Now that the Oakland Raiders have signed running back Trent Richardson—one of the biggest draft busts this side of JaMarcus Russell—it’ll be up to the coaching staff to try to get something out of him.
Considering Richardson’s career average of 3.3 yards per carry is the worst for any running back with at least 600 carries since the merger, it may be an impossible task. How can the Raiders get something out of a player who has been a net negative at his two prior stops?
Contrary to popular opinion, there are strategies the Browns and Colts didn’t try with Richardson. There are also areas of his game he can easily correct that might put him in position to be successful.
It’s up to the Raiders to put him in the best possible position to have success and for him to make the most of it.
If Richardson doesn’t make the most of his opportunities, the Raiders are under no obligation to keep him. We now know that he has flaws that go beyond those that are easily correctable or he wouldn’t be here. Just as Matt Schaub didn’t prevent them from selecting Derek Carr a year ago, Richardson will not prevent the Raiders from selecting a running back in the draft.
Late owner Al Davis was a firm believer in bringing in former first-round picks who washed out elsewhere. One of his overriding principles was to bring in talent and let the coaches worry about getting something out of it.
That’s essentially what general manager Reggie McKenzie is doing with the blessing of his coaching staff.
|Running into a Wall 2012-2014|
The Raiders are keenly aware of how scheme and confidence can affect a player. Since 2012, the only other player besides Richardson to average 3.4 or fewer yards per carry on 300 or more carries was Darren McFadden.
McFadden now has four seasons in which he averaged 3.4 or fewer yards per carry, but from 2010-2011, no player averaged more yards per carry on 300 or more carries.
When McFadden was good, the Raiders were going 8-8 and not 4-12.
A Mental Rebuild
Any player who has struggled to find NFL success is going to start doubting himself. Once a player starts losing confidence, it can be difficult for them to get it back.
This is especially true of top prospects like Richardson, who had been successful on the football field his whole life until he made it to the NFL.
Sometimes just a change of scenery can help reboot a player mentally, but it’s not really so much the location as it is the people around them that can have an effect on the situation. It didn’t matter how much praise the Raiders heaped on Schaub because they didn’t protect him with a top running game or great receivers—and he wasn’t any good anymore.
There’s only so much an offensive coordinator can do schematically to protect a player. The quarterback position is also one of the least forgiving from a mental standpoint, but that’s not the case at running back.
The expectations for Richardson are low, and he’ll be competing with Latavius Murray and Roy Helu for playing time. Unlike Schaub, Richardson is still young at 24 and physically should still be at the top of his game.
Richardson’s confidence is going to be key. Not just from the standpoint of self-efficacy, but also in the offensive line, the scheme and new offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave’s play-calling.
The Raiders can accomplish this by showing Richardson what he does well, explaining why he was successful and then how they are going to incorporate those elements into the offense.
The last and most important step will be for Richardson to have a little success, which the Raiders can manufacture to some extent in non-padded practices.
Fixing the Unfixable
Bleacher Report NFL Analyst Sean Tomlinson had an excellent breakdown of the problem with Richardson’s game. Put simply, he has poor vision and he’s not decisive.
As Tomlinson concluded, overcoming a vision problem could prove to be an insurmountable challenge.
What the Raiders can try to do is get Richardson to be more decisive and run downhill again. To be successful doing so, the Raiders will have to do a good job blocking for Richardson. The Raiders signed center Rodney Hudson to aid in fixing the team's offensive line woes, and Austin Howard is moving back to right tackle after a failed experiment at right guard.
The Raiders have a solid blocker in Donald Penn at left tackle and an up-and-comer in Gabe Jackson at left guard. The Raiders just need to sort out right guard and they might have the kind of line that can help Richardson be successful.
Bleacher Report NFL National Lead Writer Matt Bowen detailed how Richardson was leaving yards on the field in Indianapolis. Again, we see how vision and decisiveness were his problems.
If the Raiders can cure just one of these things, Richardson might cure himself of the other.
Sometimes the team tells a player one thing and wants another. Take this example from Bowen. Richardson fails to see the huge hole opening up in front of him and instead tries to follow his lead blocker:
If a runner is struggling with his vision, you might tell him to follow the lead blocker no matter what. In this case, that would be absolutely the wrong thing to tell Richardson. It’s also possible that Richardson was not putting in the necessary effort to understand what he should do in this situation when a linebacker over-pursues the ball.
The Raiders need Richardson to run violently and angrily again. The talent is there. They don’t want him thinking about following a lead blocker—they want him thinking about getting north and south and getting to the end zone.
Musgrave can absolutely put Richardson in position to be successful, but he’s going to have to put in the work in Oakland to stick.
He’s going to have to dedicate himself to conditioning, studying and being the running back he was at Alabama rather than the one he’s been thus far in the pros.
The Passing Game Strategy
One area where Richardson’s performance hasn’t dipped too much is his work as a receiver. He is averaging 8.1 yards per reception in his career. He improved in that area with Colts quarterback Andrew Luck throwing him the ball, but the ratio of carries to receptions was still low.
Richardson was asked to pass protect much more often than run a route. For all of his faults, Richardson is a good pass protector, and the Colts’ offensive line was terrible in pass protection.
According to Pro Football Focus, Richardson was the sixth-best running back in pass protection last year. That’s a positive but ultimately took away from an easy way to rebuild confidence in his running ability—the short passing game.
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|Pro Football Focus|
Musgrave can manufacture success for Richardson in the passing game, hoping to rebuild some of the confidence he’s lost over the last three years. A steady diet of that early may get Richardson to believe in himself again.
Short passes are essentially runs, but Richardson would have a lot less to think about.
Spreading things out and trying to get Richardson to run straight ahead with a conditioned 220-plus-pound frame is likely his path to success in Oakland. The Raiders can schematically put Richardson in situations where he can be successful, but he’s going to have to take it from there.
He’s young and talented enough to turn things around, which is why the Raiders are giving him the chance.
He arrives as a broken player, and if the Raiders can help him fix himself, they may ultimately get some value out of him. If not, there was no risk in trying.
Unless otherwise noted, all stats via Pro-Football-Reference.com.