The Cleveland Browns made Alabama running back Trent Richardson the No. 3 overall selection in the 2012 NFL draft, and while he has been spectacular so far, there have continued to be injury concerns with the bruising back.
The Browns notched their first victory of the season in Week 6 against the Cincinnati Bengals, but are only 1-5 on the year. With the playoffs likely already out of the equation as a rebuilding process begins again under new ownership, is it a wise move to have Richardson carry the load all season?
Let's examine why it may be wise for the Browns organization to place Richardson on a pitch-count, or potentially even rest him for entire games as the season wears on toward its conclusion.
Richardson has been great so far despite the Browns' miserable record. On 95 rushing attempts in six games he has amassed 340 yards and four touchdowns, good for a 3.6 yards per carry average.
His best game came against the Bengals in Week 2 when he rushed for 109 yards and a touchdown on only 19 carries. He also added four receptions for 36 yards and a score in the passing game. Despite his breakout game, the Browns ended up losing in Cincinnati, 34-27.
As mentioned, Richardson appears to be one of the better backs in the NFL, but he cannot do it all on his own. The future is bright, but right now exposing him to a severe injury simply doesn't make sense.
Richardson, as a result of his extremely physical running style, was sporadically injured in college, and that trend has continued into his pro career.
Should the Browns limit Richardson's load in 2012?
The Alabama product missed the entire preseason thanks to a knee injury, but it thankfully did not hamper his production or his adjustment to the NFL. Now six games into the season, Richardson is already battling another injury—this time with his ribs.
While it doesn't appear to be serious, according to Mary Kay Cabot on Twitter, Richardson will likely have to wear a Kevlar vest to protect himself.
#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
Nagging minor injuries such as these can add up and potentially harm a career, especially at running back. Forcing the issue with Richardson this weekend against the Indianapolis Colts is not a wise decision, but the Browns appear to have already decided.
In 2012 the Browns are going to struggle to win more than five or six games with the way things have been going so far. Given Richardson's checkered injury history and the physicality of the running back position, the Browns should absolutely limit his load the rest of the year.
Cleveland has a good thing going. It has found a franchise quarterback and a legit receiver is emerging in Josh Gordon. Richardson is a franchise-changing running back who is currently supported by a stout and improving defense.
Running Richardson into the ground in 2012 for what appears to be a meaningless season would be a huge mistake. He's the future in Cleveland, which the Browns need to protect.