In a passing league where passing wins games and the emphasis is therefore on those who catch and throw passes (and defend them), taking a running back with a top five pick is a poor idea at best, and catastrophic at worst. Factor in the fleeting life span at a position where death comes around age 30, and the strategy gets even more grim.
To take a running back with a top five pick, he needs to be truly exceptional, which was the label consistently given to Trent Richardson in the spring of 2012, when he was eventually taken by the Browns with their third overall selection after they traded up and gave the Vikings three other picks.
And now just over one season later, he’s gone.
A new Browns regime led by Joe Banner and Michael Lombardi has started a thorough house cleaning just two games into the 2013 season, trading Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts for a first-round pick in next spring’s draft. To review then, the haul from the Browns’ 2012 draft when the future of their offense was thought to be in place is as follows: a departed running back and a wasted third overall pick, and a 29-year-old quarterback (Brandon Weeden) who will now get the pleasure of auditioning for other teams throughout the rest of the season before a trade after Teddy Bridgewater is drafted.
That’s the reality of this trade, and the likely ending. The Colts clearly received a swift kick in their offensive rear and a much, much more than sufficient replacement for the injured Vick Ballard and an upgrade over Ahmad Bradshaw. That’s why they’ll still finish strong, and give the Browns a pick in the back half of the opening round.
Meanwhile, the Browns be Brownin’, and hard. Willis McGahee will come in for a workout and possibly be signed tomorrow, but as of right now, Cleveland’s starting running back this weekend behind Brian Hoyer with Weeden injured is Chris Ogbonnaya. So just start house hunting in Cleveland now, Bridgewater. Yet another Browns rebuild will begin with the six picks they’ve now accumulated over the first four rounds of the 2014 draft.
With that woeful reality established, here’s the fantasy: Richardson has been freed. Under Norv Turner and Rob Chudzinski, the Browns’ are running a vertical offense with many straight lines, and little emphasis on a running game. It was stunning how little Richardson was used through two games, especially in a Week 1 loss to Miami that was close until late in the fourth quarter (23-10 final). The Browns’ most talented player was given the ball only 15 times, 13 on the ground. Worse, nearly half of those touches (six) came in just the first quarter.
Now Richardson lands in Pep Hamilton’s west coast offense, one that’s attempted 52 runs to the Browns’ 33 over the first two games, and that’s even with Ballard out and the creaky Bradshaw assuming a more prominent role. He’s also going from a passing game in Cleveland that’s a rusted Pinto to a Ferrari by comparison in Indianapolis, with the combination of Andrew Luck and his various targets (Reggie Wayne, Coby Fleener, and T.Y. Hilton, though Dwayne Allen is gone now with a season-ending hip injury) easily able to drastically minimize the eight-man fronts Richardson faces.
You spent a first-round pick on Richardson in your draft, and he wasn’t going to justify that investment as an underused afterthought in Cleveland. Now he has a chance. A damn good chance, especially with his receiving ability as a check-down option for the far more aware Luck (Richardson caught 51 passes last year).
Elsewhere for fake football in Cleveland: ummm, gulp. The only remaining players with fantasy value are Jordan Cameron and Josh Gordon, with the latter returning from his two-game suspension this week. For Gordon, there will likely be little threat from anything that resembles a running game, so finding space deep with nothing to draw a safety up will be a little problematic. A little.
I feel obligated to work a Factory of Sadness reference in here somewhere, but Cleveland is hurting too much right now. Stay safe out there.