Running backs had only been selected once in the top five picks since 2007 going into the 2012 NFL draft, but that all changed when the Cleveland Browns traded up from the No. 4 to No. 3 pick to secure the rights of Alabama running back Trent Richardson.
The running back position is always an interesting debate of value. The majority of NFL fans side with the thought that athletes at the position can easily be found and productive, while others will say not all running backs are created equal—some are special, while others are not.
That's the case with Richardson, who may be a ball-carrier at one of the positions with the shortest careers, but he's not your typical ball-carrier.
Standing at a compact 5'9" and 228 pounds, Richardson has a low center of gravity, which gives him a natural low pad level ("low man wins!") advantage, and he runs with bad intentions, looking to punish would-be tacklers.
He's also able to be a workhorse running back, a key aspect of a high pick at the position, as he's durable and secures the ball while being patient in letting his blocks develop.
Furthermore, he also has exceptional lateral agility to make defenders miss while also possessing the balance and vision to stay on his feet amid contact and find the alley. These characteristics were all seen on a single play, a 76-yard home run carry by Richardson against Ole Miss.
He dazzled fans by initially making the first defender miss in the backfield, another important trait at the running back position, displayed the vision to cut back inside in between two defenders to get into the open field and when he found the vacant area to his right where he put his exceptional lateral agility on display by leaving a would-be tackler on the ground and scored a touchdown.
It was simply brilliant, but it wasn't the only highlight run in his career. Just ask the LSU defense, which he torched on a second-down carry early in the fourth quarter of the first meeting.
Richardson appeared to have been shot out of a cannon when the ball was placed in his midsection, as he was quick through the hole—as he is taught to do—and his stomps on the ground only seemed to get louder as he approached contact. Once he came into contact with defensive end Sam Montgomery (No. 99), he dropped his pad level and powered through as the LSU defender slowly slipped off.
He continued his path, keeping his pad level low and his feet moving, running through another tackle before making another miss. It was sheer determination and an otherwise impressive run that seemed the norm for Richardson.
Moreover, Richardson's talents are going to be significant in the Browns offense because he can do everything very well, from running the ball to catching it out of the backfield, as well as blocking in pass protection. He's tough, strong and plays with good pad level to hold up in pass protection, a key part of playing the running back position in the NFL.
His presence in the backfield alone is likely to make the quarterback's job easier at the line of scrimmage.
Whether it's first-rounder Brandon Weeden or third-year player Colt McCoy, the quarterback will have more space to throw in the passing game because the pre-snap keys will likely show one less deep defender in coverage. The reason for this is because defenses will be accounting for Richardson as he's likely to be the primary source of offense, thus seeing more eight-man boxes while the quarterback sees a single high safety shell deep.
Richardson has the talent to excel in any system, which is why he was a top-five pick in this year's draft. He has exceptional vision, instincts, agility and hands—all key traits that make him an elite talent.
Or simply a "freak."