Speculation and skepticism is rife about Cleveland Browns' running back Trent Richardson after an ineffective outing against the Indianapolis Colts. Despite notching just eight yards on as many carries, his fantasy stock should still be very high.
On a team that is frequently playing from behind—as the Browns typically do—the No. 3 overall pick is still the team's leader in receptions with 22, even with the emergence of talented fellow rookie Josh Gordon. Not to mention, he has already managed to find the end zone more than all Browns running backs did in 2011.
Akron-Beacon Journal reporter Nate Ulrich took to Twitter to quote Richardson about the injury he suffered last week, which the running back cited for his lack of production on Sunday:
#Browns RB Trent Richardson said rib injury is worse than people think and he's not playing like himself right now.— Nate Ulrich (@NateUlrichABJ) October 21, 2012
Things got a little more confusing when Richardson flip-flopped, as documented by Will Burge of ESPNCleveland.com:
Trent Richardson flip flopped back and forth between saying he could have played and saying it was the right choice to sit him down #Browns— Will Burge (@WillBurge) October 21, 2012
Whether Richardson's benching was precautionary or for production reasons, the Browns invested heavily in him, and they would be unwise to utilize him less than second-round flop Montario Hardesty.
Although Hardesty has looked stellar in the past two games and may be in the process of redeeming his career, he definitely doesn't have the receiving ability of Richardson or Chris Ogbonnaya, for that matter.
If he's really being counted on as the bell-ringing ball carrier moving forward, then such a high pick of Richardson this year would look foolish.
There have been flashes that Richardson is as good as advertised. With the exception of his very first game, Richardson has produced as much as he could behind inconsistent run blocking. He also made QB Brandon Weeden's life easier on short check-downs, turning them into big plays.
The Browns will continue throwing a lot. It is the penchant of play-calling head coach Pat Shurmur to put the ball in the air even in a tight game, as was evident in Weeden's 41 passes in Indianapolis in the eventual 17-13 loss.
Weeden is continuing to try to minimize the mistakes, because he has a league-leading 10 interceptions entering this week.
Whenever Richardson does become healthy again, Weeden will lean on him even more in the short passing game.
The lackluster yards-per-carry is the only beef fantasy owners can have with Richardson. While he has looked hesitant at times before hitting the hole, the offensive line has often been to blame for the lack of running lanes.
Defenses have dared Weeden to beat them with his arm, and he's been baited into turnovers. As Weeden continues to develop—and he has shown signs of improvement every week—more opportunities will open up for Richardson.
Feeding the ball to Richardson will only help the offensive line's functionality, too. Instead of standing up to pass protect, the bigs can fire off the ball and attack.
It would be premature to give up on Richardson this early—for the Browns and for fantasy owners—because when he does get going, he's shown just how good and powerful he can be.