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Spotlight: Trent Richardson

posted by Jason Wood on Aug 1st


Jason Wood's thoughts

The running back position used to be the one bastion of fantasy reliability among rookies. Other positions typically needed a season or two before they acquired enough refinement and understanding of the system to flourish - but the running back position is predicated more on instinct, and so it was easier for them to step right into the lineup. For years, rookie runners were not only potential fantasy assets, but they were routinely expected to help lead the charge.

However, fantasy football owners tend to have short memories - and as a result many have begun to doubt whether rookie running backs are worthwhile commodities on draft night. The reason is simple enough - it's been a few seasons since a highly regarded rookie running back has made a major impact.

  • 2011 - Mark Ingram was drafted in the 1st round but struggled to stay healthy and accumulated just 474 yards rushing, 46 yards receiving and 5 touchdowns
  • 2010 - C.J. Spiller (440 yards and 2 TDs), Ryan Mathews (823 yards and 7 TDs), and Jahvid Best (1,042 yard and 6 TDs) all fell short of expectations in spite of being first round picks in the April draft
  • 2009 - Donald Brown (450 yards and 3 TDs) was a complete wash out as a rookie, while fellow 1st rounder Chris Wells (936 yards and 7 TDs) also struggled with consistency

In essence, six of the last seven 1st round rookie running backs failed to deliver starting caliber fantasy totals. It was Knowshon Moreno (1,160 yards and 9 TDs) that came the closest over the last three seasons - he ranked 17th in 2009 - which is ironic considering he's the one running back we've mentioned thus far that has a dim NFL future.

The important thing to remember - as difficult as it may be sometimes - is that every player, every year, every situation are different. Trent Richardson is not Mark Ingram (even though they both went to Alabama). He's certainly not C.J. Spiller nor Jahvid Best. He's absolutely not Knowshon Moreno. He's his own man, and by most scouts' assessment, he's a can't-miss prospect that can be one of the Browns cornerstones for years to come.

A Flawless Skill Set
Footballguys.com's own Matt Waldman believes Trent Richardson is one of the best RBs he's scouted in all the years he's written his comprehensive Rookie Scouting Portfolio. In Matt's own words:

  • His balance and agility combined with his strength make him a rare commodity among backs of his range of 220-230 pounds, because he has the footwork and balance of a back 15-20 pounds lighter.
  • More often than most running backs I see, Richardson seems to be the one delivering the punishment.
  • The Alabama runner also displays a deceptive explosiveness to the outside during his first 5-10 yards.
  • Richardson also flashes strong lateral cutting ability and he can explode from his cuts.
  • His quickness and agility makes him a terrific short yardage option because when he spots an opening, he has the athleticism to reach it. If he doesn't, his balance and strength compensates.
  • Richardson is already a solid third-down back with good to excellent skills. His pass blocking is sound. I was impressed with the angles he used to set up the block and then deliver a punch with good hand placement.
  • His hands are excellent for a receiver from the backfield. He catches the ball with is hands and he has the he does a fine job of adjusting to the football when thrown off target and away from his body.
  • He has only lost 1 fumble in 614 touches, which is tells you what he's doing is working.

To recap, Richardson is already an excellent blocker, can pass protect, knows how to recognize blitzes, and has all the strength, instincts and lateral quickness a runner needs to succeed at the NFL level. If you've been a subscriber to our site before this year, I don't need to tell you just how impressive it is to read Matt's analysis - he's not prone to hyperbole.

A Workhorse in an Era of Committees
Today's NFL is defined by the passing attack - and the number of running backs that can be legitimately characterized as workhorses has diminished to just a handful.

  • From 2002-2006, an average of 5 running backs had at least 320 carries in a season and nearly 20 backs each season had 240+ carries. Over the last five years (2007-2011), fewer than three runners each season had 320 carries while less than 13 per season averaged 240 carries.

The Browns drafted Richardson 3rd overall and have every intention of making him THE ENGINE of the revamped offense. It would be stunning if he didn't get 320-350 touches (or more) this season if he stays healthy for 16 games. Fantasy stardom is about combining ability and opportunity, and Richardson will have an abundance of opportunity.

An Offensive Line that's not "Offensive"
I've seen a lot of people worry that Richardson will be hamstrung by the Browns offensive line. The reason for their concern is the Browns' woeful rushing production last season. In 2011, Cleveland ranked 31st in yards per rush (3.7 per carry) and rushing touchdowns (4). But I would argue that was more a byproduct of a) a complete lack of compelling talent at the position and b) a passing attack "led" by Colt McCoy that was absolutely inept. If you take a careful examination of each projected starting lineman, there's a lot of talent there - particularly with rookie Mitchell Schwartz slotting into the right tackle spot. Joe Thomas is one of the best left tackles in the game, and Alex Mack, Jason Pinkston and Shawn Lauvao are all quite capable. In fact, Footballguys.com's offensive line guru - Matt Bitonti - ranks the Browns as the 2nd best offensive line in the league.

Positives

  • Trent Richardson is going to be given the opportunity to be a true workhorse, he could easily finish near the top of league standings in total touches (receptions plus rushes)
  • Richardson has the total package -- size, speed, vision, patience, toughness, blocking, receiving
  • The additions of QB Brandon Weeden and WR Josh Gordon should help give the Browns passing attack some legitimacy, keeping defenses from keying on Richardson as they did a year ago with the Cleveland RBs

Negatives

  • The Browns offense continues to have major question marks, and if Brandon Weeden isn't a material upgrade from Colt McCoy, Richardson is going to have little room to run
  • Richardson is being drafted in the 2nd round of most leagues -- he's not a sleeper

Final thoughts

I'm completely buying into Trent Richardson for this season and beyond. I don't see any flaws in his game, and I think concerns about his offensive line are completely off base. When you consider that he'll immediately be given an every down role, in an era where few backs get 300+ touches, Richardson doesn't have to average 5 yards per carry or score 15 touchdowns to justify his value. If he stays healthy for 16 games, I see him finishing as a top 15 fantasy runner -- AT WORST.


Quotations from the message board thread

To view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there), click here.

Coeur de Lion said:

I like Richardson's talent and think he's on par with anyone outside of Peterson the past ten years or so. That said, he's stepping into a pretty horrid situation. Cleveland's RBs averaged 3.7 yards-per-carry (31st) and ran for only 4 TDs (dead last) last year. The rookie QB will likely lead to even more stacking the box by opposing defenses, and expecting any rookie RB to step right in as a blocker / receiver in a WCO is asking a bit much. Richardson's value in dynasty is obviously huge, but I think he'll be over-drafted in redrafts this year.

TheDirtyWord said:

In early mocks, what I've seen is a rookie RB go earlier than I've ever seen a rookie RB go before in FF. I remember being able to snag LaDainian Tomlinson in the 5th round when he was a rookie. Ryan Matthews was the first rookie RB to go significantly higher than I would have thought 2 years ago when he was essentially a consensus early-mid 2nd rounder. But Richardson seems to have ventured into late 1st round territory. It's funny how the RB position in fantasy has more now to do with situation than it does track record.

I won't be drafting Richardson although I'm not forecasting doom for those that do. But there are a few things that concern me here.

1) While I agree that the lack of relative workload in college will do Richardson well during his NFL career (540 career carries), can he assume a 300 type carry work load his rookie year getting hit by NFL DE's & LB's? I'm not saying he can't, but rookie RB's have in the past struggled with wearing down or durability as rookies. Adrian Peterson, probably the most prolific rookie RB in the last 10 years, saw his production dip dramatically during the last 6 games of his rookie season (80/305/4).

2) If I'm an opposing defense, why am I changing my philosophy of making the Browns QB beat me versus their stud RB? Even when Peyton Hillis had his breakout year in 2010, if you take out the 68 yard run from the punter...the Browns averaged less than 100 rushing yards/game. IMO, the Browns were willing to pound away with Hillis since he cost next to nothing but at the same time, with sub-par QB play...I'm still making that position beat me.

3) The Browns had absolutely no production from a #2 RB in 2010 (Mike Bell, Jerome Harrison & Josh Cribbs combined for a 82/218/0 line). They seem like they like their options here better now in Montario Hardesty/Brandon Jackson. Will Richardson get 75% of the RB workload?

4) Call me crazy, but when Jim Brown has something to say about the RB position...I'm going to at least pay attention. And I kind of thought the same thing to be honest. Richardson is more 'bull in the china shop' than gazelle. I've heard someone refer to his game as Marshawn Lynch-esque and I would agree with this assessment. Adrian Peterson runs hard, but he also has home run speed. Richardson from my view does not (Disclaimer: I'm not a professional scout!)

The Browns do have studs at OT & C, so with a runner the caliber of Richardson, it is quite possible that he can still be quite productive. But I do think at some point in 2012, the wear and tear will simply bring whatever level of production he's playing at during the early part of the season down. And since for the most part, he's being drafted as an RB1, I wouldn't feel comfortable in doing this knowing that it's rare for a rookie to have anything left in the tank come Weeks 14-16. I don't think there is any doubt that he's a 3-down RB. But I do think you need to draw a distinction between being a 3-down RB and an all-down RB. IMO, he's not yet an all-down RB no matter what workload the Browns give him.

Sabertooth said:

As much as I want to avoid the hype train because of being burned last year by Ingram, I can't. Richardson is my #4 back in dynasty. Only Foster, Rice, and McCoy tower over him. With all of the question marks surrounding the rest of the pack, I can't slide him down further than that. I have him just a tick above Ryan Mathews but I vacillate on that. Dead heat. As for this season alone in a redraft, we'll he's one of a select group already...the healthy bellcows. If he stays healthy, I see him bounding the ball early, often, and effectively. I do not think Clevelands offense will be able to give him opportunites at the stripe like San Diego, Dallas, or Chicago. So that will limit his scores.

jurb26 said:

The Brown's offensive line is very good. I'm not sure where this perception of them being average or bellow average comes from. They are very good. One of the best in the NFL IMO. It's the other positions on offense that have sucked. They instantly upgraded 2 of them in this draft with Richardson and Weeden. The Clev offense should be better. The only real question is how much better?

Bayhawks said:

recent history suggests that if he is "the man" in Cleveland, he has a good shot at being worthy of a 1st round pick.

In the last 15 years, 44 RBs have been drafted in the 1st round. But all the situations they were drafted into weren't the same, nor were their situations comparable to the situation Richardson is likely to find himself in. We need to look at RBs who were widely regarded as elite and drafted by bad teams, and who would be the bell-cow RBs for their team, in their rookie year. So let's limit those 1st round RBs to RBs who were drafted with a top-10 pick and who got 60% of their teams RB touches (carries and receptions) for their team as a rookie.

Of the 44 1st round pick RBs in the last 15 years, only 14 were drafted with a top-10 pick:

'98-Curtis Enis (5), Fred Taylor (9)
'99-Edge James (4), Ricky Williams (5)
'00-Jamal Lewis (5), Thomas Jones (7)
'01-LaDainian Tomlinson (5)
'05- Ronnie Brown (2), Cedric Benson (4), Cadillac Williams (5)
'06-Reggie Bush (2)
'07-Adrian Peterson (7)
'08-Darren McFadden (4)
'10-CJ Spiller (9)

Of those 14, 5 received 60% of the RB touches for their team: Taylor (65%), James (95%), Lewis (61%), Tomlinson (90%), and Cadillac Williams (61%). In addition, Ricky Williams received 59% of his teams RB touches, despite only playing 12 games. It's safe to say he would have been in this group as well, if he hadn't gotten hurt.

Of those 5 RBs, 3 were top-10 RBs (Taylor-#4, James-#1, LT-#7), and the other two were in the top-20 (Lewis-#16, Caddy-#19). **If you pro-rate Ricky Williams' rookies stats (12 games) over the full season, he would have finished as RB 17 that year, a FF starting RB**

So, recent history shows that TOP RB draft picks, who are utilized as the main RB on their team are likely to be starting-caliber FF RBs, and have a good chance of being worthy of a first round pick.


Trent Richardson projections

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