Just over a month ago, the sky was supposedly falling in Cleveland.
That’s because the Browns had traded running back Trent Richardson, the third overall selection in the 2012 NFL draft, to the Indianapolis Colts in a move that many deemed sheer lunacy. The belief at the time was that Cleveland was giving up its best offensive weapon, a player who should be the bedrock of the franchise.
Now the only criticisms that can be heard are coming from Indianapolis, where Richardson remains the disappointing talent the Browns had the good sense to deal.
It’s not that Richardson is a bad player. It’s just that he’s not an exceptional one.
He has yet to gain more than 60 yards in any of his five games with the Colts. He’s had 75 carries during that time and produced all of 228 yards, which is a worse yards-per-attempt average than he generated in his first two games with Cleveland this season (3.04 compared to 3.39). Richardson scored the first two touchdowns of his season while in Indianapolis, but more people likely recall his critical fumble late in the Colts’ upset win over Denver on Oct. 20.
As much as optimists in Indianapolis preach the importance of patience when faced with these facts, it’s becoming hard to see the upside in a player who was supposed to be special and cost the Colts a first-round pick.
“We were getting killed when we made that deal, but now people are seeing the same things we saw in him,” one Browns source said. “There is a lot to like about Trent. He’s solid, dependable, hard-working. The problem is that he’s not explosive.”
This is actually a little too generous. I agree that it’s too early to declare that Richardson isn’t even a decent player, but so far in his career he has been a pretty bad player. He’s been pretty much the definition of replacement level — he’s played almost exactly as “well” as the player the Browns acquired off the waiver wire to replace him. And since he’s been traded to a team with an excellent QB and an offensive line the likes of Donald Brown and Vick Ballard run extremely effectively behind, the pathetic excuses being offered for his performance are even less defensible. He’s not very good because he’s not very good.
The interesting philosophical question here is whose sacrifice of a 1st round pick for Richardson was the stupidest. I guess you’d still have to say the Browns, because they both gave up an extremely valuable top pick and traded up for the privilege. The Browns were working from a standpoint of greater uncertainty, but using a top 3 pick on a running back is only potentially defensible if you’re talking about a once-in-a-generation Sanders/Peterson type star, and it’s abundantly clear that there was no rational basis for the belief that Richardson was that kind of player. But, still, while the pick the Colts gave up is less valuable to give up any kind of first round pick for a player at the most fungible offensive position when it’s not only clear that he’s not a star but when after a year+ he hasn’t even established that he’s average is nuts.
The good news for the Colts is that they’ll be largely bailed out by the erroneous premise of their decision. Richardson has been bad, but fortunately for them whether your running game is above or below average just isn’t very important in contemporary football, so they’re still 5-2 against a tough schedule, and the pick they have up is likely to be near the bottom of the first round.