This point in the season is always a bit of a bittersweet feeling. As we head into week 10, Some owners are starting to see the fruits of their offseason labor as their teams make a run for the playoffs. Others, however, are hitting the panic button as their seasons slowly dwindle away. Nonetheless, I’m here for it all. Which leads us into today’s installment of The Rushing Report.
Week nine was no different than the previous eight before it. We saw Kareem Hunt have an explosive three TD game. Duke Johnson showed us that he is still very much a part of the Browns offensive scheme. Tevin Coleman finally had the week that owners were waiting for since Freeman went to IR. And yet, Despite some great performances, we still saw some backfield situations that should be monitored in the future.
This week, we’re going to take a look at a team with a recent injury at the running back position. One that left some things in limbo and owners were left with some questions. The team I’m talking about is the New York Jets. As always we’ll dive in on a week eight recap, some data, and give some insight on how the Jets backfield may look going forward.
Fantasy Football Rushing Report
New York Jets
The Jets were subject to an offseason overhaul in the spring. They drafted Sam Darnold third overall in this years NFL Draft to mark the beginning of a new chapter for the franchise. They also made some key pickups in free agency. One of which was Isaiah Crowell. With the retirement of longtime great Matt Forte, it was needed. However, with both Elijah McGuire and Bilal Powell still on the roster, fantasy owners likely wondered how the backfield would look in 2018.
Through the first six weeks, it looked like Crowell and Powell would shoulder the load together. Both guys saw nearly identical snap counts but Crowell started to break away from Powell in terms of efficiency in that stretch. Then week seven happened. Powell went down with a scary neck injury against the Vikings and was put on IR following the game.
No sooner than Powell was put on IR, McGuire was set to make his season debut. Slowly working himself back from offseason foot surgery, McGuire’s timing couldn’t have been better. With Powell now out for the season, McGuire walks into a situation where he could see some great volume. But, with Crowell still in the fold, how much can we expect from him in the future? Is Crowell the lead back now? What should owners expect? Lucky for us, week nine gave us a good sample of how this duo may be deployed in the weeks to come.
Week Nine Recap
Searching for their fourth win of the season, New York went down to Miami to face the Dolphins. On paper, this was a great match-up for the Jets rushing attack. Miami ranked 30th in rushing YPG coming into the week, allowing an average of 143.1 yards on the ground in their previous eight match-ups. Crowell owners were chomping at the bit and McGuire hopefuls were looking to join in on the party. Unfortunately, neither guy could capitalize on the plus match-up.
Crowell got the start for what immediately looked like an uphill battle for the Jets in week nine. The front seven of Miami put Sam Darnold under pressure early. Making it tough for him to get a rhythm from the start. Darnold had trouble moving the ball and converting on third down on the Jets first few drives. So much so that the Jets didn’t even make it past midfield until late in the first quarter. The slow start killed the run game from the jump. Crowell handled much of the early work but couldn’t get anything going on the ground. He was held to just 14 yards on four carries in the quarter. McGuire didn’t see action until 5:44 left and was only used in pass pro. he saw zero touches or targets
The second quarter opened with the Jets down by three as Miami had put up a field goal to start the game. McGuire saw his first carry with 12:39 remaining in the half. He immediately added a spark to the offense. Directly after, McGuire got the nod once again on a 3rd and 19 and tugged the ball for 14 yards. A run of little merit as it didn’t convert the first down, but he made presence known. The next drive by Miami yielded yet another field goal to put the Jets down by six. What followed was very telling. To open the Jets late quarter scoring push, McGuire was kicked out wide in a spread formation and turned a six-yard reception on a slant route into a 20 yard gain. He remained the only back to see the field on the very crucial drive.
Coming into the second portion of the game, Crowell had notched just five carries for 16 yards and was a ghost in the second quarter. McGuire had three total touches for 40 yards from scrimmage and looked better than his counterpart. The Jets opened the second half with three straight carries by Crowell. Only down by three, it was apparent they wanted to get the ground game working. Crowell made good on his touches in the third quarter as he had seven attempts for 32 yards and one reception for 11 yards. McGuire was oddly given just two carries that amounted to -7 yards. However, he did lineup outside twice and had one reception for two yards. Neither of the two’s contributions amounted to anything for the Jets in the third.
Sam Darnold threw a pick-six on the second drive of the fourth quarter, sending the Jets into a full-blown panic. following the pick, Crowell disappeared from the backfield and situational football called upon McGuire’s skill set. The Jets were frantic in trying to dig themselves out of a hole and in doing so, they called upon Darnold and the passing game. McGuire, the more versatile back, was the beneficiary of such game script. He saw four touches for 32 yards from scrimmage to Crowell’s one carry for one yard.
The Jets never really got the ground game going in this game. Miami put Darnold in tough down and distance and held the run game in check throughout. Both backs shared the workload but McGuire did out snap Crowell 36 (54.5%) to 23 (34.8). Much of that can be attributed to the lack of success on the ground and the Jets willingness to throw the ball. Situational football catered to McGuire’s skill set as we saw Crowell disappear for what nearly totaled an entire half of football.
McGuire’s usage in both the backfield and being split out wide in the receiving game was a huge red flag for how the Jets view his abilities. Coupling that with the out snapping of Crowell and there looks to be a real emergence coming for McGuire in the future. McGuire ended week nine with six carries for 23 yards and three receptions on five targets for 37 yards. Crowell had 13 carries for 49 yards and one reception on two targets for 11 yards on the day. Owners still have a long way to go with this duo before we find out what they become but both backs have provided enough data to help us evaluate what we may be in store for.
What The Data Tells Us
Crowell has been subject to a committee approach since his days in Cleveland. Regardless, he has carved out a nice role as a hard runner between the tackles in his career. That hasn’t changed so far in New York. Through his first nine games with the Jets, he has clearly been the early down guy to help establish the run game. However, he hasn’t been able to snag a featured role like many expected coming into the season. Before he went down, Bilal Powell out snapped him in nearly every game this season. That hasn’t changed since Powell’s placement on IR either.
Right now, Crowell is on pace for a career high in almost every statistic despite sharing the workload with others. Crowell has 107 attempts for 533 rushing yards and five TDs on the season. The heat map above shows Crowell’s efficiency as a runner in 2018. As you can see, he’s done well for himself so far. Especially when getting to the edge of the line. Averaging around five YPC on the season, the Jets likely won’t steer away from letting Crowell continue in this role.
Although the chart above suggests he’s usable there, the Jets haven’t been using Crowell in the passing game enough to indicate that he will be in the future. In 2018, he currently has an aDOT score of 3.60 and a RACR of 1.44. Both of those indicate that he isn’t a slouch when it comes to receiving work and is fairly efficient there. However, its the usage that caps his ability as a receiver. Crowell has only notched 11 receptions for 93 yards on 16 targets. With the way the Jets used McGuire in week nine, don’t expect Crowell’s receiving totals to rise due to usage.
Last season the world saw flashes of what McGuire can do in the NFL. So much that people thought he had a real shot to run away with the lead duties in New York before having foot surgery. Crowell put a bit of a damper on that but nonetheless, McGuire is back and making an impact already. Week nine we saw McGuire be game scripted into a decent workload and owners should be excited for what he did.
Coming out of college, McGuire profiled as a three-down back when entering the league. Last season, he showed glimpses of that profile while having three top 36 fantasy finishes. All while running behind both Matt Forte and Bilal Powell. In his first game back, the Jets showed us that they believe in him just as much as the fantasy community does. Having 60 yards on nine total touches in week nine is hard to ignore.
As I said in the ‘recap’ portion, what was truly telling in week nine was the Jets usage of him in the passing game. His 37 receiving yards didn’t seem like much but he was lined out wide frequently and targeted three times there. That tells us that the Jets will look to use him as a receiver and they would be wise in doing so. Against Miami, he boasted a 3.6 aDOT score along with a whopping 2.06 RACR score. He was hyper-efficient in the passing game, to say the least. For owners who took a flier on McGuire, his season debut wasn’t a glimmer of hope. It was a ray of bright fantasy sunshine.
Right now, Crowell has a firm hold on rushing duties as we saw against the Dolphins. But in his first game back, we saw the Jets lean on McGuire in critical points in the game. The Jets rank 17th in rushing yards per game on the season averaging just 109.2 on the ground. But they also rank 12th in rushing attempts averaging 26.8 per game. They don’t shy away from running the rock which is a good sign for owners of both backs.
In the coming weeks, I expect Crowell to retain early-down work with McGuire mixing in at an even split, much like week nine. Where I believe McGuire starts to break away is his role in the passing game. We saw Crowell be rendered ineffective during the game against Miami and that is a trend that’s likely to continue going forward. The efficiency that McGuire showed in a horrible game script is just too good to be ignored.
Week 10 is a match-up against a Bills defense that ranks 11th against the run. Sam Darnold has been ruled out with a foot injury and Josh McCown looks to take control of the offense on Sunday. The Bills are coming off back to back good games against both Tom Brady and Mitch Trubisky. But they did allow a two rushing TD game to Jordan Howard last week. Due to the match-up, Crowell owners should start him with caution. He’s a solid FLEX play but is subject to being game scripted out if the Jets find themselves down early. McGuire remains a FLEX play with high upside potential in PPR leagues.
Thanks for stopping by for another Rushing Report! feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @JesseReevesFF. See you next week!