2012 NFL Draft: The One Where the Cleveland Browns Do Not Select Trent Richardson

With the fourth pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, the Cleveland Browns select …Trent Richardson, running back out of Alabama?

That name has been gaining momentum in fan circles as of late. His sexiness is undeniable.

He’s dramatically better than the next best running back the Browns could draft. He is what they need – an exciting playmaker.

He fits the purest definition of the “best player available” philosophy.

His instant impact would make Colt McCoy and Pat Shumur’s lives easier next season.

Not to mention he is “the best running back prospect to come out in the draft in years,” often compared to Adrian Peterson, often conveniently.

And all of that is true. Richardson would come in and be instantly great, but here are six reasons why the Browns are simply not drafting him:

1. Tom Heckert just drafted a running back

He traded up for one in Montario Hardesty in 2010. To draft Richardson would be to admit, at least partially, that Haredsty was a blown choice.

These Browns don’t seem to like admitting they are wrong on anything. So far it’s been quite the opposite. They have been arrogantly, defiantly, tied to their system and blueprint for building a team. Hardesty hasn’t produced, but he’s been injured too. If the rule of thumb is it takes a full year to recover from a major ACL injury, then next year is the one to grade him.

If Hardesty continues to looks weak next year, maybe then there’s an argument to start looking for help, but now it’s a shade too early for the Browns to admit they’ve made a mistake.

2. Speaking of ACL injuries

Running backs get hurt often, and that makes our assessment of Richardson being a safe pick contradictory. What we mean is, he’s not likely to be a bust, but the injury factor actually is a risk to the rebuilding process.

Adrian Peterson is the back to whom Richardson is most often compared, and he too suffered a devastating ACL injury this year. It’s not if the running back gets hurt, it’s when. When you are drafting as high as No. 4 you should be looking for your cornerstone player of the next decade.

Joe Thomas is a building block. He was drafted a few spots ahead of Peterson in 2007 and hasn’t missed a game since. He signed a contract extension and appears to be at the healthy halfway point of his career, if not his prime. Meanwhile, Peterson is injured.

If the Browns valued their draft picks too much to gamble them on Robert Griffin III, wouldn’t they be contradicting their own philosophy by drafting a running back? Wouldn’t drafting a position whose prime routinely expires prior to the age of 30, before you have a quarterback, be gambling too?

3. The Browns want to pass anyway

Even though he was a distraction, Peyton Hillis was allowed to leave as a reasonably priced free agent. The Browns simply don’t value the position – not to mention, the entire concept of the West Coast offense we keep hearing about revolves around passing.

4. Besides, running backs can be found anywhere

Heckert drafted LeSean McCoy, who was better than Adrian Peterson last year, in the second round of the 2009 draft. He applied the same reasoning to the Hardesty pick in 2010.

The Browns belief, demonstrated in their draft history, is running backs are not to be taken in the first round. It is why Heckert passed on first-round backs C.J. Spiller and Ryan Mathews in 2010 when selecting Hardesty, and why he passed on first-rounders Donald Brown, Knowshon Moreno, and Beanie Wells in 2009 when selecting McCoy.

Couple that with the examples Arian Foster (undrafted), Frank Gore (third round), and Michael Turner (fifth round) present, and there’s just as much evidence for not selecting a running back high as there is supporting it. Just ask anyone who owned Foster in fantasy football this year (Yes I’m going there).

5. Fantasy production

I get it, fantasy football isn’t real, but what’s so bad about using it as a tool to evaluate production. Isn’t that what a running back drafted at No. 4 should give us? Touchdowns, yards, scores, points?

Here is ESPN’s list of the top-50 standard scoring running backs in fantasy last year. Fantasy is about pure statistical production and these are the marquee names Trent Richardson will be expected to stand up to.

But the fact is, only five of these players in the list of 50 were drafted in the top ten in real life: Reggie Bush, Darren McFadden, Adrian Peterson, Cedric Benson and LaDainian Tomlinson.

Five of 50 are the odds you get for superstar production from Richardson at his draft price. Not only that, but three of those five guys, Bush, Benson and Tomlinson, no longer play for the team that originally drafted them.

6. Super Bowl production

Okay, you’ve got me if you want to argue Heckert isn’t running his draft based off a fantasy football chart. He should be looking around the league to see what wins championships, right? Richardson won’t work there either.

Teams today are moving towards running backs by committee, and are throwing more than ever to get to the big game. More stats: in a copycat league, from 2004-2007 every team that won the Super Bowl had a 1,000-yard rusher, or a lead back.

  • 2004 – New England Patriots: Corey Dillon is the lead back. He rushes for 1,635 yards with 12 scores in the regular season; 1,738 yards from scrimmage. He was a second-round pick.
  • 2005 – Pittsburgh Steelers: Willie Parker is the lead back, rushing for 1,202 yards; 1,420 total from scrimmage. He also added the longest run in Super Bowl history. Parker was an undrafted free agent and only played six seasons.
  • 2006 – Indianapolis Colts: Joseph Addai is the lead back with 1,081 rushing yards and 1,406 total from scrimmage. Addai was a No. 30 overall pick in the draft – a late first-rounder but a first-rounder nonetheless.
  • 2007 – New York Giants: Brandon Jacobs here marks the last time the Super Bowl winner featured a 1,000-yard lead back. He rushed for 1,009 yards this season and gained 1,183 total from scrimmage. Jacobs was a fourth-round pick.

See the trend? Both rushing yards and total yards from scrimmage are declining year-to-year for these lead backs, like clockwork.

And the yardage per running back continues to drop further as it starts to split among the committee. Staring in 2008, your Super Bowl-winning 1,000-yard back is now extinct:

  • 2008 – Pittsburgh Steelers: Willie Parker leads the team in rushing with 795 yards. Mewelde Moore adds 588 rushing yards and was second on the team in yards from scrimmage with 908 behind team leader Hines Ward, who we all know is not a running back.
  • 2009 – New Orleans Saints: Pierre Thomas leads the team in rushing with 793 yards. His 1,095 total yards from scrimmage were higher than Reggie Bush’s 725, and Bush is the only former top ten pick on this list or the fantasy list above to win a Super Bowl. Mike Bell even chips in with 666 rushing yards.
  • 2010 – Green Bay Packers: Current Brown Brandon Jackson leads the team in rushing with 703 rushing yards; 1,045 from scrimmage. Fullback John Kuhn scores more touchdowns than Jackson however, and in the playoffs James Starks emerges to lead the team in rushing with 315 yards in four postseason games.
  • 2011 – New York Giants: Ahmad Bradshaw leads the team in rushing with 659 yards; 926 from scrimmage. Brandon Jacobs chips in 571 rushing yards.

Notice again, the Super Bowl winners’ rushing leader gaining less yards over time: Parker – 795;  Thomas – 793;  Jackson – 703;  Bradshaw – 659.

All of this is just a really long-winded and fun way of reminding us all that this is a quarterback league.

If the Browns were to draft Richardson, they would be admitting that Colt McCoy really is their guy, but we know they don’t really think that since they attempted to trade for Sam Bradford and/or Robert Griffin III.

This doesn’t mean Richardson won’t be an awesome football player, he’d just be a bad pick for the Browns.

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Tags: 2012 NFL Draft Cleveland Browns Running Back Tom Heckert Trent Richardson

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