A number of factors come into play when evaluating the fantasy football value of running backs. The most important is the risk of losing touches. For Kansas Chiefs’ Spence Ware and Cleveland Browns’ Isaiah Crowell, this factor truly separate the two of them. Talent wise, these two are very similar runners but face different situations when it comes to their fantasy value. Last season in standard scoring Crowell finished as RB15, while Ware finished as RB16.
Long time Chiefs legend and probable future Hall of Famer Jamal Charles was released this offseason and signed with the Denver Broncos. Charles departure was expected given his injury history and Ware’s performance the last two seasons. Ware was a lock to be the starter before the team drafted Kareem Hunt in the third round. Even though Ware is still currently atop the depth chart Hunt is a real threat to steal the starting job.
Even if Hunt doesn’t win the starting job, he could seriously cut into Ware’s workload. Charcandrick West, currently third on the depth chart, is potentially on the roster bubble. Hunt has three down ability and that should scare Ware owners. Last season Ware expanded his game and became a solid receiving option out of the backfield. However, he isn’t the receiver that Hunt is. In his senior season at Toledo, Hunt had 41 catches for 403 yards in 13 games.
The Chiefs do have a solid offensive line, so whoever is the starting running back will have a good chance to be a strong fantasy option. But the threat of a running back by committee should scare fantasy owners of Ware. However, Ware is coming off a good season with 214 carries for 921 yards but only three touchdowns. Taking a step forward as a receiving back Ware had 33 catches, fifth on the team, on 42 targets for 447 yards and two touchdowns. If Ware wins the starting job he should be considered a solid RB2.
As we get closer to the start of the season the Chiefs’ backfield should clear up. Hopefully Ware or Hunt wins the starting job out right in the preseason and fantasy owners can draft accordingly. However, if your league drafts early you will want to put a priority on drafting both Ware and Hunt or staying away from both. The fear that Hunt steals the starting job from Ware is real.
Usually poor performing team don’t produce quality fantasy football players but the Browns go against that trend. Last season both Crowell and Terrelle Pryor had solid fantasy seasons for the Browns. Pryor signed with the Redskins in the offseason.
During the offseason the team upgraded the offensive line. Signing in Kevin Zeitler from the Bengals and JC Tretter from the Packers. They also resigned Joel Bitonio to a long term. Joe Thomas might be the best left tackle in the league and with the free agency signings the Browns now have one of the best offensive lines in the league.
Head coach Hue Jackson has stated several times in the offseason how he regrets not giving Crowell more carries last season. Crowell was of two top 15 running back with under 200 carries last season, the other being Latavius Murray. Expect Crowell’s carries to increase a fair enough in 2017.
Duke Johnson is firmly cemented in the back up running back role. In 2016 Johnson had only 73 carries while playing all 16 game. Despite Crowell posting a career high in catches last season with 40, Johnson is clearly the team’s third down back and that limits Crowell’s upside in the passing game. Johnson had 72 targets last season verse Crowell’s 52.
With big money spent on the offensive line and defense, the Browns are determined to control the clock by running the ball and playing good defense. The hope is by doing so it won’t put pressure on whoever is playing quarterback and give the team a chance to at least be competitive in every game this season.
Situations like this is why I highly recommend doing fantasy drafts as close to the start of the season as possible, many things are clearer come the start of the season. However, as it currently sits with the threat of Hunt impacting Ware’s lock on the starting job and with Crowell set for an even bigger workload this season, I would take Crowell over Ware in both standard and PPR redraft leagues.
If Ware wins the starting job and Hunt is reduced to a change of pace role, then the debate between Ware and Crowell is much closer but I’d still take Crowell.