Monday, April 23, 2012

Message to Cleveland: Trent Richardson is a Bad Idea

Poor Browns fans don't even know they're getting hosed again.
Be prepared, football fans, for the most useless 20 minute stretch in television history. It’s coming, and soon.

I am, of course, referring to the beginning of the NFL Draft. Make no mistake; I’m excited for the draft. It’s one of my favorite sporting events of the year, no matter how nerdy that makes me sound. But that doesn’t change the fact that the first 20 minutes of Thursday’s draft will be completely and utterly useless.

Why? Because Andrew Luck is going #1 and Robert Griffin is going #2, that’s why. And because both teams will probably let the clock run most of the way down just to be certain they don’t miss out on a chance to trade the pick for 16 first rounders. For the first 10 minutes, we’ll have the privilege of hearing ESPN’s 25 man booth wax poetic on the laurels of Andrew Luck, as if we haven’t heard the same freaking scouting report a million times already. In the second 10 minute stretch, we’ll get to hear those same people do a complete about-face in telling us that Robert Griffin is, in fact, a better prospect. Can’t wait…

In reality, the draft starts at pick #3, with the Minnesota Vikings. Theirs is an interesting scenario, I suppose, in that they are choosing from two potential franchise players at premium positions. Either LT Matt Kalil or CB Morris Claiborne would make a great cornerstone, which unfortunately does not allow me to continue my tradition of ripping on the Vikings for making a dumb draft pick. #4, however, holds some serious potential.

The Cleveland Browns hold the #4 pick in the draft, and it has become clear that they are choosing from Trent Richardson, Justin Blackmon, or Ryan Tannehill. Unfortunately for the Browns, only one of those choices is the right choice. Even more unfortunate is the fact that they are reportedly leaning towards the WORST of the choices. No, I’m not talking about Tannehill, though he would certainly be an awful pick. However, at least Tannehill is a QB, which holds the possibility of huge reward, however slight that possibility may be.

It appears all but certain that Alabama RB, Trent Richardson, will be the Browns selection on Thursday night. To be sure, Richardson will most likely be an excellent player. He’s powerful, he’s explosive, and he looks to be the best RB prospect since Adrian Peterson. In fact, Peterson is the player to whom Richardson is most often compared to. Not bad! The Browns seem excited about him, and all the Browns fans I’ve talked to seem excited about him. Good for them…every fan base deserves to be excited every now and then. Unfortunately, I don’t think the excitement will last very long. Trent Richardson would be the worst possible pick for the Browns, and his selection will be a crushing blow to the franchise’s future.

How can I say that when so many others are ready to enshrine Richardson in the HOF already? It’s not because I don’t like Richardson. On the contrary, I expect him to be good. But the idea of a RB going #4 when a much more valuable commodity, Justin Blackmon, is still on the board just doesn’t sit well with me. Success in the NFL is predicated on the ability to pass the ball and the ability to stop the pass. It has precious little to do with running the ball. So why, then, is everybody so fired up to take Richardson over Blackmon? It seems to me that there are a number of myths being invoked in this particular situation, and that people are forming their opinions based on some very bad information.

Myth #1 – RB’s taken in the first round are “sure things”

You hear this one invoked every time a team is looking at a RB. The argument from Browns fans goes something like this; “Blackmon could be really good, but at least I know exactly what I’m getting with Richardson.” To hear it, you’d think the conversion rate on a first round RB was 75% or higher. So, is it true? Here are all the first round RB’s from 1995-2007:

Adrian Peterson, Marshawn Lynch, Reggie Bush, Laurence Maroney, DeAngelo Williams, Joseph Addai, Ronnie Brown, Cedric Benson, Cadillac Williams, Steven Jackson, Chris Perry, Kevin Jones, Willis McGahee, Larry Johnson, William Green, T.J. Duckett, LaDainian Tomlinson, Deuce McAllister, Michael Bennett, Jamal Lewis, Thomas Jones, Ron Dayne, Shaun Alexander, Trung Canidate, Edgerrin James, Ricky Williams, Curtis Enis, Fred Taylor, Robert Edwards, John Avery, Warrick Dunn, Antowain Smith, Lawrence Phillips, Tim Biakabatuka, Eddie George, Ki-Jana Carter, Tyrone Wheatley, Napolean Kauffman, James Stewart, Rashaan Salaam

Keep the following in mind as we evaluate this group of 40 RB’s: I only care about what they did with the team that drafted them. What they did after gives no value to the team that invested the original draft pick. That in mind, here’s how the list looks:

Average seasons played on original team:  4.99
Average number of games played:  64.8
Average number of games started:  47.4
Average number of yards gained:  4098.2
Average Approximate Value:  38.6
Average Approximate Value per season:  7.7

Five seasons, four seasons worth of games played, and three seasons worth of games started is not at all what I would consider a “sure thing.” That sounds downright average to me. And even an average AV of 7.7, which sounds alright, is pretty pedestrian considering 18 RB’s had an AV of 8 or more last season (and a whole bunch more were right at 7). In the end, only 10 of the 40 topped 5000 yards with his original team. Most of them were either outright busts (Ron Dayne, Tyrone Wheatley, William Green, others) or busts with their first team (Marshawn Lynch, Cedric Benson, Thomas Jones, others).

Of course, this list includes all first round RB’s, even those at the end of the first round. That leads us to Myth #2.

Myth #2 – RB’s taken in the top ten are locks to be stars

This is pretty much a cracked out version of the first myth. And, of course, it’s the most applicable to Trent Richardson, since his likely draft position will warrant superstar expectations. So, are top ten RB’s locks to be stars? Here’s the list:

Adrian Peterson
Reggie Bush
Ronnie Brown
Cedric Benson
Cadillac Williams
LaDainian Tomlinson
Jamal Lewis
Thomas Jones
Edgerrin James
Ricky Williams
Curtis Enis
Fred Taylor
Lawrence Phillips
Tim Biakabatuka
Ki-Jana Carter

The averages are:

Seasons:  5.3
Games:  67
Starts:  56.5
Yards:  4702.9
AV:  46.6
AV/Year:   8.8

The numbers really aren’t all that different from the average of ALL FIRST ROUNDERS! These are top ten picks, people! Guys that are supposed to be superstars! And yet, 7 of the 15 listed above could be considered outright busts, while only Peterson, Tomlinson, James, and Taylor could be considered successes. So much for being a sure thing…there’s about a 25% chance Richardson ever becomes a star RB for the Browns!

Myth #3 – Cleveland won’t be able to find a RB if they don’t take Richardson

This one is so dumb, it’s laughable! Here are last season’s top 10 rushers:

Maurice Jones-Drew – 2nd round
Ray Rice – 2nd round
Michael Turner – 5th round
LeSean McCoy – 2nd round
Arian Foster – undrafted
Frank Gore – 3rd round
Marshawn Lynch – 1st round
Willis McGahee – 1st round
Steven Jackson – 1st round
Ryan Mathews – 1st round

None of the top six were first round picks! And if late season injuries had not occurred, you can bet that Matt Forte (2nd round), Fred Jackson (undrafted), and DeMarco Murray (3rd round) would have knocked three of those first rounders off the list as well.

Point is, you can find RB’s anywhere. I mean, Peyton Hillis was a former 7th round pick, right? Forgot about him, Browns fans?

Myth #4 – The running game is important

And here’s where we really get down to business. My opposition to Trent Richardson doesn’t have as much to do with the above two points as much as it has to do with this. This myth, and the sub-myth that the Browns need a top RB, are slowly driving me insane, as they fly in the face of clear logic.

Consider the teams that have most recently played in the Super Bowl, and how “potent” their rushing attack was:

New York Giants:  #32 rank, featured Ahmad Bradshaw (7th round pick)
New England Patriots:  #20 rank, featured BenJarvus Green-Ellis (undrafted)
Green Bay Packers: #24 rank, featured James Starks (6th round pick)
Pittsburgh Steelers: #11 rank, featured Rashard Mendenhall (1st round pick)
New Orleans Saints: #6 rank, featured Pierre Thomas (undrafted)
Indianapolis Colts: #32 rank, featured Joseph Addai (1st round pick)
Pittsburgh Steelers: #23 rank, featured Willie Parker (undrafted)
Arizona Cardinals: #32 rank, featured Edgerrin James (free agent)

If the running game was so important, then how do three teams ranked dead last in rushing make it to the Super Bowl against just one top ten rushing team? If getting a stud running back in the draft is so vital, then why are there more undrafted free agents featured than first round picks? C’mon…this isn’t that hard. Conversely, all but two of those teams were ranked in the top five in passing offense, Pittsburgh accounting for both exceptions (and ranking 14th and 17th, respectively, in those two years).

Probably the best article I’ve read on this topic is from The person writing it is far smarter than I, and his conclusion is mathematically and historically backed up. Thankfully, we have the same conclusion. There is almost no correlation between running the ball and winning! Don’t draft RB’s early! Don’t waste cap space on them! Don’t commit to the running game! Use your resources to bolster the passing game!

Think about it; how far is Trent Richardson going to carry the Browns? Will his presence improve them at all? After all, Peyton Hillis submitted a monster season in 2010, and the Browns managed just 6 wins. And going back to the list of top ten RB’s, how many of those guys measurably improved their team? The Vikings have won one playoff game with Peterson, and that was only after bringing Brett Favre on board. Reggie Bush was great last year, and the Dolphins won 6 games. Fred Taylor was good for a long time, and the Jags sucked. Tomlinson was, arguably, the best in the game, but the Chargers couldn’t manage a winning season until Drew Brees made his first Pro Bowl. And perhaps the most damning case of all is that of Edgerrin James. The Colts won their Super Bowl the year AFTER Edge left for Arizona. They won with Dominic Rhodes!

The point is, the value is simply not there. Shy of rushing for 2500 yards and 30 TD’s, Trent Richardson cannot offer enough value to justify being the #4 overall pick. It’s not possible! The NFL is a passing league, and games are won on the ability to advance the ball through the air. That is not an opinion; that is a verified fact. The Browns passed on an opportunity to land a premier pass catcher last season, choosing instead to get a giant run stuffer. That was a mistake, and the Browns paid for it by losing 12 games, almost entirely due to offensive ineptitude. Amazingly, they have an opportunity, just one year later, to right that wrong and make the correct pick.

I don’t know if Justin Blackmon will be a star WR. Truthfully, the bust rate of WR’s, even top ten ones, is kinda scary. But the bust rate of top ten RB’s is roughly the same, and the chance to land a top rate pass catcher is one they cannot afford to pass up. Until Cleveland finally commits its resources to building a championship passing game, they will never be competitive. Well, here’s a chance. Here’s a chance to formally say goodbye to old ways of thinking by passing on the big, physical RB, and taking the sleek WR. If they take Richardson, it’ll only be a cruel way of kicking their fan base in the collective groin, and declaring their disinterest in being competitive.


  1. I think it's awesome that this post, and our mock draft (where you took Richardson at #8) were posted on the same day.

  2. Did I take Richardson #4, or did I take Blackmon? That's what I thought...

    The circumstances are entirely different from #4 to #8, and I made mention that I hated this draft after the first five guys. Also, I stuck to my guns by using each of my first three picks on the passing game, including a non-conventional selection of Michael Floyd at #6.

  3. To agree with your point, as I'm also a Blackmon proponent, the Browns were tied for top in the NFL in dropped passes last year. This was largely to do with Greg Little's severe case of the butterhands, but nonetheless, as bad as their passing game was last year, shifting each receiver down one slot, in my opinion would put them in the positions they belong, and make what could amount to a manageable (not good, but manageable) passing attack. Also, good work on Ryan Mathews this time.

  4. Also, that was one of the most glorious run-on sentences I've ever written.

  5. I think that's a really important point, Bloomy. Wish I would have mentioned it. Dropsies aside, Greg Little showed a little something last season, but he never really gave the impression he was a #1 type. Getting a true #1 is also like drafting a #2 and a #3, as your current guys are usually much more effective and efficient.

    Another thing I wanted to mention is that Blackmon, in theory, could put them much closer to contention than people think. As I pointed out, passing the ball and stopping the pass are the two most important things in football. Well, the Browns had one of the best pass defenses in the league last year, so I think they're much closer than their 4 wins suggests. Of course, if Colt McCoy is still really bad, then they'll need to figure that out before they do any significant winning.

  6. Oh, I'm sorry...I guess all that data about RB's who are taken in the top 10 really doesn't matter then.

  7. Of course it matters. Why would I put it in there if it didn't matter? Again, I'm making an argument specifically applied to Cleveland's decision four whole selections before Miami. The two are not, in any way, similar. If Miami's decision was between a stud WR and Richardson, you can bet I would take the WR any day. But since my decision, in our mock draft, came down to Richardson vs. RT, MLB, major risky DT, and DE who doesn't care about football, there was really nothing that compelled me to pass on Richardson.

  8. Besides, the point of that data was just to prove that RB's are not sure things. They're risky just like everyone else.

  9. Interesting point that Cleveland might be closer to contention that many think. They even have Joe Thomas in place. You gotta think he's just dying to block for someone who actually deserves good blocking. They may have many of the pieces already in place. Good points.

  10. So who knows the rules of Cricket? I freaking give up on football.

  11. I actually know quite a bit about cricket. See, there's the wicket, and if you hit a wicket and the defense doesn't get a wicket then it's a wicket... otherwise, you get a wicket. And apparently that's not good... unless it's one of the aforementioned wickets. And that's pretty much all you need to know about cricket!

  12. just funny reading this thing after the season is over. Ill say this, anyone who thinks that an every down back has little to no value anymore obviously never played football. If all you do is pass you can not control the game when it counts. you can not eat up clock that way. also, if you cant run the ball in november and december, you will never reach the plyoffs. and in regards to taking a "stud" wide receiver in Blackmon, who would throw him the ball? certainly a wide receiver alone does not make a winning team(see detroit lions). no, no, no. a guy who puts up 1300 yards from scrimmage and immediatly acts like a leader, ill take that any day.

  13. just funny reading this thing after the season is over. Ill say this, anyone who thinks that an every down back has little to no value anymore obviously never played football. If all you do is pass you can not control the game when it counts. you can not eat up clock that way. also, if you cant run the ball in november and december, you will never reach the plyoffs. and in regards to taking a "stud" wide receiver in Blackmon, who would throw him the ball? certainly a wide receiver alone does not make a winning team(see detroit lions). no, no, no. a guy who puts up 1300 yards from scrimmage and immediatly acts like a leader, ill take that any day.