the first and third quarters.
  • Crowell earns more touches in the second quarter.
  • Powell earns more touches in the fourth quarter.
  • Don't get too wrapped up in this because game-script has been likely a factor.
  • The only difference between the pair in terms of game-script is that Powell has earned 10 more carries than Crowell in tie games. There's not enough data here to draw a conclusion.
  • The touches based on field position are also even.

The only thing that the data shows at this point is that Crowell has generated bigger plays than Powell despite having similar down-and-distance, quarter-to-quarter, game-script, and field-position opportunities. Despite Crowell outscoring Powell five touchdowns to one, Powell has performed well enough that we should not expect a change to the Jets' workload formula.

The reason Crowell is the focus of this piece is this big-play differential that has elevated him to a top-10 fantasy producer when Powell is a high-end flex-play in three-back fantasy lineups. We know what Powell is, but there's an opportunity to use Crowell's volatility to our advantage.

Here's what the tape tells us about Crowell's skills, the Jets ground game, the defenses it works against, and what we hope to expect as the season unfolds.

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