Trent Richardson: Low Risk, High Reward Makes Browns RB a Fantasy Football Gem

Nick CaronAnalyst IAugust 4, 2012

May 11, 2012; Berea, OH, USA: Cleveland Browns running back Trent Richardson (33) waits to be interviewed during rookie training camp at the Cleveland Browns training facility.  Mandatory Credit: Eric P. Mull-USPRESSWIRE

When the Cleveland Browns selected running back Trent Richardson with their first pick of the 2012 NFL draft, he quickly became the top pick for almost every fantasy football dynasty league.

Richardson’s elite combination of size, speed and versatility makes him perhaps the most highly anticipated talent at the running back position since Adrian Peterson was selected by the Minnesota Vikings years ago.

Fans look forward to seeing Richardson perform for years to come, but some fantasy owners seem to be weary of the rookie tailback. While there are legitimate concerns that surround the former Alabama standout and his ability to make fantasy owners happy, the potential benefits far outweigh the cost to snag him this offseason.

One of the major worries that fantasy owners have is that rookie running backs just don’t seem to be top-end fantasy performers. While this is true, what many seem to forget is that in today’s NFL, most teams handicap their rookie running backs’ fantasy value by forcing them into a split-carry scenario with a veteran back that clearly doesn’t deserve to be on the field as often as he is.

We saw this even in the case of Adrian Peterson, when the Vikings frustrated fantasy owners by continuing to put Chester Taylor on the field instead of their young superstar.

However, the difference in 2012 with the Cleveland Browns is that while the team will still certainly be careful with their top pick, they simply don’t have any other quality options to tote the rock. This means that Trent Richardson will likely see upwards of 80 percent of his team’s carries in 2012.

It’s true that the Cleveland Browns offense hasn’t exactly been wild with throwing points on the board in recent years, but 80 percent of carries on any team is worth serious fantasy consideration. Combine that with new talent the team added at quarterback and wide receiver this off-season and you could be looking at a much improved offense, or at least a more dynamic one, in 2012.

Even if the Browns remain a mediocre offense in 2012, Trent Richardson still has the chance to be one of the best steals of the draft. If we look back just two seasons ago, it was another Browns running back, Peyton Hillis, who burst on to the scene and became perhaps the biggest overachiever in the league when he finished the season in the top five of scorers at his position.

If Hillis could perform that well in a worse offensive situation than the Browns have going into in 2012, just imagine what a ridiculously skilled player like Trent Richardson could do. We’re talking top-five upside, people. Perhaps even better than that.

That same thing could be said about quite a few players. Every year we hear, “Well if he puts it all together, he could be one of the best at his position.”

But what really makes Richardson so valuable for fantasy football in 2012 is that there is almost no risk that he will be a terrible player, provided that he doesn’t get hurt.

Any time that a player gets as high of a number of touches as Richardson is expected to get from the Browns, he automatically sets himself up for what could be a monster season.

Realistically speaking, Richardson will likely touch the ball upwards of 325 times in 2012, with 290 of those being rushes and 35 of them being catches.

If he only matches what Peyton Hillis did on the ground in terms of yards per carry at 3.6, he will cross the 1,000 yard mark on the season. Add in the additional nine-or-so yards per reception that most backs average, and Richardson’s yardage total is creeping up to well over 1,300…and that’s on the conservative side.

Of course, fantasy football is largely about scoring, and the Browns offense is going to have to get into the red zone on a somewhat regular basis to give Richardson a chance to be an elite back. Even if they don’t, Richardson has the ability to break loose on long runs that could allow him to score from much further out than many backs. Not only that, but when the Browns do make it in the red zone, he’ll be by far the most likely player to hit pay-dirt.

The fears about drafting a rookie running back are fair, but don’t allow that to be the reason you don’t take a chance on Trent Richardson.

I’m not suggesting that anyone goes out there and selects Richardson in the first round of their draft, but making him the second player or third player on your roster could be the wisest move you make this fantasy season.