Why Willis McGahee Can Adequately Replace Trent Richardson

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Why Willis McGahee Can Adequately Replace Trent Richardson

Willis McGahee will replace Trent Richardson for the Cleveland Browns, a job that won't be as hard as it may seem on the surface. 

The soon-to-be 32-year-old running back was signed by the Browns following the trade that sent the No. 3 overall pick in the 2012 draft to the Indianapolis Colts

NFL.com's Jeff Darlington confirmed that McGahee passed his physical and is officially the newest running back in Cleveland: 

Due to Richardson's high draft status and McGahee's fall into obscurity, it's easy to expect a major production drop-off from the Browns' backfield.

However, that may not ultimately be the case.

Here's a look at how Richardson has performed on his 298 career carries compared to the last 298 carries McGahee received in the NFL:

Comparing Willis McGahee To Trent Richardson (Last 298 Carries)
Yards Yards Per Carry
Trent Richardson 1,055 3.5
Willis McGahee 1,359 4.56

ProFootballReference

Denver's passing game was dramatically more threatening than Cleveland's in 2012—there's no doubting that—but it's important to remember that 131 of McGahee's last 298 carries came with Tim Tebow as the Broncos' quarterback in 2011.

So, while McGahee likely reaped the benefits of running in a Manning-led attack last season, he ran in one of the least intimidating passing offenses in recent memory the year before.

Sure, Brandon Weeden was pretty bad as a rookie, but it didn't lead to a high frequency of stacked boxes for Richardson. 

Pro Football Focus (subscription required) researched the percentage of Richardson's carries that came against eight or more defenders in the box during his rookie season as part of a more comprehensive study of all NFL runners:

Trent Richardson Vs. 8 Or More In The Box In 2012
Carries Percentage Of Total Carries
Trent Richardson 48 17.98%
League Average 23.25%

ProFootballFocus

McGahee faced a stacked box on 12.57 percent of his carries a season ago. 

His 3.8 yards per carry in 2010 as a member of the Baltimore Ravens tied for the lowest average of his career, but it still exceeds what Richardson produced in 2012.

However, running backs can't do it themselves. We all know that. 

Even the best need at least some semblance of adequate blocking in front of them to succeed on a consistent basis. 

Here's a look at how each team's run-blocking efforts were graded by Pro Football Focus:

Browns vs. Broncos Run-Blcoking
PFF Run-Blocking Grade (Rank)
2011 Broncos -78.9 (32 of 32)
2012 Broncos -2.2 (20 of 32)
2012 Browns +10.0 (14 of 32)

ProFootballFocus

Interesting, right? 

According to those numbers, McGahee was far more effective behind worse offensive lines in 2011 and 2012. 

He's slowing down and proved to be not nearly as explosive with the Broncos as he was with the Bills and Ravens to start his career.

However, based on his recent efficiency, it's not out of the question that McGahee will be able to replace Richardson's rather mediocre production in Cleveland during the remainder of the 2013 campaign. 

 

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