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Cleveland Browns: 7 Reasons Trent Richardson Will Fulfill His HOF Potential

Barbara BrunoContributor IIJanuary 5, 2017

Cleveland Browns: 7 Reasons Trent Richardson Will Fulfill His HOF Potential

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    Trent Richardson went to the same high school as Emmitt Smith, but will he follow No. 22’s footsteps in Canton? Quite possibly.

    Despite offseason knee surgery that prevented him from showing off at the combine, Richardson was the highest-ranked running back in virtually every mock draft—and probably on every pro draft board—going into the “selection meeting” in April.

    Jim Brown may have felt it necessary (via Tony Grossi of ESPN Radio) to announce his opinion that Richardson is an “ordinary” running back, but he's evidently the only person in the entire state of Ohio (if not all of the NFL) who holds that opinion.

    Not to mention that Mr. Brown’s feelings these days are evidently somewhat ambivalent regarding all things Cleveland.

    Conversely, ex-Colts general manager Bill Polian termed the former Crimson Tider “a sure thing” and Sports Illustrated's Tony Pauline wrote: “His game offers an outstanding combination of quickness, power and speed.”

    ESPN’s Edward Aschoff summed up the Browns latest best hope: “He’s built like a tank, but runs with finesse and grace.”

    Richardson is the first running back selected this high in the draft since Reggie Bush (No. 2 overall) in 2006. Few, if any, football aficionados see a Bush HOF bust in the making.

    So, why is the Rust Belt aflame with jubilant faith in a completely untested rushing quantity?

    (Alright, maybe not Cincinnati.)

Youth

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    Richardson has just celebrated his 21st birthday. In fact, he may still be celebrating for all we know—safely and responsibly no doubt.

    Trent wisely decided that, given the extremely short and age-related career span of an NFL running back, he would begin his professional life in 2012.

    This decision will probably add at least one year to his career. And longevity is key to ending up in the Hall of Fame.

    Terrell Davis was a brilliant running back and achieved both Super Bowl and NFL MVP status. But he only played for seven years, and the last four were all curtailed by injuries. He will never see Canton except as a tourist. Is that fair? Probably not, but those are the unwritten rules.

    Youth may also help Richardson to overcome any injuries that he sustains in the course of a career that will hopefully span at least a decade.

    Let’s just address the elephant in the living room up front—injuries. The only true reason for Richardson not wearing laurel crowns for many seasons in Cleveland will be if he cannot stay healthy.

    Trent tore ligaments in both ankles while still in high school and has screws holding them together. He has also sustained two knee injuries, the second of which necessitated a meniscus cartilage scope that prevented him from participating in the combine.

    The upside is that Richardson has never let the injuries stop him.

    He couldn’t play football his freshman year of high school after the first ankle injury—so he ran track after rehab and won the district championship in the 100 meters.

    When injured his sophomore year, he joined the weight-lifting team. Oh, and he won the district 100 meters. Again.

    His last knee injury occurred before he led Alabama to the national championship, and the highlights show him running just fine.

    No, toughness has not ever been an issue with new No. 33.

    However, the injury fears are not delusional. The following players drafted in 2011 had injury concerns that have proven to be injury problems in the pros: Ras-I Dowling, Da’Quan Bowers, DeMarco Murray, Phil Taylor, Mark Ingram, Julio Jones and Tyron Smith.

    Strength is one of Richardson’s many assets. However, until Trent proves he's capable of a solid 16 games (and hopefully beyond), injury fears will keep his potential as, well, potential.

    Technically, the word means “Capable of being but not yet in existence.” Right.

    However, Trent has the positive outlook that has carried him throughout his short, but eventful, life.

    Before his last year as a leader of the Crimson Tide, ESPN quoted Richardson's response: 

    Is it pressure? I think it is, but I don’t even pay attention to the stuff they [the media] put out there. I know I’m going to play my game and I have an offensive line that’s going to be pretty good this year and we have a quarterback that’s going to make smart decisions.

    Sound familiar? Expectant Browns fans hope that Richardson’s 2011 Alabama prophecy will prove true for Cleveland in the 2012 season—and beyond.

Speaking of Strength

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    Heading into his last year at Alabama, Richardson was also asked about his weights regimen.

    On The Dan Patrick Show (via Sports Radio Interviews/Deadspin), Cleveland’s new rushing hero came clean: "I really can't tell you the truth because I really don't know the truth. But I did 475 easy, and they won't let me go above 475."

    OK. No wonder he has that stiff-arm.

    But what does a 475-lb (ish) bench press really mean?

    Browns' strength and conditioning coach Kent Johnston told Steve Doerschuk of Canton Rep.com, that Richardson is “country-boy strong.”

    Wow—but what does that mean? It means function. It means he can do more than lift weights. It means he can produce on the grass.

    Former teammates and coaches have attested to the rookie runner’s work ethic and his football endeavors bear that out:

    1) Richardson acquires 49.7 percent of his yardage after contact.

    2) He has not lost a fumble in his last 550 touches.

    3) Trent apparently gets stronger and stronger with time, since 59.3 percent of his rushing yards come after halftime. Again--wow.

    Regardless of the numbers on the dumbbells, Richardson is a physical specimen of almost mythical proportions. He is 5’10” (or 5’9” or 5’11” depending upon whose measuring stick is used) and weighs between 224 and 228 lbs.

    That is approximately 30 pounds more than Giants rusher Ahmad Bradshaw—who is the same height. Wonder if the ground will shake when Richardson scores a “buttdown?”

Maturity

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    Much has been made of new Cleveland QB Brandon Weeden’s age and the assumed maturity that he brings to the huddle. How about a guy who pulled it together after having children as a child?

    It’s well known that Richardson has two young daughters, having become a father in his sophomore year in high school—the same year that his estranged father died.

    Not so public is the fact that Richardson’s mother and grandmother worked multiple jobs for years to care for Trent and his two brothers, as well as three adopted brothers.

    At least two of those siblings and extended siblings have lived with Richardson as his football star has been rising. He was both a father and a father figure while maintaining a 3.26 average as a business major.

    The family lived in one of the far too many poor and dangerous neighborhoods present in all of America's cities: “It was tough out there. It was pretty good if you could make it to 18 out there.”

    Richardson’s family has moved to Cleveland where his mom continues to battle cancer as she helps to raise his daughters and the other family members they are both trying to help.

    Richardson said of his NFL opportunity: “I could provide for my whole family."

    As sweet and honorable as that is, one hopes that there aren’t so many people to take care of that the young man drowns in responsibility before he has a chance to make that HOF run.

Character

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    Mr. Richardson has spent his offseason in Pensacola, working out under his high school coach and continuing the sand-dune drills that have contributed to his aforementioned strength.

    When others in his draft class are getting arrested after too much clubbing, Trent is throwing out the first pitch for the new Pensacola minor league baseball team.

    But the character capper was when he took a leukemia survivor to her high school prom, giving her a dream come true at the end of a long road. A girl who wasn’t sure if she’d have her life, much less hair or a prom date was able to enter the big event on Trent’s arm—and come home as the prom queen.  

    Cleveland’s new running back may not be as famously “good” as a certain backup QB, but he does list his best accomplishment as, "Becoming a Christian. After that, everything else just sort of fell into place.”

    Character may not put up stats, but it speaks to leadership, consistency and the ability to handle pressure with grace.

    Following Emmitt Smith in high school and Mark Ingram in college has prepared No. 33 to follow Jim Brown in the pros—as much as it is possible to prepare for such a thing. Here's what he had to say in an interview on ESPN 850 WKNR in Cleveland with the Hooligans (h/t Sports Radio Interviews...h/t Deadspin):

    Oh yeah I recognize it. I don’t think it’s pressure. For me it’s another opportunity to show that I’m that guy that they did go up from four to three [to get]…one of the reasons they did take a rookie running back in the top ten. I want to be the guy that the decision makers are talking about…I want to be one of the best running backs in the game when it comes to the end of the season. I always have big shoes to fill.

Experience and Production

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    Yeah, character and mental toughness and all that jazz are great. But can he produce?

    Based on his play at both the high school and collegiate levels, the answer is a resounding “yes.”

    No converted TE here: Richardson has been a rusher all his life—a good one.

    He shared carries at Alabama his freshman year and still made the 2009 SEC All-Freshman Team. 

    In two seasons, while backing up Heisman winner Mark Ingram, Richardson tallied 1,451 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns. He also grabbed 39 passes for 392 yards and four more scores.

    When handed the reins in 2011, Trent set an Alabama record with 2,083 all-purpose yards. This is a Crimson Tide record—not a junior-college mark.

    Analysts are hesitant to equate college kudos with professional success, but at some point, doesn’t sheer volume of accomplishments portend great things?

    In 2011, Trent Richardson:

    1)  Carried the ball 282 times for 1,679 net yards, averaging 129.2 yards per game and putting up 21 scores

    2)  Caught the ball 29 times for 338 yards and three more TDs

    3)  Had nine 100-yard games (six of them consecutively)

    4)  Scored two or more touchdowns in seven games

    5)  Averaged six yards per carry and scored a touchdown every 12.6 touches

    Those athletic feats resulted in significant accolades: 

    1)  Winner, Doak Walker award as the best collegiate running back in the country

    2)  Third place in the Heisman voting behind Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III

    3)  Unanimous first-team All-American (AFCA, FWAA, Sporting News, AP, Walter Camp, ESPN.com, SI.com, Rivals.com, Pro Football Weekly)

    4)  SEC Offensive Player of the Year (AP and Coaches)

    Richardson’s experience has helped him to become a patient runner with quick-man moves, driving legs and a nasty stiff-arm.

    Add in his natural talent and cultivated strength and Richardson has a complete tool shed worth of implements with which to work towards that yellow jacket.

    And, heaven knows, lack of opportunity will not stand in the way of this RB’s rush to Canton.  Interviewed at the NFL Rookie Symposium, Richardson told Alex Marvez on Sirius XM NFL Radio:

    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.

    That’s a pretty accurate assessment of his role, one would think. Cleveland can't wait.

Fantasy Digression

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    For those fans who simply must see the world on a computer screen, Trent will probably be your main man as well.

    For four weeks of the 2012 season, Richardson will face defenses that struggled against the run in 2011: Raiders (27th), Chiefs (26th), Redskins (18th) and Broncos (22nd).

    Of course, he does have those six games against the AFC North guys. Yeah, well, you can't have everything.

    Nevertheless, fantasy football experts far and wide predict a stellar rookie campaign:

    1)  Bleacher Report:  (Rushing) 1,240 yards, eight TDs; (Receiving) 35 receptions, 275 yards, two TDs

    2)  ESPN: (Rushing) 1,281 yards, seven TDs; (Receiving) 29 receptions for 291 yards with one TD

    3)  Fantasy-Info: (Rushing) 329 carries for 1447 yards and nine scores; (Receiving) 43 receptions for 387 yards and one score

You Gotta Have Heart

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    Everything in this young man’s life reveals passion, heart, fight and a will to excel.

    Jim Brown may have merely poked the tiger. Richardson commented, “To hear comments like that is nothing but motivation. I don’t have to debate and talk about my game. I let my film show it.”

    More importantly to the Dawg Pound faithful, Richardson is embracing Cleveland. Trent encapsulated his dream in the chat with Marvez and Sirius XM NFL Radio co-host Jim Miller: “I want to be the best thing that ever happened to Cleveland. I want to be that type of all-time guy when it comes down to it.” 

    He understands underdogs, long shots and fans ready to win. Asked what he liked most about Cleveland, the Browns newest and best hope told the Hooligans of ESPN 850 WKNR:

    Really for me it’s that they are hungry. They are committed to all of their athletes and they love football. Everybody knows…that Cleveland is really a football state.

     You betcha.

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