Undrafted Cleveland Browns running back Isaiah Crowell is starting to flash the talent that made him a five-star recruit out of high school and the Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Year in 2011.
Crowell, a Columbus, Ga. native, has rushed 27 times for 141 yards and three touchdowns while sharing time with fellow rookie Terrance West, a third-round draft pick, and veteran Ben Tate, now injured.
There is, perhaps, no better story on the team than Crowell, who was on his way to big-time college stardom, rushing for 850 yards and five touchdowns as a freshman at Georgia, before a series of detours.
Crowell was benched that year for disciplinary reasons and suspended a game, reportedly for failing a drug test. He was slated to start as a sophomore but was dismissed from the team following an arrest on three weapons charges. The charges were dropped but the damage was done.
He ended up at Division I-AA Alabama State, where he scored 30 touchdowns. Then the 5-foot-11, 230-pounder ran a 4.47 in the 40-yard dash at the Scouting Combine in February and outperformed a number of backs who would be drafted.
When that wasn’t enough for any team to pick him, Crowell chose the Browns from more than 20 teams his agent says were willing to take a chance.
Training camp was about convincing the Browns they made the right decision in adding him to a stable of running backs that already featured Tate and West.
“A lot of people’s perception of me is of wrongdoing,” Crowell said, “but I’m looking to prove them all wrong. I’m prepared to make good on my second chance.
“I had to put all the negatives behind me. I came to Cleveland with the mindset of listening to the veterans and coaches, because they know better than me. I’ve stayed away from going out all the time and kept my focus on football.
“Coming out of high school everybody wanted me and I didn’t have to fight as much for a position. But everyone at this level has talent, so you have to come with your A-game. I have to be on top of everything each day.”
Crowell’s early success, coupled with the Tate injury, has prompted the Browns to feed him the ball.
“If a guy’s been productive, you find ways to get him on the field more,” head coach Mike Pettine said this week. “That’s a good problem to have.”
Crowell carries a chip on his shoulder after not being drafted. Now it’s up to him to make the best of his opportunities. So far, so good.
“I was shocked when I went undrafted because I knew I was better than a lot of players that were drafted,” he said. “Just knowing that I was better was humbling, but I’m not going to dwell on it. I have to continue to come in here, work hard and show the other teams what they missed out on.
“I proved that I could excel at a higher level than Division I-AA. Being with Cleveland is like being back playing in the SEC. That’s how I have to see it and bring my A-game each week and help this team win games.”