What if Trent Richardson is lost for the season?
By Matt Waldman
September 2nd, 2012

What if Trent Richardson gets Staph Infection from the Lake Erie water (otherwise known as Belichick's Revenge) at the Browns training camp facility?

Say what you want about Brandon Weeden, Josh Gordon, and Greg Little, but the Browns want to make Trent Richardson the focal point of its offense. Richardson is touted by many media as the best running back prospect to enter the NFL since Adrian Peterson. Conceptually, he's a great fit in an offense that has some promising parts along the offensive line and for a team that needs to slow the pass rush of its division rivals. If Richardson gets hurt, the Browns supporting parts have talent, but most aren't at the stage of development to rely on.

BUY

Montario Hardesty, RB The third-year runner from Tennessee has starter talent when healthy. Of course, "when healthy," is a common phrase when describing Hardesty and his oft-injured knees. He's a big back with good balance, burst, and skills to create big plays past the first level of the defense. The problem is his legs seem as if they are held together with duct tape. From a size-speed-skill standpoint, he's the best back on the roster after Richardson. If he can stay on the field, the Browns line is good enough for Hardesty to produce as a low-end RB2 and at worst, a flex play.

HOLD

Greg Little, WR The short passing game will have a heightened emphasis and Little will be the main beneficiary. The down side of this situation is that the short passing game will still likely have a heightened emphasis even with Trent Richardson healthy because the pass rush of the Steelers, Bengals, and Ravens won't give a young quarterback and offensive line time to make a lot of plays down field. Little's targets will likely increase, but the quality of those targets might drop. Overall, it does make him a safer start each week as he'll become a part of the running game by extension of short passes.

SELL

Brandon Jackson, RB The former Green Bay Packer has good hands and he can dash and dart in open space for yardage on screens, delays, swing passes, and draws. However, he lacks breakaway speed, can be tentative at the line of scrimmage, and he isn't a great tackle breaker. In other words, if you think the Packers lacked a quality starter in the running game the past two years just imagine how bad it was when Jackson was a viable consideration in Wisconsin. If you somehow acquired him as a late-round add from your free agent pool, see if you can sell him to a fantasy owner that still remembers good things from Jackson at Nebraska.

ADD

Josh Gordon, WR The big, tall, and speedy wide receiver has good hands and excellent skill after the catch. Although a loss of Richardson could make the passing game less efficient, the bump in targets could benefit a player like Gordon. He makes a solid, swing-for-the-fences flex-play in fantasy leagues that start more than three receivers.

Travis Benjamin, WR Benjamin is a dynamic runner after the catch with enough skill to make plays as a route runner all over the field that he could become a bigger part of the offense on short passing plays. The only real obstacle for Benjamin is him. The rookie's displays of great football are bookended with poor decisions and if he can overcome that problem, he's worth a look.

Josh Cribbs, WR Cribbs isn't a polished receiver, but last year he seemed like the only one who made plays when a play was needed. He's a versatile football player with excellent skill as a ball carrier. If Richardson gets hurt and the duct tape comes off Hardesty's knees then Cribbs could be integrated into the offense just enough to consider a flex-play in 14- and 16-team fantasy leagues that start at least three receivers and a flex.

Chris Ogbonnaya, RB Ogbonnaya can catch the football and at least will get what an offensive line opens for him.

DROP

Brandon Weeden, QB Weeden has the arm and accuracy of a promising pro prospect when there isn't a defender pressuring him in the pocket. Of course, how often does this scenario happen in the NFL? Not enough to rely on a quarterback whose accuracy and poise crumbles when bodies are around him. Weeden's decision-making goes out the window against pressure. Because the Browns running game would be one strip of duct tape away from taking an even steeper drop if Richardson is done for the year, Cleveland's rookie quarterback is not worth owning as even a low-end QB2 unless you're in a two-quarterback league where interceptions aren't penalized in your scoring system.

Questions, suggestions and comments are always welcome to waldman@footballguys.com.

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