Trent Richardson is a phenomenal talent. Probably the best running back to enter the draft since Adrian Peterson.
And yet I want nothing to do with him at the Browns’ fourth overall selection.
I cannot be clear enough in that this is not an indictment of his talent, which is undeniable. You don’t just go around shredding the SEC – God’s gift to defense – unless you are really, really good.
This has everything to do with an examination of the successful NFL teams of today. In that, it revolves around the passing game. Let’s take a look at which running backs started in the NFL Playoffs this year and the rounds they were drafted:
- Patriots: BenJarvus Green-Ellis (undrafted)
- Ravens: Ray Rice (2nd round)
- Texans: Arian Foster (undrafted)
- Broncos: Willis McGahee (1st round)
- Steelers: Isaac Redman* (undrafted)
- Bengals: Cedric Benson (1st round)
- Packers: Ryan Grant (undrafted)
- 49ers: Frank Gore (3rd round)
- Saints: Darren Sproles ** (4th round)
- Giants: Brandon Jacobs *** (4th round)
- Falcons: Michael Turner (5th round)
- Lions: Kevin Smith (3rd round)
Breaking this down:
1st Rounders: 2
2nd-3rd Rounders: 3
4th-5th Rounders: 3
And of those two running backs that were drafted in the first round (Benson and McGahee), neither of them were drafted by the team they started for in the playoffs. In other words, neither the Chicago Bears nor the Buffalo Bills are reaping the benefits of spending their first round selection at running back.
Bottom line: Not one playoff team this year started a running back they drafted in the first round.
That is not to say that first round running backs cannot be successful. The best example of a first rounder panning out for the team that drafted him is Adrian Peterson on the Vikings. He is by all accounts an all-world running back — basically Boobie Miles from Friday Night Lights
But as great as Peterson is, once the Viking’s lost Sidney Rice and began juggling Donovan McNabb, Christian Ponder and Joe Webb at quarterback, they ended up at 3-13. That cannot be a coincidence.
As talented as Trent Richardson is, he is not Boobie Mil, err.. Adrian Peterson. And if AP can’t single handedly make up for poor quarterback and receiver play, what would make us think that Richardson could?
The Browns need play makers on offense, you won’t find me doubting that. But when it comes to building a successful running game today, it is no longer about finding that thoroughbred workhorse. Teams now need to develop it through solid offensive line play and the passing game.
Running backs are so dependent on the holes created by their offensive line, or the amount of men in the box (as dictated by the defense’s respect to the passing game), that it has become the most interchangeable position in the NFL. That is the only way you can explain how 33% of the starting running backs in the playoffs went undrafted.
(There are some outliers to this — such as MJD in Jacksonville, someone who can find success without a successful passing game or dominant offensive line. But Jacksonville was also 5-11. So.)
With the fourth overall pick, the Browns need a phenomenal talent. Just at anywhere besides running back. Sorry Trent Richardson. Thanks, but no thanks.
* – I know Rashard Mendenhall (a first rounder) started most of the season. But Isaac Redman also rushed for 121 yards on 17 carries in his playoff start. Which only helps add to my argument that running backs are interchangeable.
** – Not sure if Mark Ingram (a first rounder) was on the field for the first snap of the Saints’ playoff game, and is technically the starter. But he finished third in rushing this season behind Sproles (a 4th rounder) and Pierre Thomas (undrafted). So whatever.
*** – Ahmad Bradshaw gets enough carries to warrant me mentioning that he was a 7th round selection.
P.S. – Same general argument and theme of this post extends to a Lamar Miller-esque selection at #22. But, if Trent Richardson inexplicably falls to #22, then by all means, go for it there.