Player Points - Trent Richardson
By Chase Stuart
July 17th, 2012

Trent Richardson enters the NFL as the most-hyped rookie prospect since Adrian Peterson. There are few questions surrounding Richardson's skill set: he is a tough, in-between-the-tackles runner, skilled as a receiver, and can be an explosive, big-play runner. Every rookie has question marks, but should you also shy away from drafting Richardson in redraft leagues because he plays for the Browns? Make no mistake, Cleveland's offense has been horrible the past four years. Consider:

Each of the past four seasons, the Browns have ranked in the bottom four in both yards and points, ranking 31st, 32nd, 29th and 29th in yards and 30th, 29th, 31st and 30th in points from 2008 to 2011, respectively. So should we be hesitant on Richardson because of the anemic offense he'll be joining? I don't think so, for four reasons.

1) I looked at the 41 running backs drafted with a top-20 pick since 1990 and noted the quality of the offense they were joining. I ranked the offenses in reverse order, i.e., ranking last in a category is assigned a rank of 1, ranking second to last is a rank of 2, etc. The table below shows each running back, the year he was drafted, the team he joined, his team's rank (from the bottom) in both yards and points scored the prior season, the average of the team's rank in yards and points, the draft pick used on the player, and where he ranked among fantasy running backs his rookie season.

Running Back
Year
Team
Team's Rank Prior Year
Pick
FtsyRk
Yards
Points
Avg
James Stewart
1995
JAX
expansion team
19
43
Cedric Benson
2005
CHI
1
1
1
4
89
Emmitt Smith
1990
DAL
2
1
1.5
17
9
Warrick Dunn
1997
TAM
3
1
2
12
12
Leonard Russell
1991
NWE
3
1
2
14
24
Thomas Jones
2000
ARI
3
2
2.5
7
41
Trent Richardson
2012
CLE
4
3
3.5
--
--
C.J. Spiller
2010
BUF
3
5
4
9
61
William Green
2002
CLE
1
7
4
16
30
Tyrone Wheatley
1995
NYG
1
7
4
17
67
Ronnie Brown
2005
MIA
4
5
4.5
2
23
Marshall Faulk
1994
IND
7
2
4.5
2
3
Jonathan Stewart
2008
CAR
4
6
5
13
27
LaDainian Tomlinson
2001
SDG
4
6
5
5
6
Tim Biakabutuka
1996
CAR
5
5
5
8
92
Steve Broussard
1990
ATL
5
7
6
20
42
Marshawn Lynch
2007
BUF
3
10
6.5
12
14
Ricky Williams
1999
NOR
3
10
6.5
5
28
Reggie Bush
2006
NOR
13
2
7.5
2
10
Blair Thomas
1990
NYJ
12
3
7.5
2
39
Adrian Peterson
2007
MIN
10
7
8.5
7
5
Curtis Enis
1998
CHI
14
3
8.5
5
60
Ki-Jana Carter
1995
CIN
11
6
8.5
1
--
Garrison Hearst
1993
PHO
12
5
8.5
3
81
Darren McFadden
2008
OAK
8
10
9
4
42
Napoleon Kaufman
1995
OAK
10
10
10
18
56
Cadillac Williams
2005
TAM
11
10
10.5
5
20
Tommy Vardell
1992
CLE
10
13
11.5
9
68
Eddie George
1996
HOU
8
16
12
14
9
Lawrence Phillips
1996
STL
16
9
12.5
6
39
T.J. Duckett
2002
ATL
17
9
13
18
43
Jamal Lewis
2000
BAL
8
18
13
5
17
Ron Dayne
2000
NYG
15
12
13.5
11
34
Shaun Alexander
2000
SEA
9
20
14.5
19
59
Edgerrin James
1999
IND
19
12
15.5
4
2
Jerome Bettis
1993
RAM
16
17
16.5
10
3
Robert Edwards
1998
NWE
16
23
19.5
18
9
Darrell Thompson
1990
GNB
23
21
22
19
90
Tony Smith
1992
ATL
21
24
22.5
19
73
Knowshon Moreno
2009
DEN
31
17
24
12
17
Ryan Mathews
2010
SDG
23
29
26
12
30
Fred Taylor
1998
JAX
24
28
26
9
4

Emmitt Smith joined the 1-15 Cowboys who were hopeless on offense, yet he was a top-10 fantasy running back as a rookie. Marshall Faulk and LaDainian Tomlinson joined bad offenses but were fantasy superstars out of the gate. Of course, those players are three of the best running backs in league history. Is it fair to compare them to Richardson?

Perhaps not, but in general, there was no noticeable correlation between a running back's fantasy production and the quality of offense he went to as a rookie. When Cedric Benson joined the Bears, Chicago had ranked last in both points and yards. Benson's rookie season, a Bears running back ended up as a top-10 fantasy producer. Of course that player was Thomas Jones, and not Benson, but the point remains that a horrible offense in one year doesn't prevent strong fantasy production by a running back the next season.

2) There's no guarantee that the Browns offense will again struggle. Assuming Brandon Weeden starts at quarterback, Cleveland's offense will look significantly different in 2012 than it did in 2011. Richardson is a good receiver, which means he'll be able to produce even if the Browns are forced to pass later in games. Since Richardson is a three-down back, the downside of playing for a bad offense is minimized. Cleveland has a strong offensive line, and with good quarterback play, could be a surprise team in 2012.

3) Just two years ago, on a horrible Browns offense, Peyton Hillis was the No. 2 fantasy running back. Hillis, like Richardson, is a powerful running back with soft hands, and he was able to catch 61 passes and score 13 touchdowns that season. Fantasy owners won't care if the Browns rank in the Bottom 5 in passing yards, passing touchdowns, total yards and points if the offense revolves around the running back. That's exactly the situation that helped Hillis in his monster 2010 season.

4) Last year, Maurice Jones-Drew finished as a top-four running back in every major scoring system despite playing for an offense bound to be worse than the 2012 Browns. Last year, Jacksonville ranked last in total yards, last in passing yards, last in passing yards per attempt, last in passing first downs and last in total first downs. But Jones-Drew was a fantasy star because he's an elite talent and the offense revolved around him. He led the league in rushing attempts and averaged 4.7 yards per carry, while catching 43 passes. On a better offense he would have scored more often, but Jones-Drew was good enough to be a fantasy stud.

If you believe in Richardson's talents, don't let the lack of a quality supporting cast downgrade Richardson on your draft board too much. Chances are, the rest of your league will do more than enough to let you get him for value. Monitor his average draft position closely, but don't be afraid to reach for Richardson: he is one of the few players you can expect to get 300+ touches.

As always, feel free to provide comments or suggestions to stuart@footballguys.com.

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