There haven't been many running backs to hit the NFL as talented as Trent Richardson, who went with the third overall pick to the Cleveland Browns. Not surprisingly, the fantasy football world is fascinated with the star runner from Alabama.
But are they too fascinated?
In ESPN fantasy football snake drafts, Richardson is being selected at an average pick of 29.0, making him a third-round selection in 10-team leagues. It seems pretty high for a rookie, especially for those among us who were burnt by rookies like Mark Ingram or Daniel Thomas last year.
So is Richardson really worth that high a pick? Are you willing to risk such a valuable selection on a rookie? Or is his talent simply too much to pass on?
Let's find out.
The Case: Is Trent Richardson worth a third-round pick or higher?
Here, I'll present both an argument against drafting Richardson in the third round or higher and one supporting the selection. I'll offer my own verdict below, though as always, the true verdict is yours to determine.
The Argument Against Richardson
Rookies are scary. Rookies are dangerous. Never trust a rookie wide receiver. Before last year, the rule of thumb was generally to never trust a rookie quarterback either, though Cam Newton shook up that theory a bit.
But hey, you're thinking, rookie running backs can offer value. In the past five years alone, there have been nine rookies who were certainly worth having on your team:
2010: LeGarrette Blount, 1,007 yards, six touchdowns
2009: Beanie Wells, 793 yards, seven touchdowns
2008: Steve Slaton, 1,282 yards, 10 touchdowns
2008: Matt Forte, 1,238 yards, 12 touchdowns
2008: Chris Johnson, 1,228 yards, 10 touchdowns
2008: Kevin Smith, 976 yards, eight touchdowns
2007: Adrian Peterson, 1,341 yards, 13 touchdowns
2007: Marshawn Lynch, 1,115 yards, seven touchdowns
2007: Ryan Grant, 956 yards, eight touchdowns
Last year, DeMarco Murray was a stud if you picked the right week to start him, but he wasn't the Cowboys starter throughout the year, has a history of injuries and only scored two touchdowns in seven starts.
But aside from perhaps Adrian Peterson, how many of the above backs do you think went in the first three rounds of fantasy football drafts?
None, that's how many, and that's because rookies are inherently risky. You get lucky sometimes, yes, but for the most part you bust when you select rookie runners too high. For every first-year back like Adrian Peterson, there is a Reggie Bush or Darren McFadden. Are you really willing to overpay for a player whose never taken a professional snap?
And Richardson isn't exactly walking into a stable Cleveland offense. The Browns have a rookie quarterback in Brandon Weeden, the best receiver is second-year man Greg Little and the team was 28th in the NFL in rushing last season (95.7 yards per game).
Yeah, he might accumulate some yards over the course of a 16-game season, but he's not going to find the end zone often.
Plus, the Browns have six division games against the Pittsburgh Steelers (eighth in rushing defense last year), Baltimore Ravens (second) and Cincinnati Bengals (10th). And if rookie quarterback Weeden and the team's lackluster receivers can't keep opponents honest, defenses will just stack the box and force the team to pass anyway.
So go ahead, take Richardson with a third-round pick. Marvel about his physical ability or crazy upside if you like. But just know that you will be disappointed, because that's what the Browns do: they disappoint.
The Argument For Richardson
Richardson is the best running back to hit the NFL since Adrian Peterson in 2007. He's a complete player who has immense power, excellent vision, above-average shiftiness, is incredibly durable and is versatile enough to be a threat as a receiver out of the backfield.
We're talking about a player who rushed for 1,679 yards and scored 24 total touchdowns last season, in the brutal SEC nonetheless.
Richardson doesn't carry a history of injuries into the NFL like Peterson did, and he doesn't have the fumbling issues (he lost just one fumble in three seasons at Alabama) that plagued Peterson either.
If he weren't a rookie, we would be talking about how safe of a selection Richardson is. He's a workhorse who stays healthy, doesn't fumble, is a good enough blocker to stay in the game on passing downs, won't be taken out near the goal line, is a threat to hurt teams as a receiver and, oh yeah, will get a ridiculous amount of touches in Cleveland's offense.
It won't matter that Weeden and the passing game won't be great. The Browns will want to be a ground-and-pound, ball-control team anyway, and it should be an effective strategy.
Before you go and make the claim that Cleveland will often find itself behind in games and need to resort to throwing the ball around, keep in mind that the Cleveland defense held opponents to 19.12 points per game last season, fifth-best in the NFL. If they can mimic that this year and shorten games by riding Richardson hard, they should be an improved squad this season.
Richardson has proven to be a tough, physical presence in training camp, which only bodes well for the Browns. And let's for a moment consider some of the players who are on average being drafted ahead of him in ESPN snake drafts:
Marshawn Lynch: Fantasy non-factor in the 2009 and 2010 seasons, rode half a season of solid numbers into fantasy relevance last year.
DeMarco Murray: Incredibly injury prone, only has two touchdowns in seven career starts.
Darren McFadden: In four seasons, McFadden has already missed 19 games due to injury. Very risky.
Adrian Peterson: He tore his ACL last season, and it remains uncertain when he'll be ready to return.
Jamaal Charles: He tore his ACL last season, and will be in a time share with Peyton Hillis.
The moral of the story is this: Outside of players like Arian Foster, Ray Rice and LeSean McCoy, just about every running back carries serious risk.
You may take Matt Forte in the first or second round, but he'll probably have a lot of touchdowns stolen by Michael Bush. Ryan Mathews may have had a breakout season last year, but he's already missed six games in his first two seasons to injury.
Running backs are unpredictable this year, be it due to injury history, time shares or, yes, because they are rookies. You may be scared by his inexperience, but Richardson is far more safer than many of the veterans being selected before him, and it isn't a stretch to think he can be a top-10 fantasy back this year.
The NFL is a passing league, and this year's crop of running backs carry a ton of risks. If you can't take a top flight runner early, you're probably going to turn to quarterbacks and wide receivers instead of stockpiling backs in the early rounds (as was the style in the olden days).
Drafting a rookie running back in the third round isn't ideal, but if you find yourself without a back come the third round and Richardson is sitting there, you could do worse than select him. Will you feel all that much more secure if you draft a player like Steven Jackson, Michael Turner, Fred Jackson or Frank Gore over Richardson in the third round?
As always, take what the board gives you. Richardson is risky with such a high pick, but not insanely so. And hey, if tight ends are going in the first three rounds this year (Rob Gronkowski on average at 14.5, Jimmy Graham on average at 21.2), you can totally justify Richardson that high, too.
But as always, you be the judge.
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