Despite the ceaseless prognostications proliferating through the 2012 NFL pre-draft mockups, come April 26th, the player whose name should be called by Commissioner Roger Goodell after he announces, “With the fourth pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, the Cleveland Browns select,” is Alabama running back Trent Richardson.
Although the rumor mill runneth over with Robert Griffin III related scenarios, in which the Browns relinquish the rights to their draft day bounty of picks in exchange for the phenomenon’s services. Such deals would handicap the team’s ability to address multiple areas of concern with the aforementioned bounty of picks, which includes the No. 4 and 22 in the first round, and No. 37 in the second round.
Even despite recent rumors suggesting that the team might not have to part with the 22nd pick, here are several reasons that selecting Richardson could be beneficial.
With regard to the biggest name associated with the Browns as a possible choice they can utilize their top pick on, Robert Griffin III, it is viable to argue that he is not the top option at his respective position. That distinction still seems to belong to the homewrecker who drove Peyton Manning out of Indianapolis, Stanford's Andrew Luck. This even despite Griffin's momentous movement through the recent combine and the clouds of chatter surrounding scenarios which will lead to his eventual destination.
This is not the case with Richardson, who is the legitimate and long standing leader on the pre-draft board of running backs, even despite not taking part in the NFL Combine, due to minor knee surgery. In 2011, he was the best player for the Alabama Crimson Tide, in their national championship run, and in any other race which disallowed the names Griffin III and Luck, he would have no doubt secured the Heisman hardware.
In a listing of the top draft prospects compiled at cbssports.com, Richardson is No. 6 on the entire list, and No. 1 at his position. In a similar compilation done by Scout's Inc, via ESPN, Richardson is rated as high as the fourth best player available.
He accounted for 1,976 all purpose yards and 23 touchdowns, and was named the SEC offensive player of the year, an All-American and winner of the Doak Walker award for best running back in college football. Needless to say, in drafting Richardson, the Browns would be securing a potential franchise caliber running back.
With Peyton Hillis becoming an unrestricted free agent as of March 13th, despite recent comments from GM Tom Heckert, hinting at the team's intent to sign Hillis, the Browns still have yet to enter negotiations with their leading rusher of the past two seasons. Additionally, even if the team does sign the beleaguered back, there are still reasonable questions as to his ability to stay healthy and focused for the duration of the 2012 season.
With this looming uncertainty, Richardson could prove to be a legitimate failsafe, nullifying much of the reasonable doubt revolving around the running game prior to training camp.
The potential signing of Hillis will serve to inform the direction the team will take in the draft, as far as how they use the No. 4 pick in the first round. That being said, it is not entirely illegitimate, though somewhat unlikely, to envision the team utilizing both Hillis and Richardson extensively, and within the same backfield.
This kind of two-back attack is not unprecedented, and especially within the historical context of the team, specifically in the pre-expansion era during the mid to late 80s, when Cleveland relied equally on running backs Ernest Byner and Kevin Mack. Both rushed for 1,000 yards in their first season together, occupying the same backfield.
The other option which drafting Richardson opens up, is they would still retain their additional first round (22)and early second round (37) picks, to focus them toward additional offensive upgrades. This is a scenario that if a deal to move up for Griffin III does come to pass, would be impossible, as they would presumably be dealing away these picks, at the very least.
The Browns post expansion, have been a team characterized by a revolving door of players at the running back position. As much as the pre-draft speculation has focused on the team’s day to day standing in the RGIII sweepstakes, there is as much evidence to validate their pursuit of a prolific running back.
The team has had several 1,000-yard rushers in recent years, including Hillis in his breakout 2010 season, in which he went for 1,177 yards. Others on this list include Jamal Lewis who rushed for 1,304 in 2007 and 1,002 in 2008, and Reuben Droughns, who ran for 1,232 in 2005.
Despite these isolated outbreaks of output at the position, the team still has yet to acquire a back who can be both prolific and consistent year in and year out. If they were to draft Richardson, and give the nod of confidence to Colt McCoy as their starting quarterback, the former is a player who could provide instantaneous productivity, in turn relieving pressure from McCoy’s shoulders. As the young quarterback has not had a consistently productive backfield mate to this point in his career, it could be a step toward the maturation in his play that many feel is feasible.
As a continuation of the previous slide, having a back the caliber of Richardson in the backfield would provide the immediate threat from one play to the next that would consequently open up the field for opportunity in the passing game.
Of course there are uncertainties with two offensive areas that correlate to this one if by land two if by… erhem.. air, attack, namely the right side of the offensive line and wide receiver corps, however, again, drafting Richardson would result in retention of picks to be used towards these question mark areas.