As a general rule, NFL teams prefer to avoid using high draft picks these days to select running backs. A couple of the reasons include the relatively shorter careers of those who play the position and the value that typically can be found later in the draft.
This year, that wasn't the case with a running back that has been described as being the best to come out of the draft since Adrian Peterson.
Not only did the Browns select Alabama running back Trent Richardson with a high first-round pick, but they also traded up to the No. 3 spot to ensure that they got their man. And that's exactly what he expects to be: the man.
Recently, Richardson was quoted by Alex Marvez of Fox Sports as saying that he wants "to be the best thing that ever happened to Cleveland.”
“They’re really putting me out there to showcase everything. There ain’t no sugarcoating. I’m going to get the ball. I’m going to catch the ball. I’m going to block. I’m going to do everything I can and they’re going to put me in the best situation. I want to be that guy they don’t have to take off the field.”
One of the things that will help Richardson endure the pounding that an every-down back takes is his freakish strength, but he does not know much (i.e., the max) he can bench press. In an interview, he said that he has benched "475 [pounds] easy, and [the Alabama trainers] won't let me go above 475."
Richardson is not just a powerful back that will lower his shoulder to run over defenders and move the pile. While he obviously can do that, he has good speed, elusiveness and vision to bounce it outside or make defenders miss tackles and he has good hands out of the backfield as well.
In other words, Richardson is a complete back that thrived in the toughest conference in college football.
His situation in Cleveland, in fact, is similar to his situation in Alabama. Not in talent relative to the competition, but Alabama's leading receiver was Marquis Maze, who ranked 130th in the country with 627 receiving yards. No other 'Bama player reached 400 receiving yards.
Without having a top-end threat (or two) on the outside of the Browns' offense, opposing defenses will invariably stack the box with eight-men fronts to slow Richardson as much as possible.
(Strength of) Schedule
Based on the cumulative fantasy points allowed to running backs last year by all of the Browns' opponents this season, Richardson and the Browns' RBs have the 14th-most favorable schedule from a fantasy perspective and the 11th easiest in the fantasy postseason (Weeks 14-16).
All four of their opponents from Week 13 to 16 ranked in the bottom half of the league in rushing last year: Raiders (Week 13), Chiefs (Week 14), Redskins (Week 15) and Broncos (Week 16). Facing the other three AFC North run defenses six times a year will be tough on a yearly basis, but one of the times Richardson has to face the Steelers this year is in Week 17, which is typically after most fantasy leagues end their season.
With many teams employing running back committees, Richardson is one of the few backs that should get the vast majority of his team's carries. With all of the physical characteristics to flourish, he may be held back (some) this year by the lack of talent around him on offense. That said, he has the potential to finish as a top-five back as early as this season.
Regardless of Jim Brown's recent quotes about Richardson (“I don't see anything outstanding about him"), Richardson has all of the physical tools and the right attitude to become a special back. If the Browns make upgrades to their receiving corps and offensive line over the next few years, Richardson should be a dominant fantasy running back for the foreseeable future.
Projection: (Rushing) 1,240 yards, eight TDs; (Receiving) 35 receptions, 275 yards, two TDs
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