Posted June 04, 2013

Browns hope Trent Richardson’s latest setback not an ominous sign

Cleveland Browns
Trent Richardson averaged just 3.6 yards per carry as a rookie. (Tony Dejak/AP)

Trent Richardson averaged just 3.6 yards per carry as a rookie. (Tony Dejak/AP)

By all current indications, the Cleveland Browns simply are playing it safe with star running back Trent Richardson. But a few members of that organization likely have their fingers crossed right now, hoping that Richardson does not become the lead character in another cautionary tale against drafting running backs early.

The Browns reportedly have decided to hold Richardson out of action until at least August, according to ESPNCleveland’s Will Burge, to be “ultra-cautious” in trying to prevent Richardson’s lower-leg strain from becoming a stress fracture. That timetable would sideline Richardson for at least part of training camp and possibly a preseason game or two, depending on how long the Browns opt to sideline him.

Richardson, the No. 3 pick in the 2012 draft, certainly laid the groundwork for a productive NFL career by rushing for 950 yards, catching 51 passes and scoring 12 times in his rookie season. He needed minor knee surgery in both February and August of last year, though, and played through broken ribs for most of the season. Burge’s report also revealed that Richardson has been taking medication for migraines, and that Richardson has lost weight while battling those headaches.

None of Richardson’s injuries, including his ongoing leg ailment, fall into the “serious” category. Yet, the defense many teams play in waiting for a running back during the draft is that the position’s shelf life is so short. With 312 touches on offense during his junior year at Alabama and another 318 last year for the Browns, Richardson already has put a lot of wear and tear on his body.

The biggest downside to limiting Richardson right now is that it will cut into the time he has to learn Rob Chudzinski’s and offensive coordinator Norv Turner’s new offense. Richardson should again be the go-to focal point of Cleveland’s attack, but QB Brandon Weeden and company will have at least a couple of weeks head-start on Richardson come camp.

Still, a full season’s worth of Richardson would be worth way more to the improving Browns than having him for a few extra practices or a preseason game in August.

Cleveland does have Montario Hardesty and former Eagle Dion Lewis behind Richardson on the depth chart. That duo could be in line for more work during Richardson’s absence; also on the roster are Chris Ogbonnaya, Brandon Jackson and intriguing rookie Miguel Maysonet.

Those options are all well and good for Cleveland as it suits up for summer practice. Any chance for success in the near future, however, depends on having a healthy Richardson.

And this is the dilemma that teams face when elite RB prospects present themselves in the NFL draft: Do you use an early pick on an impact skill player, even if he figures to have a shorter career than guys at other positions? The 2013 draft class made the decision a lot easier for front offices. While the position was deep with talent, there were no sure-fire selections — no running back was taken until Giovani Bernard at 37; Montee Ball, with 113 more carries than Richardson over the past two years, tumbled to Denver at No. 58.

There is much less risk in drafting a back in Round 2 or later than there is in doing what Cleveland did with Richardson in 2012. Of course, the payoff may not be as great, either. Richardson has all the makings of being a Pro Bowl back, especially with Cleveland’s offense expected to take a few steps forward.

Because of that potential, the Browns are playing it safe with Richardson now … in hopes that they won’t be sorry for using a top-five pick on him later.

8 comments
ptbnl
ptbnl

With the way the pro football game is moving more and more to the pass as the principal offensive tool, the RB position and the run takes on less importance.  It is logical, as per Shanahan's thinking, that it easy to find and develop a good running back that can run and especially catch as well.  Richardson is very replaceable - the Browns would have been better off drafting for another position.

i read where the Browns have hired Jim Brown to part of their organization.  Apparently he did not have a high opinion of Richardson's ability.



JeffRamey
JeffRamey

I'm perhaps the most cynical Browns fan out there, and by cynical I mean brutally honest. But by all accounts Richardson had a pretty good year as a rookie, especially when you consider his (1) willingness to play through lingering injury (knee and broken ribs), (2) lack of an aggressive offensive scheme, and (3) poor interior run blocking. The season hasn't started so there is no loss of production to calculate if he was a bad selection. It is only a bad draft pick if he fails to produce during the season. Lets see if he can play multiple seasons before throwing out the "what if" dirty rag. Let's see if the new vertical pass scheme works and makes defenses honest. Let's see if Pinkston can return to play OG this season and the team's run blocking as a whole improves.

RS1022
RS1022

Running Back is the most perishable position in pro sports.  Mike Shanahan's philosophy of the RB as a temporary player is more true than ever before.

riley8
riley8

950 yards and 12 TD's in year one with Cleveland?  There aren't many rookie RB's who could have said that.  I think this guy is on the fast track to being a top 5 RB in the NFL.

Whatever
Whatever

It won't take Richardson long to learn the offense. It's not like he can't read the playbook even now. Plus, running back is not exactly a thinker's position -- he doesn't need to know all of the receiver route options, checkdowns, etc., just what hole to run to, when he's blocking, and where to go for a pass (left, right, or middle screen). Pretty simple really.

RobertBard
RobertBard

star running back?  everyone is a star these days.  he's not in the top ten backs in the league, is he?