Trent Richardson was bulletproof.
He was a can't-miss, surefire prospect. A turnkey Hall of Famer. During the 2012 draft cycle, Bleacher Report NFL draft lead writer Matt Miller explained Richardson was a paragon of the ideal in every trait a scout evaluates. Best of all, a tailback's natural talent translates more readily to NFL success than perhaps any other position.
Miller was far from the only one to peg Richardson as the top running back in the class, a top-five overall talent selection and the best tailback prospect in years. In fact, NFL Network's Mike Mayock called Richardson the best tailback prospect "since Adrian Peterson" came out in 2007, per the Star Tribune's Dan Wiederer.
That kind of difference-making ability can anchor a franchise year in, year out. As teams around the NFL are finding out, prying a generational player such as Peterson away from his original team is all but impossible.
Now, as NFL Media's Ian Rapoport reported, the former No. 3 overall pick is on to his third NFL franchise after just three seasons on the field:
What went wrong between then and now? The NFL's brightest minds have pondered this almost from the beginning.
Richardson had an adequate rookie season. His 3.6 yards per carry were hardly dominant but entirely serviceable on a 5-11 Cleveland Browns team that featured fellow rookie Brandon Weeden at quarterback and the doomed Pat Shurmur at head coach.
Richardson might not have proved to be the answer, but he certainly wasn't the "problem." Two games into the 2013 season, though, he'd put together just 105 rushing yards on 31 carries. The Browns shattered the In Case of Emergency glass and pulled the trigger on an out-of-nowhere trade that all but broke Twitter, as FanSided Browns blog FactoryofSadness.co chronicled.
They sent Richardson packing to Indianapolis in exchange for a first-round draft pick. Trading the prior season's No. 3 overall selection for a first-rounder of undetermined slot seemed like surrendering a ton of value, but the Browns already knew Richardson wasn't worth much.
This columnist would like it noted for the record he knew something was deeply wrong:
As soon as Richardson arrived in Indianapolis, the wheels fell completely off.
Miller penned a point-by-point deconstruction of his original scouting report, showing how Richardson regressed badly, especially his vision. Richardson's inability to pick out the right hole and hit it made his impressive physique and prodigious athleticism worthless.
Meandering into the backs of his own blockers, meaninglessly shedding tacklers behind the line of scrimmage just to be brought down a yard later, Richardson was a useless mess. By the end of 2014, his first full season in Indianapolis, he'd been demoted to punt coverage.
Richardson's toxic combination of stunted mental game and ho-hum effort had completely undone him. NFL coaches can forgive character flaws and will kick the tires on a talented guy who might just need a change of scenery—but a guy who refuses to work hard is a guy who'll have a hard time finding work in the NFL.
Except, remember that bit about franchise-anchoring talent?
The Raiders penning Richardson to a multiyear deal with guaranteed millions proves just how incredibly talented he is. Three years later, with miles of awful NFL tape out there, teams are still going back to their scouting reports and seeing the "i" in Richardson dotted with a heart.
Despite finding a potential diamond in the sixth-round rough with third-year back Latavius Murray and signing veteran Roy Helu in free agency, the Raiders have now added Richardson to their backfield. Richardson told CSN Bay Area's Scott Bair the Raiders promised he can be the "bell cow" if he puts in the work.
But Richardson's issue was more than just work.
His ability to see and hit the hole degraded to unviable, sub-NFL-caliber levels in Indianapolis. He went from a workhorse back with unrealized potential to a flat-out plodder, averaging just 3.1 yards per carry in a Colts offense committed to getting him the ball.
Longtime Colts reporter Mike Chappell, now with RTV6, said it best:
Any insinuation that Richardson didn't get a fair shake in Indianapolis is ludicrous. The Colts traded away a first-round pick to acquire his services and kept giving him carries long after it was obvious that he was the least effective back on the Colts roster.
"Me and [Colts general manager Ryan Grigson] didn't see eye to eye," Richardson nevertheless told ESPN.com's Mike Wells. "My next step, I'll be the starter. Indy didn't fit me." Grigson might argue that Richardson couldn't fit himself: On top of everything else, as Richardson admitted to Wells, the Colts continually fined him for being above his target weight of 227 (if only, Richardson says, by three pounds).
Will Richardson fit in Oakland?
The Raiders have upgraded their offensive line with key free-agent center Rodney Hudson, but they upgraded a line that finished third worst in Pro Football Focus' 2014 team run-blocking grades. No offense to Derek Carr, but he's no Andrew Luck; it's hard to envision the Raiders passing game scaring defenses more in 2015 than the Colts did in 2014.
All told, Richardson is moving to a worse situation on a worse team and likely fighting for carries. He wouldn't even have gotten this shot if practically everyone who watches football for a living didn't agree he had off-the-charts talent at this time three years ago.
Who knows? Maybe Richardson shows up in Oakland and runs like the Richardson we drooled over at Tuscaloosa. But if he runs no harder, smarter or more decisively than he did in Indianapolis, he'll never get meaningful NFL carries again.