This should be an especially juicy fantasy season if you’re in an all-Browns fans league like I am (actually 11 Browns fans, one weirdo Bills fan). The Browns have running back Trent Richardson now, and he’s already the most intriguing fantasy player the team has had in the history of the Internet.
Think about it.
ESPN launched its free online fantasy platform in 1995, the final year before the original Cleveland Browns were stolen away to Baltimore. By the time they came back, the Internet was carrying an estimated 51% of all information flowing through two-way telecommunication.
By 2007, that number is up 97%, and all the Browns have offered the digital fantasy universe are isolated, out-of-nowhere fantasy seasons from Reuben Droughns, Braylon Edwards, Kellen Winslow, Jr., Joe Jurevicius, Jamal Lewis, Derek Anderson, Jerome Harrison and Peyton Hillis.
None of those players were drafted highly in the season of their success because nobody saw it coming. They were drafted the next year, following their successful season, and all promptly flopped and ruined the fantasy lives of the Browns fans so excited to grab them (I personally blew a second-round choice on Braylon Edwards in 2008).
Granted, fantasy drafts are based on perception, and the reality of the season that follows is often painfully different – the Browns are a shining example of this. Peyton Hillis’ top-five production and Madden cover in August can easily become a cancerous 587 yards and three scores by December.
But your fantasy draft occurs prior to the season, when perception rules.
At the moment, Richardson fits the profile of a high- to mid-round first-round fantasy selection and has the sizzle to be in the conversation of any manager’s top overall pick.
What there is to like about him:
- After being drafted third overall as a running back, Richardson has a low bust potential. The dude is good. His statistical achievement is not directly tied to the quarterback’s ability to get him the ball. He’s just 20 years old. He is not coming off a significant injury, and as a one-year starter in college, he’s fresh.
- Part of being drafted third overall, Richardson is going to get his carries – he has to. He might yield an occasional series to Montario Hardesty, but don’t let that scare you. If anything, the Browns trading up for Richardson is an admission they believe Hardesty cannot not be trusted.
- Richardson will play behind a bolstered offensive line that included two Pro Bowlers BEFORE the draft.
- He doesn’t have a goal line touchdown vulture around to sap his value. Mike Alstott, LenDale White, or even Owen Marecic are not walking through that door.
- You want your running backs to be on a good offensive team, but not too good, right? And for now, the conditions appear to be perfect for Richardson to step in as the featured element of a limited Browns offense that needs him. Don’t get me wrong, I hope they come out firing away, scoring 30 points a game, but Brandon Weeden is a rookie too and they will need time to get there. Thus, Richardson won’t play second fiddle to an elite passing offense the way backs in Green Bay, New Orleans or New England do.
- Richardson also has the sizzle we’ve been waiting for. The cool hair, the name, that fresh new car smell, everything. You may think Frank Gore is dependable, but you’ve owned him for three years. Owning Richardson gives your team spice, and the chance to cheer for him double – in fantasy and in real life.
All of this is going to make him very attractive to Browns fans this season.
Not only that, but who are you drafting over him?
At the moment, while everyone is healthy, probably the Eagles’ LeSean McCoy or the Texans’ Arian Foster. You could also toss Baltimore’s Ray Rice in there, but picking him over Richardson would make you a masochistic Ravens fan who’s probably too busy torturing animals to play fantasy football. I would also consider touchdown machines Cam Newton, Aaron Rodgers, and Calvin Johnson.
Marshawn Lynch? Okay, maybe.
Everyone else has a red flag as big, or bigger, than Richardson’s – he’s a rookie and you don’t know what to expect from him yet.
- But do you really know what to expect from Ryan Mathews, Fred Jackson, or Jamaal Charles?
- Adrian Peterson is coming off a major ACL tear.
- Chris Johnson was a disaster last year after his contract hold-out. For that matter, LeSean McCoy, Ray Rice, and Matt Forte will all be threatening to hold out like Johnson did last year.
- Darren McFadden can’t stay healthy, and neither can Andre Johnson.
- Maurice Jones-Drew has a lot of tread on those tires, as does Steven Jackson.
- You can’t go wrong with Tom Brady, but he doesn’t get you rushing touchdowns like Newton or Rodgers, plus do you want this to be the face of your team?
- Drew Brees is always a solid player, on a solid team, with no foundational drama or national scrutiny to disrupt them (hashtag sarcasm).
Now we’re just splitting hairs, and sure as sugar that will affect some fantasy managers in your league, but not all of them.
Some Browns fan is taking Trent Richardson for a ride early, so be ready.
However, ESPN Fantasy Football has just released its first 2012 Mock Draft, with Richardson slated to go in the fourth round. When did Jim Brown start working there?