Isaiah Crowell remains on the open market after a 2019 season lost to an Achilles injury. However, as his top-ranked performance by Offensive Share Metric (OSM) for the New York Jets from 2018 shows, he is worthy of consideration as a free-agent addition for teams eyeing a backfield boost.
Released by the Jets following their signing of Le’Veon Bell last offseason, Crowell’s career may appear to be on its downswing. Achilles injuries are challenging problems for running backs to recover from and then rediscover their best.
However, two seasons ago in the Jets’ Week 5 win over the Denver Broncos, Crowell produced his best, and it serves as compelling evidence that teams should attempt to find out whether he can recapture it.
Here we look back at a performance that saw Crowell earn the top single-game OSM grade by a running back in the 2018 season in the latest in our OSM Back to the Future series.
Isaiah Crowell dices Denver
OSM uses the NFL’s NextGen Stats and a series of algorithms to assess a player’s contribution to his offense’s production by looking at the factors only he could control.
Crowell earned a grade of 41.8 for his efforts against the Broncos, indicating an elite level of performance.
That is particularly impressive for a running back, with the grades of players at that position typically lower than those of other skill-position players because their production is often dependent on factors such as blocking both at the line of scrimmage and downfield.
Yet it is no surprise Crowell’s Week 5 effort finished top of the leaderboard, as the former Cleveland Brown produced in a devastatingly efficient fashion, racking up 219 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries. Crowell put up those numbers despite the Denver defense committing heavily to stopping him.
Success against loaded boxes
According to NextGen Stats, Crowell faced at least eight defenders in the box on 60 percent of carries against the Broncos. Only David Johnson (61.11 percent) came up against loaded boxes more often, making Crowell’s success in gashing the Denver defense even more startling.
Burst, vision, and change-of-direction ability were all critical to the yardage Crowell amassed.
He did not test brilliantly coming out of South Alabama in 2014, receiving a Relative Athletic Score (RAS) of 6.91. RAS is a composite metric on a 0 to 10 scale based on the average of all the percentile for each of the metrics a player completes at either at the Combine or pro day.
Crowell’s good composite speed grade was built on his impressive 10-yard split, with his instant acceleration on display in his career day for the Jets, on which he showcased fluid movement that belied his poor composite agility grade.
His most spectacular contribution came on a 77-yard touchdown in the second quarter, Crowell making two defenders miss and showing enough speed to find the endzone.
The burst Crowell has at his disposal, along with the contact balance to survive an attempted tackle at the second level, helped him surge through the hole and into the open field for a 54-yard gain in the third quarter.
His acceleration to get around the corner and up to the second level saw Crowell kick-start a drive that ended in a touchdown to increase the Jets’ lead to 34-10 with a 36-yard run in the fourth quarter.
Having not played since the end of 2018, it is fair to question whether Crowell still has this kind of game-changing performance in him. In a season where it will be difficult to project how untested rookies will perform, any such doubts around Crowell should not prohibit teams from exploring signing the former undrafted free agent.
Crowell presents free agent value
In a typical year, undrafted rookies at every position would have several opportunities to stake their claim for roster spots across training camp and preseason games.
Yet with roster sizes set to be decreased for camp and the preseason schedule poised to be eliminated as the NFL adjusts to the pandemic, the chances for those players will be limited.
That is to the benefit of veterans like Crowell, who should appeal to running back-needy teams who feel unable to rely on the young players on the depth chart.
As our previous Back to the Future piece on Corey Grant illustrated, productive running backs are not challenging to find. At 27, Crowell should still have some years of his prime left and, while the Achilles injury is a concern, his top-ranked OSM performance from two seasons ago proves he has the skill set to significantly reward the team willing to bet on his powers of recovery.