2012 NFL Draft: How High Should Trent Richardson Go?

Ryan CookFeatured ColumnistDecember 24, 2011

2012 NFL Draft: How High Should Trent Richardson Go?

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    Alabama running back Trent Richardson is clearly one of the top talents in the 2012 NFL Draft and is also one of the best prospects at the running back spot in years. His name is mentioned along with the likes of Adrian Peterson, Darren McFadden and Reggie Bush as a can't-miss draft pick.

    So why isn't he considered a lock as a top-five pick next April?

    Part of the reason has to do with the teams that will be drafting in the top five, but some of the reason is that teams are afraid that the shelf life of running backs is too short on which to use a top-five pick.

    Let's take a look at all the running backs drafted in the top 20 since 2002 to see whether or not taking a running back that high is too much of a risk.

C.J. Spiller, Pick 9, Buffalo Bills 2010

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    Career seasons: 2

    Productive seasons: 1

    Spiller's career has started off extremely slowly in large part to the play of Fred Jackson. Spiller ran for only 283 yards in his rookie year and has 390 so far in 2011.  

    However, since Jackson went down with an injury four weeks ago Spiller has played well, running for 275 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

    So was Spiller worth the ninth overall pick?

    Verdict: Incomplete 

Ryan Matthews, Pick 12, San Diego Chargers 2010

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    Career Seasons: 2

    Productive Seasons: 2

    Matthews' first season was a bit of a disappointment due to injuries. He missed four games. He did still rush for 678 yards and score seven touchdowns in the 12 games he did play, offering hope for the future.  

    Matthews has fulfilled expectations this year, as he has already eclipsed 1,000 yards on the ground and has caught 47 passes out of the backfield.

    Was Matthews worth the No. 12 pick?

    Verdict: So far, absolutely.

Knowshon Moreno, Pick 12, Denver Broncos 2009

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    Career Seasons: 3

    Productive Seasons: 2

    In his first three seasons, "No-Show" Moreno has not come close to meeting the expectations that were awaiting him in Denver.  

    A promising rookie year in which he went over 900 yards and played in all 16 games was followed by a second season in which he missed three games and ran for 168 fewer yards.

    Then in 2011, Moreno played in only eight games, starting only two due to a combination of being injured and being outplayed by Willis McGahee before he was placed on IR.

    Was Moreno worth the 12th overall pick?

    Verdict: No way.

Darren McFadden, Pick 4, Oakland Raiders 2008

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    Career Seasons: 4

    Productive Seasons: 1

    McFadden is a prime reason why teams shy away from drafting running backs with a high pick. Clearly one of the most talented players in the league, McFadden has had trouble withstanding the pounding a running back must endure.

    When healthy, McFadden's per-game and per-rush stats are among the best in the NFL. The former Arkansas standout has missed at least three games in each of his four seasons and has only played in seven games this year.

    The Raiders were wise to re-sign Michael Bush prior to this year.

    Was McFadden worth the fourth overall pick?

    Verdict: Not really 

Jonathan Stewart, Pick 13, Carolina Panthers 2008

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    Career Seasons: 4

    Productive Seasons: 4

    Stewart has been able to put up decent and sometimes great numbers as part of a running back tandem with DeAngelo Williams in Carolina. Those numbers decreased quite a bit this season with the addition of Cam Newton.  

    Stewart ran for 10 touchdowns in each of his first two seasons and went over 1,100 yards in 2009.

    Stewart has a reputation for being hurt a lot, but he answers the bell and has only missed two games in his four-year career. While I'm not sure Stewart could handle being a 20-to-25 carry a game guy, I do feel that the Panthers have done a good job handling him.

    Was Stewart worth the 13th pick in 2008?

    Verdict:  Yes

Adrian Peterson, Pick 7, Minnesota Vikings 2007

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    Career Seasons: 5

    Productive Seasons: 5

    Peterson has been a beast from the moment he stepped onto the field for the Vikings and everyone knew that he would be. Purple Jesus has run for no less than 1,298 yards and has scored at least 10 touchdowns in each of his first four full seasons.

    It looks like this year might be the lowest yardage total of Peterson's career, due to a high ankle sprain and the fact that he is pretty much the only threat that opposing defenses worry about when they play the Vikings. He will still go over 1,000 yards and already has scored 12 touchdowns.

    Was Peterson worth the seventh pick?

    Verdict: No doubt about it.

Marshawn Lynch, Pick 12, Buffalo Bills 2007

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    Career seasons: 5

    Productive Seasons: 3

    Lynch had a real good start to his career with Buffalo, going over 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons and scoring seven and eight touchdowns in his first and second years, respectively.

    Then, following a down year in 2009 in which he started only six games and rushed for only 450 yards, the Bills drafted C.J. Spiller, creating a logjam in the backfield. Lynch was the odd man out and was traded to the Seahawks during the 2010 season.

    After a slow start in Seattle, Lynch led the Seahawks to a playoff win in 2010 and has already eclipsed 1,000 yards in 2011 while scoring 12 times.

    Was Marshawn worth the 12th pick in 2007?

    Verdict: Yes, Buffalo should have been more patient.

Reggie Bush, Pick 2, New Orleans Saints 2006

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    Career Seasons: 6

    Productive Seasons: 5

    Bush was in serious discussion to be the first overall pick in the 2006 draft before the Texans made their choice to sign Mario Williams before the draft began.  

    Many cried conspiracy, claiming the league wanted Bush, who was clearly the most explosive player coming out that year, to end up in New Orleans to help that franchise climb to respectability after all it went through following the Hurricane Katrina disaster.

    It turns out that Charley Casserly of the Texans just knew which player was better, but that's not to say that Bush hasn't been an effective player.

    While Reggie never managed to go over 600 yards rushing for a season in New Orleans, he was a big threat catching the ball as he grabbed 294 balls in his five years there.

    Bush has also had trouble staying on the field, missing 20 games during his time with the Saints.  

    All of that led Saints general manager Mickey Loomis to draft Mark Ingram in the 2011 draft and then trade Bush to the Dolphins.

    Bush has thrived in Miami, playing in and starting every game while running for nearly 1,000 yards, catching 41 balls and scoring seven times.

    Was Bush worth the second pick in 2006?

    Verdict: Looking at the players drafted after him, yes.

Ronnie Brown, Pick 2, Miami Dolphins 2005

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    Career Seasons: 7

    Productive Seasons: 3

    Brown was the first of two Auburn running backs taken in the first five picks of the 2005 draft. Many thought that the fact he shared carries with Cadillac Williams at Auburn would mean he would be in line for an injury-free career.

    It hasn't worked out that way, as Brown missed 20 games in his time with the Dolphins before signing with the Eagles as a backup to LeSean McCoy before this season.

    Even when he was healthy, Brown was never a dynamic back worthy of such a high pick. Brown has only gone over 1,000 yards once and has only scored double-digit touchdowns once, as well.

    While he was decent with Miami, I'm sure that they expected more from him as the No. 2 overall pick.

    Was Brown worthy of a No. 2 overall pick?

    Verdict: No chance.

Cedric Benson, Pick 4, Chicago Bears 2005

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    Career Seasons: 7

    Productive Seasons: 4, maybe 5

    Benson came into the league as a legend in the state of Texas after dominating at Lee High School in Midland and then at the University of Texas. The Bears were sure that Benson could be the answer at running back for them when they took him with the fourth pick in 2005.

    Benson could never beat out fellow top-10 pick Thomas Jones and became the backup, watching Jones go for over 1,200 yards in both 2005 and 2006.  

    Benson did manage 647 yards even though he didn't start any games in 2006. This gave the Bears reason to believe he could take the full-time job, and traded Jones to the New York Jets.

    Benson underwhelmed in his first and only season as the Bears' starter, missing five games, running for only 674 yards and scoring only four times.

    Then, after two alcohol-related arrests following the 2007 season, the Bears released Benson. Luckily for Benson, the Bengals gave him a chance and Benson has proved to be worth it.  

    Though not really a dynamic threat to score every time he touches the ball, Ced is on his way to a third consecutive 1,000 yard season in Cincinnati.

    Was Benson worth the fourth pick in 2005?

    Verdict: No

Cadillac Williams, Pick 5, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2005

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    Career Seasons: 7

    Productive Seasons: 3

    Williams burst onto the scene with a great rookie season in Tampa, going for 1,178 yards and six touchdowns while being named Offensive Rookie of the Year. It went downhill from there for Williams.

    His second year was nowhere near the same, as he ran for 380 fewer yards and scored only once.

    And then the injuries hit.

    Williams tore the patellar tendon in his right knee in 2007 and was out for 14 months before getting back onto the field late in 2008. Unfortunately, Williams tore the same tendon in his other knee, ending his 2008 season.  

    The former Auburn star only managed to play in 10 games and run for 441 yards in the two seasons combined.

    After a minor resurgence in 2009, Williams was overshadowed by rookie LaGarette Blount in 2010 and then was allowed to sign with the St. Louis Rams as the backup to Steven Jackson in 2011.

    So was Williams worth the fifth overall pick in 2005?

    Verdict: No way.

William Green, Pick 16, Cleveland Browns 2002

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    Career Seasons: 4

    Productive Seasons: 1

    Green's career started off on the right foot as he ran for 887 yards and played in all 16 games for the Browns in 2002.  

    That was the highlight of his career.  

    Green was arrested for DUI and marijuana possession the following year, resulting in a four-game suspension from the league. During the suspension, Green was stabbed by his fiancee and his suspension was extended through the end of the season.

    Green then played in 15 games in 2004 but only tallied 585 yards, scoring just twice. 2005 was Green's final season in the league and he barely played, running the ball just twenty times and picking up only 78 yards.

    Was Green worth the 16th pick?

    Verdict: Negative.

T.J. Duckett, Pick 18, Atlanta Falcons 2002

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    Career Seasons: 7 

    Productive Seasons: 3, maybe

    If the falcons were looking for a goal-line back and short-yardage hammer with their first-round pick in 2002, they got a good one in Duckett. Most teams are looking for more than that though, and short-yardage backs can be found for far cheaper.

    Duckett topped out at 779 yards while getting 10 starts in 2003, but he did score eight or more touchdowns in three of his four seasons in Atlanta.

    Duckett then played with a different team in each of his final three seasons, never running for more than 335 yards.

    Was Duckett worth the 18th pick in 2002?

    Verdict: Not at all, especially with Ed Reed going six picks later.

So Where Does He Go?

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    Of the 13 running backs picked in the top twenty over the past ten years, only Peterson has been a reliable and productive player over his entire career.  

    McFadden, Stewart and Matthews have flashed the potential that made them high picks, but only in limited doses. The others have all been mostly disappointments.

    Still, I don't see Richardson falling out of the top 10 with the potential he shows as a power runner who can also break away once he gets through the line. The Browns and Buccaneers could both be in the market for a top running back to help take the burden off their young quarterbacks.

    If both of those teams pass on Richardson, there is no way the Bengals would not take him with one of their two first-round picks.

    Whoever takes him may be getting a NCAA superstar, but more often than not it is better to pass on running backs early and look elsewhere.