When the Cleveland Browns make the fourth-overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, they had better choose running back Trent Richardson because he is the one that will finally get the franchise headed in the right direction.
The Heisman finalist from Alabama is currently the only running back projected to go in the first round. If he is drafted in the top five, he will become the first running back drafted in the first five picks since Darren McFadden was taken fourth overall by the Oakland Raiders in 2008.
And we all know how special Darren McFadden is.
McFadden was a big part of transforming a Raiders team that hadn't won more than four games any of the previous three years. In his first year in the league, the Raiders improved to 5-11. In 2010, the first year McFadden surpassed 200 carries, his team was 8-8. Last year, the Men in Black were 4-2 before their star running back went down with a foot injury. Had he stayed healthy, a 10-6 or 11-5 season and a playoff berth would have been the expectation.
A similar transformation will be seen when Richardson joins the Browns, should they choose to pick him.
The Browns haven't surpassed five wins in any of the last five seasons. They started to find success out of the backfield with Peyton Hillis, but he is now a member or the Kansas City Chiefs. The 5-11 season they had in 2010, when Hillis broke out, held a lot of promise for more to come. Out of those 11 losses, four were by four points or less and one was 26-20 overtime loss to the New York Jets.
Now that Hillis is gone, Richardson is clearly the best choice for owner Randolph Lerner and general manager Tom Heckert in the upcoming draft. Richardson proved at Alabama that he can thrive in a system where he is the primary source of offense. With Colt McCoy taking snaps, it looks like Richardson would have a similar role with the Browns.
He has also proven himself against good defenses, which will be a must, considering he would face the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens twice each year. His 169 total yards against LSU in the regular season and his 96-yard, one-touchdown game against them in the BCS National Championship Game were arguably the best performances against that defense all year.
In Richardson, the Browns will get a sure-thing at running back that they can use right away to keep the team alive while they figure out their quarterback situation. A playoff berth won't come immediately, but he could do for the Browns what Adrian Peterson has done for the Minnesota Vikings—bring them back to prominence and eventually (with the help of a good quarterback) lead them to the conference championship game.
Richardson is the right choice for the Browns, and he will not disappoint.