The Curious Case of Trent Richardson

Richardson is as compact and coiled an athlete as the position has seen since Adrian Peterson. Richardson is explosive, powerful and balanced. He is a heady and instinctual player who is patient enough to wait for blocks and quick enough to cut backfield to daylight. Richardson has a strong core that he uses to break arm tackles and get physical leverage under blitzers in pass protection. He is a true three-down back who can be effective on screens.

Trent Richardson may be the best running back to come out of college since Adrian Peterson. He possesses rare strength and speed for an individual his size. He has all the intangibles that you went in a player. Passionate about the game, has a great work ethic, and performs his best against the strongest of competition.”

Richardson is easily the top back in this class, and probably the best running back to come out since Adrian Peterson 5 years ago. His power and speed combo are pretty impressive, and his workhorse ability is rare in today’s game. While some teams will devalue him since the shelf life and value of running backs is more limited, he’s good enough to be the exception to the rule. He should be a top 10 pick, and should vastly improve whatever team lands him.”

Trent Richardson Running By

Richardson was a killer in college.

Just 2 short years ago, these phrases were a nice summary of everything being said about Trent Richardson. He was a can’t miss prospect. He was the exception to not taking running backs early in the draft. He was a true franchise changer. He was easily the best running back since Adrian Peterson.

My how the mighty have fallen.

Trent Richardson was famously traded to the Colts for a 1st round pick and was widely hailed as the missing piece to a budding Colts dynasty. Fast forward just 6 games and Richardson wasn’t even the starter. Losing snaps and trust from coaches, Richardson wasn’t the guy the Colts thought they were getting. And at a hefty price of a first round draft pick, this isn’t good news. Richardson does have value, as we will look into the stats of his production. Reader beware, these numbers are gruesome.

Trent Richardson

Yeah, it’s that bad, man.

Rookie Year

Richardson’s rookie year was somewhat of a disappointment, but was actually talked up due to the Browns being the Browns. He was a bright spot, they said. Well, the numbers tell a different story.

In his first year as a pro, Richardson totaled 950 yards rushing and a nice 11 TDS. Seems respectable. The 1,000 yard benchmark is usually the sign of a productive back, especially in an age where passing is king. A look deeper into those 950 yards gives us a slightly better view at what his value was. He averaged a paltry 3.6 yards per carry. It is generally accepted that to be deemed a “good” back you must run for 4.0 yards each time you get the ball. To put in perspective, Adrian Peterson (the man Richardson was supposed to be), averaged 5.6 yards per carry his rookie year.

Adrian Peterson is on the Wheaties box

Adrian Peterson gets a Wheaties box. Richardson gets a toilet bowl.

DYAR and DVOA are two amazing statistics employed by Football Outsiders. Basically, DYAR is yards above replacement (league average) and adjusted for defense. This gives us a good indicator of total value. DVOA is defense adjusted value over replacement. This metric is used to measure on a per play basis. Richardson had a DYAR of -51, good for 37th in the league. To sum up what that means, Richardson was 51 yards worse overall than what a league average player should be. DVOA isn’t much better. Richardson accumulated a -13.3% per play value, good for 33rd. Yikes. Per play, Richardson was -13.3% worse than a league average player. Not exactly lighting up the stat boxes.

However, those 11 TDs showed up for a reason. Unfortunately, Richardson is a middling tackle breaker, so he doesn’t break off too many big runs. He is a great short yardage back. His longest TD run was 11 yards. This is a testament to his high TD count. If you are close, he can bang it in.

Another bright spot was Richardson’s receiving, going for 367 yards on 51 catches. His DYAR in receiving was 74 and ranked 11th for all running backs. This positively shows he was an above average pass catcher. His DVOA was a little worse, with a 4.9% and a 23 ranking. The DVOA would be higher, but as he doesn’t break many tackles, he mainly had a lot of short catches and had minimal yards after the catch. Still, you can point directly to his receiving stats and be able to see value. He is a plus out of the backfield. His 1 receiving TD is slightly skewed, due to him being a beast in short yardage situations. Kudos to the Browns coaching staff for realizing his strength and giving him the ball in short yardage situations instead of forcing his other plus skill, receiving.

Overall, I would give his rookie campaign a slightly below average mark. He produced in receiving, but was downright bad in rushing. The franchise label was all but gone, and it looked as if his best case scenario was simply an average back.

trent richardson

This scene was all too common

Sophomore Year

Oh boy. We discussed the pricey trade. He at least had some positives and almost had to get better, right? Flanked by an emerging Andrew Luck, the running lanes were sure to be wide open. Lets see what the numbers say.

He rushed for 563 and 3 TDs. Wait, what? He did have 80 less carries, but his yards per carry dropped all the way to an absolutely abysmal 3.0. In most cases, that is good enough to get you kicked out the league. But the Colts just paid a 1st rounder, so they have to wait this out to see if they can maximize value.

The advanced metrics rear their ugly head even worse than conventional. Richardson’s DYAR was -108, good for a ranking of 45. Wow. Richardson actually became even worse at running the ball. The DVOA checks in at -22.2% and ranks 44th out of all backs. If you remember the description of these stats, Richardson is -22.2% worse than a league average back on a per play basis. Again, these are numbers that will send you to the unemployment line.

What about his one plus, receiving? Basic numbers show he 35 passes for 316 yards. On the surface, seemingly respective numbers. Overall, Richardson was still a plus, but his value was slipping. His DYAR was 34 for a rank of 26. Low ranking for all the backs, but he saw his snaps fall. A plus DYAR is still a plus. The DVOA came in -2.6% for a ranking of 25th. Again, Richardson is unable to break tackles, so his per play stats will look worse, since he cannot break off long runs after the catch.

In his second year, Richardson became worse across the board. The coaches were well aware of this, as we saw his snap count fall more and more throughout the season. He was literally unplayable in the Colts playoff appearance. A gigantic step back for the once budding franchise back.

Verne Lundquist presenting trophy to Trent Richardson

Richardson misses the good old days.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Honestly? I don’t think he can get any worse, outside of not playing. We can officially rule out ever being a franchise or game changing back. Richardson may have to accept his role in the NFL, a short yardage back with a good set of hands. A move to full back may actually not be a bad move. I imagine the Colts will give him one more season before making that type of decision, though.

Through his first 2 years, Trent Richardson is the definition of a bust. The only people who still think he has amazing potential are delusional Colts and Alabama fans. You can hang up franchise status. Richardson is a good short yardage back. He can also catch. This brings value. He can reinvent himself as a special package running back for short yardage situations. He can become a shotgun formation specialist as his catching skills are above average.

Read that last paragraph again. This man was the next great running back in the NFL, and now we are writing statements like that. This upcoming season will be huge for Richardson. A season that may decide whether he needs to find a new career or not. Stay tuned.