Trent Richardson: Why Browns RB Is a Must Start vs. Colts

Tyler ConwayFeatured ColumnistOctober 18, 2012

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 14: Running back Trent Richardson #33 of the Cleveland Browns runs for a gain against the Cincinnati Bengals during the second quarter at Cleveland Browns Stadium on October 14, 2012 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Jason Miller/Getty Images

Despite a rib injury and limited effectiveness thus far in 2012, Cleveland Browns running back Trent Richardson should be in store for a career-best performance against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday.

According to ESPN, Richardson will use a flak jacket to protect a rib injury he sustained in last week's win over the Cincinnati Bengals.

Surely, that would understandably give some owners pause, but the former Alabama star said he plans on playing the whole game, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer's Mary Kay Cabot

#browns Trent Richardson (ribs): "in my mind I'm ready for Sunday. I'll be ready to play whole game."'will wear flak or some padding.

— Mary Kay Cabot (@MaryKayCabot) October 17, 2012


With ostensibly a full workload and a matchup against the weak Colts defense on tap, this should finally be the week Richardson becomes what we all thought he could be coming into the season. 

While Richardson has become an every-week start as a low-end RB2, his value for fantasy owners has almost solely been limited to getting in the end zone.

With five touchdowns in six games, that mostly has not been a problem.

Nevertheless, his frustrating inconsistencies as a runner have been vexing for owners who know that running back touchdowns can vanish without a moment's notice.

In the two games where Richardson has not gotten into the end zone, he's been a massive detriment to fantasy teams, compiling a combined seven fantasy points (using standard scoring) in those contests. 

Luckily for Richardson, he should be in line for a huge game, regardless of whether he scores a touchdown on Sunday. Coming into Week 7, the Colts have the 29th-ranked run defense in the NFL, giving up 159 yards per game on the ground.

What's more, those figures get even worse when delving into advanced metrics. According to Football Outsiders' DVOA metric, Indianapolis is second-worst against the run and allows 14.1 percent more yardage than a replacement-level defense would when facing similar opponents.

That means that head coach Pat Shurmur's game plan should involve pounding the rock with Richardson, who actually has yet to break the 20-carry barrier this season. Barring injury, 20 carries should be the absolute minimum if Cleveland schemes with any semblance of competency. 

Not only should the Browns attempt to get Richardson the ball as much as possible, they may have to when accounting for the Colts' excellence against the pass.

Though struggling against the run, Indianapolis has the third-best pass defense in the league, giving up a minuscule 200 yards per contest. When accounting for Brandon Weeden's struggles this season, a conservative approach becomes even more obvious as the way to go.

All of these factors essentially put Richardson among the Top 10 running backs heading into this week if you believe in his skills. For me, this may be the make-or-break game for my faith in Richardson as a fantasy option this season.

If Richardson is actually as good as we all thought, he should hit the 100-yard barrier and score at least once. If not, well, all the talk of Cleveland wasting two first-round picks in April's draft may have some merit. 

All I know is that the reward is far too big to pass on Richardson in Week 7.