Much has been made about the impending potential of the Cleveland Browns aerial attack thanks to a popular belief that head coach Rob Chudzinski's established vertical passing system will ideally suit the natural talent of quarterback Brandon Weeden, wideout Josh Gordon and tight end Jordan Cameron.
Chudzinski may very well foster a new and threatening downfield dynamic, one not seen from the Browns in quite some time, but make no mistake about it: Running back Trent Richardson will remain the focal point of the offense.
His rookie campaign was, overall, a disappointment marred by nagging injuries.
For a guy who averaged only 3.55 yards per carry in 2012, Richardson will need to be fully healthy in his sophomore campaign to improve upon that number as the workhorse in Cleveland.
According to Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the former Alabama stud has "no pain at all in the leg," and will be "full-go" at the start of training camp.
With those quote snippets in mind, let's examine what should be expected of Richardson in 2013.
First, what do the advanced stats suggest?
Via ProFootballFocus.com (subscription required), Richardson's 38.8 Elusiveness Rating was the seventh-highest among backs who played at least 50 percent of their respective teams' snaps a season ago. Furthermore, he caused 40 missed tackles, the sixth-highest number in football.
Oddly enough, though, his yards-after-contact average of 2.09 was sandwiched between Shonn Green and BenJarvus Green-Ellis, the 19th-highest figure among backs in the same category.
Those two statistics indicate that compared to the generally accepted perception of him, Richardson is actually more elusive but less of a bulldozer.
He showed patience upon receiving the ball, as All-Pro tackle Joe Thomas set the edge and guard John Greco paved the way through the hole.
Richardson correctly cut back toward the middle of the field—he's a natural-born inside runner—and fell forward for the nice gain.
This, a more traditional inside power run later in the game, exemplified what Richardson's capable of as a composed and urgent one-cut runner who finishes plays with a pop despite not possessing the instantaneous burst we see from players like Adrian Peterson, C.J. Spiller and Jamaal Charles.
Again, he followed Greco and made a sudden cut back to the inside at the perfect moment, shifted into second gear and fell forward for a 13-yard gain.
Richardson's mainly a throwback runner, someone who doesn't wow with the same acceleration of today's scat-backs who've been utilized more prominently than ever.
But he's built to withstand punishment and wears down a defense with deceptive agility and fabulous vision.
Richardson appears to be a 350-attempt, 4.3 yards-per-carry guy who can be depended on in the red zone and should end the year with between 10-15 rushing touchdowns.
Sure, the ultra-efficient, 250-attempt, 4.8 yards-per-carry runners are trendy—and for good reason—but that doesn't mean a bona fide bell-cow back like Richardson has no place in the NFL.
In fact, he's the perfect type of back for Weeden to lean on as he continues his development.
Also, as shown by the advanced stats and illustrated by the runs against the Chargers, there's a bit more wiggle to Richardson's game than your grandpa's favorite three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust running back.
It would be surprising if he adds a full yard to his yards-per-carry average—something a much nimbler LaDainian Tomlinson did in his sophomore season after averaging 3.6 yards in his rookie campaign—but if the Browns' feature back stays healthy, he should receive about 330 carries and finish with more than 1,400 yards rushing.
Factor in his ability as a pass-catcher, and Richardson should find himself at around 1,700 or 1,800 total yards in 2013.
And for a coach who loves chucking it downfield, getting 1,800 yards from Trent Richardson will be more than enough.
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