With training camp right around the corner, the 1-15 Cleveland Browns have reason for a turnaround. One reason is from an unlikely position. Running back, most notably fourth-year tailback Isaiah Crowell.
Normally, when one talks or about or even mentions the Browns, the first thing that comes to mind is their perennial dysfunction at quarterback, coach and the front office. By all accounts, all three seem to have somewhat stabilized, thus giving Cleveland its first competent time period and semblance of a real NFL team.
Again, words I’d never thought I’d blog, but there is genuine reason for hope in Cleveland, thanks to both Crowell and an upgraded offensive line. In the AFC North, one has to be able to run the ball and stop the run. For years on end, Cleveland was never able to do so.
Despite all of that, Crowell was one of the few bright spots as he rushed for close to 1,000 yards (952) on 198 attempts and seven touchdowns behind a suspect and banged-up offensive line. Since his rookie year out of Alabama State, the 5’11 225-pound tailback has rushed for 2,265 yards and 19 touchdowns.
While those numbers pale in comparison to big-name running backs such as Pittsburgh’s LeVeon Bell, Philadelphia’s LeGarrette Blount and Buffalo’s LeSean McCoy, considering the instability at QB in Cleveland, such production is a godsend.
Thanks to Cleveland addressing the offensive line in free agency in signing center JC Tretter from Green Bay and right guard Kevin Zeitler from the division rival Bengals, there is no reason why Crowell can become the first Browns running back to break the 1,000 yard rushing plateau since Peyton Hillis did in 2010 with 1,177 yards.
The ever so-small fraternity of top NFL running backs consists names such as Los Angeles’ Todd Gurley, Oakland’s Marshawn Lynch and Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliott. Based on the above, there is no reason why “The Crow” will not be fed and add his name to this list.
Combine that with head coach Hue Jackson’s dedication to the run game to take pressure off of the quarterback, and the need to keep defenses honest, one can see why Crowell has the tools to do so. If his current production arc continues its upward trend from 607 rushing yards in his rookie year, 706 in 2015 and 952 in 2016, look for Crowell to join Hillis in 2017, and become the NFL’s next top running back.