The Cleveland Browns are looking for more consistency from the running back position after they finished 17th in the league in total rushing in 2014, but neither Terrance West nor Isaiah Crowell turned many heads in Thursday’s 11-10 preseason loss to the Buffalo Bills.
Here is a look at how the two rushers stacked up in Cleveland’s second preseason game:
The lack of touchdowns from West and Crowell jumps out for fantasy players, but the small sample size matters here. Jalen Parmele and Timothy Flanders are probably not going to steal carries from the two regulars during the season, barring injury. That means West and Crowell will have more chances to find the end zone when the games count than their 16 combined carries from Thursday.
Crowell managed to score eight touchdowns in 2014, although West only scored four times on the ground.
Touchdowns are the lifeblood of fantasy football from the running back position, and the lack of preseason scores is concerning. The Browns were a dismal 27th in the league in scoring offense in 2014 and don’t exactly put up a ton of points, so there is little reason to expect a significant increase in touchdowns this year, especially for Crowell after notching a solid eight.
West and Crowell didn’t do much to inspire fantasy owners’ confidence Thursday, either, once again failing to reach the end zone.
The yards-per-carry numbers (3.8 from West and 2.8 from Crowell) were also concerning, and neither running back tallied a catch. The two backs combined for only 20 catches throughout the entire 2014 season, so the failure to get involved in the passing game was not a surprise. That severely limits their fantasy value because so many running backs do put up solid reception totals every season.
West and Crowell also only ran for 16 combined yards in the preseason opener against Washington.
Coach Mike Pettine reassured fans the running backs were fine in the aftermath of that game, per Tom Reed of the Northeast Ohio Media Group: “No, we have a plan. It is a long preseason. Obviously, Terrance coming off the injury and Crow probably having too heavy a load at practice, I am not going to hit the panic button after the first preseason game about our run game. We will be fine.”
Alas, West and Crowell failed to impress again in their second preseason opportunity.
The only silver lining if you are a fantasy football player eyeing West is the fact that he received the start and more carries throughout the game. Dave Richard of CBS Sports noticed:
Had West taken full advantage of the start, fantasy owners would likely feel more confident. At this point, it is a safe assumption the two Cleveland running backs will split carries this season, which is a fantasy death sentence at the running back position.
What’s more, opposing defenses will likely stack the box against the Browns because quarterbacks Johnny Manziel and Josh McCown are not exactly Aaron Rodgers under center. That will mean less rushing room for West and Crowell and fewer yards.
As if that’s not enough, rookie running back Duke Johnson hovers over any fantasy hype for West and Crowell like an impending cloud. While he is yet to appear in a preseason game with injury concerns, the rookie running back was explosive at Miami and tallied 1,652 rushing yards and 13 total touchdowns in 2014.
Parmele and Flanders may not steal carries from West and Crowell, but Johnson certainly will when healthy. He has too much talent to ignore moving forward, especially since Cleveland’s running game has been so lackluster early in the preseason.
All of these factors combined do not paint the picture of a No. 1 running back option in fantasy circles. Neither Cleveland back holds great value until one completely seizes a starting role and sees a significant boost in carries, and the preseason production does not suggest that will ever happen.
If anything, Johnson could ultimately earn the spot if he looks like the back fans saw at Miami.
At this point, Crowell and West are worth a flex option at best for your fantasy lineup (although the wide receiver position is so loaded this year that you may be better off slotting a pass-catcher in the flex). Crowell scored enough touchdowns in 2014, but he is yet to find the end zone in the preseason and will split carries against loaded defensive fronts in an offense that doesn’t put up many points.
He also didn’t start in Thursday’s game.
It is only the preseason, but neither Browns back brings value as a pass-catcher, and the touchdown totals are bound to dip for Crowell if West starts and tallies more carries and Johnson sees opportunities. Proceed with caution if you plan on drafting a Cleveland running back.
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