Is Marshawn Lynch a Fair Case Study for Trent Richardson's Struggles?

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Is Marshawn Lynch a Fair Case Study for Trent Richardson's Struggles?
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By and large, running back Trent Richardson was an absolute train wreck in his first season with the Indianapolis Colts.

Over the course of 14 games with the Colts, the first-round pick out of Alabama averaged a meager 2.9 yards per carry and 1.8 yards after contact, forced 18 missed tackles and amassed a Pro Football Focus (subscription required) run grade of minus-6.1. 

Considering Indianapolis traded a first-round pick to the Cleveland Browns for Richardson’s services, those were not the type of numbers general manager Ryan Grigson was excepting to see from the 22-year-old running back. 

Grigson was hoping Richardson would solve the Colts’ backfield problems by building upon his rookie season where he rushed for 950 yards and scored 11 touchdowns. 

As you may already know, Richardson never came close to eclipsing the numbers he recorded during his rookie season. In addition to finishing with fewer touchdowns (four total), he also ended the season with fewer rushing yards (563) and a worse yards-per-carry average.

In all, Richardson basically regressed in every statistical category possible, which ultimately led to some media members labeling him a “bust” after two seasons in the NFL.

Fortunately for Richardson, the opinions of media members can be taken with a grain of salt. Why? Because Grigson told Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk that he would make the Richardson trade over again. 

He also said the organization is “optimistic about his [Richardson’s] future.” 

While some may be quick to disagree with the comments Grigson made at the combine, the organization has every right to be optimistic about Richardson’s future. 

Aside from the fact Richardson is still incredibly young, the 225-pound back has shown that he can produce in the NFL. Not to mention, changing teams midseason is tough to do. Very few players in league history, especially running backs, have had instant success when they were traded in-season. 

Here’s what Richardson’s teammate Matt Hasselbeck had to say about switching teams in-season, via Kevin Bowen of Colts.com

To do it in-season is just incredibly difficult, never mind the off the field distractions of finding a place to live, knowing your way around, shipping your car, all the distractions that go with it. Just being the new guy to answer interview questions week-after-week, day-after-day can really just take your focus away of running the rock.

Hasselbeck makes some very valid points. And let’s not forget, he had experience (before Richardson) playing with a running back who was traded midseason when he was the starting quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks

In 2010, the Buffalo Bills traded running back Marshawn Lynch (the 12th pick in the 2007 draft) to the Seahawks for a 2011 fourth-round pick and a conditional pick in 2012. 

Even though Lynch is now considered to be one of the five best tailbacks in the game, he struggled mightily in his first season with the Seahawks. In 165 regular-season attempts, he only averaged 3.5 yards per carry for 573 yards rushing. 

According to Hasselbeck, via Bowen of Colts.com, Lynch’s “numbers weren’t exceptional but he still meant a ton (to the Seahawks).”

Coincidentally enough, that sounds a lot like what Grigson said about Richardson in January, via Mike Chappell of The Indianapolis Star: “We don't win 12 games if Trent Richardson isn't here. Trent fits all the things we're trying to do here.”

Obviously, Richardson didn’t perform as well in the playoffs in 2013 (four attempts, one yard in two games) as Lynch did in 2010 (23 attempts, 133 yards in two games), but one could easily argue that Seattle’s offensive line was a better unit than Indianapolis’ offensive line. 

According to the analysts at PFF, the Colts finished with a minus-18.2 run-block grade in 2013, while the Seahawks finished with a run-block grade of minus-2.2 in 2010. 

Comparing Lynch’s situation to that of Richardson is clearly a difficult task based on different factors surrounding the respective situations, but there are definitely similarities in both cases.

One of the least talked-about similarities in both situations is how frustrating it is to learn such a complex offense in a short period of time.

In Lynch’s case, he went as far as completely changing his running style after he failed to surpass the 100-yard mark in any of his first 18 regular-season games as a member of the Seahawks. 

Per Danny O’Neil of Sporting News, “Heading into Seattle's eighth game last season [2011], Seattle was 2-5. Lynch was averaging 43.8 yards and he came to Cable with a simple request: Tell me what to do.”

Once Lynch went to offensive line coach Tom Cable, everything started to click. Since then, the All-Pro running back has been the driving force behind the Seahawks offense. Not only has he averaged over four yards a carry, he helped Seattle capture its first Vince Lombardi Trophy in 2013. 

Does that mean Richardson will help the Colts win the Super Bowl once he adapts his running style to offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton’s offense? 

No, but at this point Richardson should be willing to do whatever it takes to prove that he is worth the first-round pick Grigson sent to the Browns. The good news is Richardson is willing to do whatever it takes. 

Coaches on Indianapolis’ staff told Jim Trotter of ESPN.com that “Richardson is relying more on his instincts when running instead of thinking it through.”

By the sound of things, Richardson has a better handle on Hamilton’s playbook and is more confident heading into his second season with the Colts.

“As far as confidence, man, I can’t wait. There’s a lot that I want to do,” Richardson said, via Smith of Pro Football Talk. “I’ve been playing football my whole life. I never thought it would become a struggle for me. I look back at it and I say, ‘Hey, you’re still the guy, you’re still the Trent Richardson you’ve always been. Just keep your mindset right.’”

With training camp less than a month away (the team's first practice is July 24), you can see that Richardson is saying all the right things. And that won’t change as long as he is the starting running back for the Colts. 

As Marc Sessler of NFL.com noted in his column on May 1, Indianapolis remains “locked on the concept of Richardson as their bell-cow back.” However, that doesn’t mean the Colts will stick with Richardson for the entirety of the season if he continues to struggle. 

There’s a reason why Ahmad Bradshaw and Vick Ballard are still seen as potential high-volume contributors in 2014. 

Plus, you can’t just erase Richardson’s depressing 2013 season from your memory bank. The third-year back knows he’s under the gun to resurrect the Trent Richardson of old. 

If he doesn’t, there will be plenty of people who said, “I told you so.” Yet if he does, Lynch will have proven to be the perfect case study for Richardson's struggles. 

As I mentioned above, the similarities between Lynch and Richardson are there on the surface, but in all fairness to the Colts running back, it’s important to give him his second season in Hamilton’s offense before we pass judgement. 

Remember, it took Lynch 19 games to come into his own with the Seahawks.

 


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