Maybe it was the 2012 pairing with Steven Jackson that inspired a reflexive, contrasting perception of Daryl Richardson’s game. The St. Louis Rams' rising sophomore running back is about four inches shorter and 40 pounds lighter than Jackson but still earned work as a rookie. Based on those facts—and his ability to get to the outside and make plays—alone, some decided that Richardson must be a third-down or change-of-pace back.
That perception would be inaccurate.
Richardson rushed 98 times for 475 yards (4.8 average) last season. A majority—53 percent—of those carries (52) came on first downs.
Richardson broke through a pair of simultaneous arm tackles at the 48-yard line and put a shoulder into Josh Wilson—who then tripped up his own teammate—turning him into a domino before the rusher bounced out of bounds at the five.
Never mind the subsequent Sam Bradford interception on the next play. Richardson’s run was 26-on-26 crime.
Erasing that brilliant production of yardage would still leave him with an average of 4.3 yards per carry on first down, but it’s his breakaway ability that was a welcome addition to the Rams in the first place.
It’s also not a terribly frequent occurrence to catch Richardson in the backfield. He’s not just boom-or-bust.
Of Richardson’s 98 overall attempts, 82 (83.7 percent) went for positive yardage. Six of the other 16 (16.3 percent) were zero-yard runs, seven were losses of one yard, one was a loss of two yards and two were a loss of four. He gained five or more yards on 35.7 percent of his carries.
Whether his second-down rushing numbers look better than his first-down stats depends on whether you keep his longest run of the season in consideration. Richardson averaged 4.66 yards on 35 second-down attempts, which includes six negative runs and two rushes back to the line of scrimmage.
The average distance on second down when he either rushed the ball (35 opportunities) or got targeted (14) in the passing game was 6.63. Daryl averaged 4.41 yards per opportunity (rushes plus targets) on second down—which puts the Rams in very manageable third-down situations more often than not—and 4.91 yards per touch (rushes plus receptions) under the same conditions.
His first-down opportunities produced 5.25 yards on average. First-down touches: 5.52.
Perhaps even more interesting is the fairly even distribution of targets across downs. Richardson was targeted 11 times on first down, 14 on second and 11 on third. The Rams weren’t treating him like the New Orleans Saints handle Darren Sproles; he also got 11 rushes on third down.
He notched 3.64 yards per rush and converted two first downs in short-yardage situations. The average distance to go for the remaining nine carries: 14.8.
St. Louis found itself in 209 third-down scenarios, per NFL.com, but called Richardson’s number in the form of a rushing attempt or target for 10.5 percent of them. He earned 13.4 percent (134) of the opportunities (1,002 scrimmage plays) overall.
So, not only is Richardson not just a “third-down running back” going forward, but he didn’t even get as much work on third as he’s used to in early downs as a rookie.
No wonder he’s now considered the starter by coach Jeff Fisher, even with Isaiah Pead and Zac Stacy on the payroll. No wonder St. Louis didn’t spend one of their two first-round picks on a big-name battering ram like Eddie Lacy.
By the way, Richardson’s size (5’10”, 196 pounds) compares favorably with that of Tennessee Titans star Chris Johnson (5’11”, 191). Johnson has a 358-carry (2009, his second year) and a 316-carry (2010, his third) season under his belt. He’s missed one game in his career: a Week 17 contest during his rookie year, when the Titans had the No. 1 seed locked up at 13-2.
Jeff Fisher was also his head coach at the time.
All advanced statistics were charted and calculated by Jamal Collier. ESPN.com play-by-play information was used. For more St. Louis Rams analysis, stats and opinions, as well as other NFL and fantasy football numbers, follow Jamal on Twitter: Follow @StatManJ