Do the numbers really reflect Trent Richardon’s value?
From the moment that he separated Philadelphia safety Kurt Coleman from his helmet in Week 1 of the 2012 season, Trent Richardson has been the kind of player that Cleveland Browns fans can get behind.
Even though injuries – including two broken ribs that he played with for nine games – limited his performance, Richardson still rushed for 11 touchdowns and 950 yards, giving fans hope that the best is yet to come.
But according to an analysis of rookie running backs by Cold Hard Football Facts, that may not be the case.
The site looked at the 86 rookie running backs in NFL history who had more than 200 rushing attempts in their rookie seasons and the numbers don’t reflect well on the Browns No.1 running back and third-overall selection in the 2012 NFL Draft:
- 58 true running backs rushed for more than 1,000 yards as rookies (Richardson did not).
- Richardson’s 3.6 yards per carry ranks him 81st out of the 86 running backs. Oakland’s Darren McFadden is the only other Top 5 draft pick to average fewer than four yards per carry his rookie season.
- 27 of the rookie running backs that averaged less than four yards per carry never exceeded their rookie rush attempts again in their career
- All told, the 82 rookies had almost 18 percent of their career rushing attempts in their first year.
- Football Outsiders ranked Richardson 34th in DVOA and 36th in success rate for 2012.
- Advanced NFL Stats ranked Richardson 72nd in expected points added and 43rd in success rate (rushing and receiving factored in).
In addition, Cold Hard Football Facts also writes that Richardson pales when compared to his rookie counterparts in Tampa Bay’s Doug Martin and Washington’s Alfred Morris. But even those comparisons need to be looked at a little closer.
Martin averaged 4.56 yards per carry but that number is greatly inflated by a two-game performance where he rushed for 386 yards; take those two games out and he just barely broke the four-yards-per carry mark (4.03). Now those games count, obviously, but can Tampa really count on Martin consistently putting up two-game stretches like that on a regular basis?
Morris rushed for 1,613 yards – the third-highest total for a rookie in NFL history – and averaged 4.81 yards per carry. Again, nothing against Morris, but which is more likely – that he will increase on that total this fall or see his production drop off?
So should the Browns just cut Richardson now and save themselves – and their fans – years of unfulfilled promise?
Not so fast, my friends.
While using analytics to evaluate players is a good thing, it’s important to remember they are not the only tool to use. When you look at a player like Richardson, you need to take into account a few things:
- His injuries from last season. Playing running back in the NFL is hard enough without having to do it with two broken ribs.
- The fact that he was used ineffectively in Pat Shurmur’s version of the West Coast offense.
- The fact that he was playing alongside a rookie quarterback in Brandon Weeden who was equally misused in the Browns offense.
- Pat Shurmur’s offense.
There is a high likelihood that things will be different this year (notwithstanding the latest injury that may keep Richardson out of June’s mandatory minicamp). The biggest reason is offensive coordinator Norv Turner.
Among the 27 rookie running backs who averaged less than four yards per carry as rookies are two names that fans may be familiar with – LaDainian Tomlinson and Emmitt Smith.
Tomlinson rushed for just 3.65 yards per carry as a rookie, but went on to rush for 12,448 yards over the rest of his career and 4.39 yards per carry. Smith followed a rookie year that saw him average 3.89 yards per carry by rushing for an additional 17,418 yards and 4.18 yards per carry.
The constant between the two is, of course, Turner, who served as offensive coordinator in Dallas from 1991 to 1993 and as head coach in San Diego from 2007 to 2012.
Turner arrived in Dallas for Smith’s second season and the running back rushed for 1,563 yards in Turner’s offense – a ridiculous 67 percent increase from his rookie season. He followed that up with 1,713 and 1,486 rushing yards before Turner left the Cowboys to take over as head coach in Washington.
The impact on Tomlinson’s career is not as prominent as he had already played six seasons before Turner came in as head coach, but Tomlinson had his last big season in 2007, averaging 4.7 yards per rush – the third highest number in his career.
Clearly Turner knows a thing or two about running backs and that should serve Richardson and the Browns well this season.
“If you want to be good on offense, you better have good players, and Trent is outstanding,” Turner said on the team’s website. “He’s a young player that got a taste of it last year. He had to fight through the ups and downs of being a rookie, the injuries. Hopefully, we don’t have to deal with that, and he can make that big step that guys do from year one to year two.
“If you have a guy like Trent that you can build things around, you take a lot of pressure off your offensive line; you take a lot of pressure off your quarterback, take a lot of pressure off your passing game. When you can throw when it’s your decision to throw and you’re picking where and when you want to go, it’s a lot easier than when you’re in those games where you throw it 25 times in the last 20 minutes.”
There’s no doubt that Richardon’s rookie season wasn’t as good as it could have been, but even at less than 100 percent and in a pedestrian offense, he still put up solid numbers.
We’re willing to bet that the best is yet to come.
(Photo by Getty Images)