The 2012 draft year is looking like it may have comparatively rich offerings compared to the several years leading up to this.
In addition to the well-known Andrew Luck, this year’s draft will also offer other quarterbacks with huge potential, including Robert Griffin III and Ryan Tannehill. The draft class will be replete with other well-known offensive names, including wide receivers like Justin Blackmon and Michael Floyd, and offensive tackle Matt Kalil.
Look carefully at the top prospects, however, and you may notice that running back is a terribly underrepresented position. In fact, only Trent Richardson of Alabama, who took third place in the Heisman Trophy competition, makes the cut as a projected first-round pick.
Richardson has a tremendous amount of potential to be one of the next big things as a running back in the NFL. He is built for the job, blessed with a thick frame and a nimbleness that makes up for his lack of speed.
When his offensive line opens up holes for him, Richardson is a beast to bring down. Like Michael Turner and Marshawn Lynch, Richardson is able to break tackles and can often stay on his feet after initial contact by the opposition’s defenders to power through for extra yards.
More importantly, he has demonstrated time and again that he has the vision and the poise to be more than just a human bulldozer on the field when the holes aren’t there for him.
Instead of simply plowing forward and hoping for the best, Richardson has shown a great amount of patience to wait for openings to appear, as well as a tremendous amount of athleticism in taking advantage of those momentary opportunities.
Richardson has the potential to be one of those running backs that teams who passed him over will go back and kick themselves for missing years later. He has proved himself to be that good.
Even so, he won’t be selected in the top 10, or even the top 15 draft picks. By all rights, he shouldn’t be.
The thing about running backs is that their stock is quickly dropping in the NFL as the league continues to evolve into a pass-first establishment.
While teams will still make a concentrated effort to recruit a good running back, quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady have demonstrated that a ground game is more of a luxury than a necessity in today’s NFL.
The rules favor the passing game, favoring the quarterback and receivers more than they do the running back or the opposing defense. It’s a well-documented loophole that almost every team is trying to exploit, and it’s leaving the running game in the dust.
That truth is borne out by a simple observation of the NFL teams who made the playoffs this season: Only four of the top 10 running teams in the league made it to the postseason compared to seven of the top 10 passing teams. The only team to make it in either way was the New Orleans Saints.
For Richardson, that trend will spell disappointment in April when the NFL drafts its newest class.
The teams who are widely seen as the most likely to select a top running back early in the draft—notably the Cleveland Browns or the New York Jets—are teams with bigger needs than a running back.
Both of those teams must either find help for their struggling quarterbacks or look for alternative solutions in order to become more competitive in the 2012 season. Although Richardson would be a nice addition to either of their arsenals, he isn’t an early first-round necessity.
Although Richardson has the talent to be selected in the top rounds of the draft, there’s a good chance that he will slip through the cracks to be picked up later in the first round or early in the second round thanks to the continuing evolution of the NFL into a pass-first league.