Over the next few weeks, we'll be bringing you in-depth scouting reports on each of the Jets' free agent signings. We begin today with running back Isaiah Crowell.
The 25-year old Crowell is listed as 5'11 and 225 pounds and was undrafted out of Alabama State in 2014. Crowell spent his first four seasons with the Browns, rushing for 3,118 yards and catching 96 passes. He added 22 touchdowns.
Crowell was a track athlete and sought-after running back prospect in high school and ended up going to Georgia, where he was the SEC freshman of the year after rushing for 856 yards and five touchdowns.
Unfortunately, off-field issues caused Crowell to be kicked off the program before his sophomore season and he ended up enrolling at Alabama State. In two years there, he rushed for 30 touchdowns and averaged six yards per carry. He rushed for 843 yards in 2012 and 1,121 in 2013 before deciding to enter the draft early.
Crowell was invited to the scouting combine but went unselected and ended up getting signed as an undrafted free agent by the Browns. He made an instant impact there, starting four games and amassing 694 yards from scrimmage along with a career-high eight touchdowns.
His role and production increased further over the next two years as he rushed for over 700 yards in 2015 and over 950 in 2016. He also more than doubled his pass receiving output in each year, posting a career-best 40 catches for 319 yards in 2016.
In 2017, having been retained on a second-round RFA tender, Crowell's production fell off slightly, although he still averaged over four yards per carry and ended up with over 1,000 yards from scrimmage. However, he had a career-low two touchdowns.
With Duke Johnson's role increasing and the Browns expected by many to be considering whether to draft Saquon Barkley, Crowell's return seemed unlikely. The Browns opted to sign Carlos Hyde to a three-year, $15 million deal instead, with $6 million to be paid in the first year. However, Crowell joined the Jets for less than that, agreeing to a three year, $12 million deal with just $4 million fully guaranteed at signing.
Let's look in more detail at what Crowell brings to the table, based on in-depth research and film study.
Crowell has primarily been employed as a conventional running back. As with any back, he'll motion out wide or into the slot from time to time, but mainly just as a decoy. Even this seemed to be happening less and less as the versatile Duke Johnson's role was increasing over the past two seasons.
As you can see, Crowell posted some good numbers at the combine but his 40-time was underwhelming:
In addition, he ran the agility drills at his pro day and the numbers he posted were poor.
Nevertheless, he displays speed, quickness and an explosive burst on film and has a powerful frame.
Crowell has obviously proven an ability to be a productive back over the past four seasons. He was almost a thousand-yard back and has six 100-yard games, including four in 2016.
Over the last four years, Crowell has been one of the backs with the highest usage in the league, although he's actually never carried more than 20 times in an NFL game.
Crowell's quick feet, sharp cuts and ability to run through tackles are all on display on this electric touchdown run from his rookie year:
While he has the speed to get to the edge, a review of his run splits appears to show that he is usually at his most effective running between the tackles. What you'll commonly see from Crowell is that he hits the hole decisively and then if he gets out to the second level, he's adept at avoiding the hit in space to potentially turn a six-to-eight yard gain into a big play.
In his career, he's had 23 rushes of over 20 yards and another six of more than 40. To provide context, Bilal Powell has 19 and four in his entire seven-year career - although actually Crowell has carried 26 more times than Powell. He has shown breakaway speed in the past, although he's only really taken a long run the distance on one occasion - an 85-yard burst against the Ravens in 2016.
Crowell runs with power and has the strength to break tackles in the open field. Here's a nasty stiff arm on Preston Brown:
Alhough Crowell has 22 career touchdowns, actually only eight of them have come from inside the three yard line and only three from the one-yard line. In 2017, he simply wasn't getting those opportunities, as he posted a career-low two touchdown runs.
Nevertheless, Crowell has a good nose for the goal line and solid numbers on 3rd or 4th-and-short (112 yards on 40 carries in his career).
Here were a couple of short-yardage scores he had against the 49ers - one on a gadget play where they snuck him into the game at fullback and the other on a more conventional plunge.
The Jets have not been great in short yardage in recent years and Crowell probably runs with more power than Bilal Powell and Elijah McGuire so this is a role that he could make his next year.
Like most backs, Crowell generates most of his pass-catching production on underneath dump-offs and screen passes. With his open field running ability, these plays can be productive as he's too fast for most linebackers and a mismatch for any defensive back if he meets them in the open field at full speed:
In recent years, there's only be a few signs that he's developing into more of a receiving threat than just a safety valve. With Johnson added to the mix in 2016, the need for him to contribute there evaporated and that may have slowed down his development. He did make this big play down the field:
Otherwise, Crowell doesn't really display much in the way of route running prowess. His other downfield catches have been more of the "coming back to the ball when the quarterback keeps a broken play alive" variety. He displays some good hands here to come up with a pass thrown slightly behind him:
On the whole, Crowell doesn't get many chances to show off his hands. He had five drops in 2016, mostly due to poor concentration, but only has two others in his career. His hands let him down on this costly pitch play last year though:
Crowell had three fumbles in his rookie year, but only has three in three years since then, including the above play.
Crowell has plenty of experience of staying in to pass protect and his numbers have generally been below average. He's been in the top five in the league in terms of most pressure surrendered in the past two seasons and has given up a few sacks a year on average.
These clips from the Steelers game outline a couple of his issues. On the first play, his base is not strong enough and he allows the rusher to move him off his spot, leading to a sack. On the next one, he gets across quickly to pick up the blitz but doesn't anchor himself and is unable to lock onto the block in time to prevent the inside move:
With DeShone Kizer at quarterback and Duke Johnson sometimes in the game with Crowell in two-back sets, there were sometimes opportunities to get out in front of a ball carrier and throw a block.
Crowell has committed four penalties in his NFL career and all of them have been while blocking. He was called for a chop block, an illegal block in the back, offensive holding and illegal hands to the face. Three of these were last season.
Crowell hasn't played much on special teams during his NFL career, filling in very occasionally in kick or punt coverage, as a punt rusher or blocking on the return unit. He has two special teams tackles in his career, plus another two in preseason action.
Crowell's vision is one of his best attributes, as is his decisiveness when picking a hole. He also shows some good instincts in the open field. This cutback probably added another 25-30 yards onto this run and might have led to a touchdown if the official didn't get in the way:
There were no obvious signs of blown assignments or mental errors from watching Crowell's film.
Crowell has courted controversy at times over the years and, generally speaking is extremely confident, demonstrative and outspoken. He made many comments about his contractual status last season, for example, as he regularly campaigned for more touches and many fans lost patience with him.
Crowell was kicked out of Georgia's program after he was arrested on firearms offenses. That apparently came off the back of a failed drug test as well. Those factors no doubt contributed to his going undrafted and may have impacted on the contract he ended up signing with the Jets.
There was more controversy during the 2016 offseason when he posted a controversial image to social media. He apologized and donated a game check to local police in an effort to make amends. Hopefully this is something he has learned a lesson from.
Crowell has been healthy throughout his NFL career, playing in all 16 games in each of his four seasons and starting all 32 games over the past two years.
In college, he had a high ankle sprain during his freshman year, missing one game and limited in another.
Crowell's decisiveness, burst and open field playmaking ability should make him an ideal fit for the zone blocking scheme the Jets are expected to introduce under new running game coordinator Rick Dennison. The Browns use both zone and man/power concepts.
From watching the film, the Browns often ran out of an I-formation, which the Jets didn't do very often last year but might do more of in the new system.
Crowell is a former teammate of recently re-signed starting quarterback Josh McCown. Crowell has also been a teammate of Buster Skrine and his time in Georgia overlapped briefly with that of Jordan Jenkins, although he was dismissed before they played together.
Crowell has been a productive and valuable back over the past few years, which is why its surprising the Jets were able to get him signed to such a modest deal.
It seems like Crowell will be a good scheme fit and he brings a couple of attributes to the table which the current group lacks; namely durability and an ability to run between the tackles with power.
Given the size of Crowell's deal and the fact that recent Jets teams have typically carried four running backs, it's not impossible that they will still use a draft pick up another one. However, the pressure on that player to make an immediate impact will be mitigated with Crowell on board to complement Powell and McGuire.
This seems like a good pick up with a low downside. The Jets aren't committed to Crowell beyond this year, but can retain him for a reasonable price for two more seasons if he produces like he has in the past and boosts the running game as the Jets hope.