This is You Heard It Here First – where thinking outside the box and predicting the future is a social pastime.
There has been a lot of praise for the Cleveland Browns trading up for Trent Richardson. It is obvious to pretty much any commentator you ask that he was a slamdunk pick. Bill Polian stated that Richardson was one of the three cant-miss picks alongside Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III.
But is he a Hall of Fame player?
First of all, let’s look at who is in the Hall of Fame already in terms of running backs. Two names spring to mind instantly – Jim Brown and Leroy Kelly. In terms of Cleveland Browns running backs those are the two legendary names that Richardson has to match up to. Now the game has changed since the days of those two but you have to be pretty special to match them – Brown in particular is one of only two Hall of Famers who had 10,000 yards prior to 1980 with O.J Simpson being the other and he achieved it before O.J. even entered the league!
A few non-Browns names for you – Barry Sanders, Eric Dickerson, Walter Peyton, Gale Sayers, Curtis Martin, Emmitt Smith, Earl Campbell, Marcus Allen, Jim Thorpe, Marshall Faulk, Tony Dorsett, Franco Harris. That is one hell of a list of impressive backs – and that only makes up ONE THIRD of the running backs in the Hall of Fame.
Finally, before even discussing Richardson’s skillset, here is another list – LaDainian Tomlinson, Herschel Walker, Roger Craig, Terrell Davis, Floyd Little, Steven Jackson, Ricky Watters, Priest Holmes, Don Perkins, Eddie George, Freeman McNeil, Earnest Byner, Chris Johnson, James Brooks, Larry Brown, O.J. Anderson, Adrian Peterson, Maurice Jones-Drew, Larry Johnson, Frank Gore, Jamal Lewis, Deuce McAllister, Shaun Alexander, Edgerrin James. A big list and I left out quite a few others but that is the list of players who are not in the Hall of Fame yet. Now granted that the list will shrink by the time Richardson’s turn comes up but when you consider how long some of these players have waited that’s a lot of production that hasn’t made it despite being top talents in their day.
With all that to live up to, could Richardson be a Hall of Famer? Absolutely.
First of all, Richardson is coming into the league as one of the rarest commodities in the game – a featured back. They’re a dying breed in the modern NFL with only a handful being worthy of the title – Chris Johnson, Maurice-Jones Drew, Adrian Peterson and LeSean McCoy are the only ones you could call pure feature backs although both Steven Jackson and Ray Rice are falling off that list based on the drafting of Isaiah Pead and Bernard Pierce respectively. All the players on that list have several years on Richardson and as such he has the benefit of having his own time in which he plays in which could play to his advantage.
Next you look at his skillset and measureables. Despite Jim Brown calling him “ordinary” before the draft, it is obvious to pretty much everyone else that Richardson is far from ordinary. First of all, Richardson is the ideal size you want for a running back at 5’11″ and around 220lb. Then there’s his speed – he’s not the fastest out there but he’s pretty darn close to it and has an explosiveness that is strangely patient – I’ll explain that in a moment. In strength and power Richardson ranks right up there with the best three down backs out there. He’s not the biggest or strongest but considering all his other abilities it’s amazing that he has the strength that he does.
With all his attributes, what is it that makes Trent Richardson so good? It’s the fact that he is so good at all the measurables COMBINED. We’ve seen outstanding speedsters, elusive evaders, bulking bruisers and glue-handed pass catchers but in this man you have as close to the perfect combination of all running back traits as we have seen from any running back for many many years. In many respects, a running back of Trent Richardson’s talent and ability is rarer than an Andrew Luck simply because while it is much easier to find a top running back in later rounds it is highly unlikely they will ever have the pedigree and sheer ability of this marvel.
Now we get to those all important immeasurables – the sort of thing that you can only see when a player has to play instinctively and think on his feet. This is one of the most impressive things of all in Richardson’s game. Remember my hint before about Richardson’s explosiveness having the strange trait of patience? This is a player who has the rare gift that he can apply that explosiveness in extremely short bursts as he searches for just the right hole to open up either care of his offensive line or a mistake by the defense and in practically the same instant he will explode out of the blocks having made his decision and be through sometimes before the defense even knows he’s coming. Now I’m not saying he gets it right every time or that he’ll find it so easy to accomplish at the pro level – particularly in the rugged AFC North – but the fact that Richardson can utilise this gives him a step up on at least 90% of his compatriots based on this alone.
So he’s the perfect combination of size, strength, elusiveness, speed, agility and decision making. But how about his team? This is the only factor that could hold Trent Richardson back. However, he’s in luck. The Browns do have some good if underrated talent on their offensive line. There is of course the elite left tackle Joe Thomas but he also has one of the league’s better centers Alex Mack. The Browns’ guard combo is less heralded but still rather talented. This is the key to Richardson’s success is the ability of the offensive line to open holes for him will be a big part of how quickly he adapts to the NFL.
The tools are all there. Can Trent Richardson be a Hall of Fame running back? Absolutely. Will he? Only time will tell as we can never be sure how things may turn out in the world of the NFL and no matter how talented a player is you must always account for the one factor none of us have any control over.
If one day Trent Richardson is inducted into the Hall of Fame and it is proclaimed that it was destined from the very start of his career, I won’t be surprised and now neither will you – because You Heard It Here First.