The Indianapolis Colts traded a first-round pick to the Cleveland Browns last year in the hopes that running back Trent Richardson would be the final piece for an offense that would carry the team into the Super Bowl.
Not quite. Richardson flopped in Indy just as he did in Cleveland, but the Colts were still able to win the AFC South on the arm of Andrew Luck, winning one game before the Patriots bounced them in the divisional round.
This year, Richardson and the Colts pledge things will be different.
This year, the Colts are going to get the running back that can help propel the team to Glendale and Super Bowl XLIX.
At least, that's what they'd have us believe. Richardson told Mike Wells of ESPN he's already hard at work, stating that he intends to make his first offseason with the team count:
Learn the system, not just memorizing it. Learning the whole concept of the system. There's a difference between having it memorized and feeling comfortable with the system. I’m going talk to a lot of veteran players, talk to Adrian (Peterson), talk to (LaDainian Tomlinson), talk to Emmitt Smith to make sure I’m the best I need to be next year.
The former fourth overall pick also has the overwhelming support of the staff and his teammates. Tight end Coby Fleener told Marc Sessler of NFL.com the Richardson trade "was great for us," and general manager Ryan Grigson referenced the former Alabama star in his postseason press conference:
Grigson: We don't win 12 games if Trent Richardson isn't here. Trent fits all the things we're trying to do here.— Mike Chappell (@mchappell51) January 16, 2014
You're right Ryan. The Colts wouldn't have won 12 games. Maybe more like 14.
By any objective measure, Richardson was awful for the Colts. The 22-year-old averaged less than three yards a carry on the season, and he didn't gain 65 yards on the ground in a game all season long.
Not exactly what you're looking for from that first-round investment.
Now, many have qualified Richardson's struggles in Indianapolis with his midseason arrival, and to an extent they're right. It isn't easy being dropped into a new offense like that, a fact Fleener referenced when speaking with Sessler:
I think part of it is you're coming into an offense that's probably one of the most complex in the NFL. And so for him to play a week after being there was impressive because it took me a year and a half to learn the offense. I think this camp will do him a lot of good, and then you guys can judge him after that.
The problem is Richardson didn't really do any better as a rookie in Cleveland, leading to statements like this from Bleacher Report NFL National Lead Writer Matt Miller:
.@FearTheRageInMe On a personal grade level, yes, Trent Richardson is the biggest bust to-date I've scouted. But he's still young.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) January 6, 2014
With that said, it's not like all is lost. There's a reason Richardson was a first-round pick to begin with. You don't gain 2,000 total yards in a season of SEC football without considerable athletic gifts.
Now the Colts desperately need those talents to manifest in the NFL.
It's telling that Grigson said Richardson "fits all the things we're trying to do here," in that it goes to the reason the Colts surrendered another first-round pick to acquire Richardson in the first place.
On paper at least, Richardson would seem a great fit for Pep Hamilton's West Coast offense. At Alabama he showed himself a capable runner, receiver and pass-blocker who could shoulder a heavy workload.
In other words, every running back Hamilton had at Stanford, only more athletic.
It didn't work out that way though. The Colts were forced to move away from the run and toward the pass, and by season's end the team was 20th in the league in rushing and 23rd in attempts.
At this point some will say "So what? The Colts won 11 games and ran away with the division! They'll be fine!"
Sorry about the pun. Couldn't be helped.
Yes, the Colts can win 10 games and a bad AFC South, even if Richardson struggles again. They did it in 2013 with wide receiver Reggie Wayne on the shelf, and both he and tailback Vick Ballard will return from ACL tears in 2014.
How many yards will Trent Richardson rush for in 2013?
Donald Brown, who all but carried the Colts' ground game in 2013, may not, depending on the offers he receives in free agency.
The thing is, the Colts don't just want to win the AFC South, or win a playoff game, and if you're going to win the Super Bowl at some point you have to be able to run the ball effectively.
In the divisional round last year, the Colts traveled to face a New England Patriots team whose defense had been ravaged by injuries inside. The Patriots boasted the worst run defense in the AFC, in conditions perfect for banging away on the ground.
Richardson carried the ball three times for one yard, and the Colts rushed for 69 yards as a team.
Meanwhile, LeGarrette Blount of the Patriots picked up 166 yards and four scores on the ground by himself.
Care to guess who won that game?
For the Colts' sake, here's hoping that Richardson truly is hell-bent on putting his struggles as a pro behind him and having a breakout third year.
Because where the Indy offense is concerned, Trent Richardson is that player.