BEN SIECK | ASSISTANT SPORTS EDITOR
The Indianapolis Colts and Cleveland Browns executed the biggest NFL trade in recent memory last week, sending Browns’ second-year running back Trent Richardson to the Colts for a 2014 first-round draft pick.
Indianapolis fans celebrated the move as a looting of the Browns. Visions of Edgerrin James danced through their heads last Wednesday evening, while an audible groan could be heard to the east as Cleveland fans lamented the prospect of another season destined to produce a top-five draft pick.
Adding Richardson should give a boost to the Colts’ run game, but he may not be that much of an upgrade over current Colts’ starter Ahmad Bradshaw.
Bradshaw ranked in the top 10 in multiple analytical statistic categories used by FootballOutsiders.com to rate running backs last season, while Richardson ranked towards the bottom of the league in those same categories.
So far this season the trend has continued. Bradshaw checks in just inside the top 10 backs, while Richardson ranks in the mid-20s.
Richardson only ran for 3.6 yards per carry last season, putting him at 40th in the league. He was nicked up for much of the year, but has been healthy so far this season and has only averaged 3.2 yards per carry.
Meanwhile, Bradshaw ran for 4.6 yards per carry behind a good Giants offensive line, which was good for 11th in the NFL last season.
Richardson is still an explosive runner and a workhorse back who scouts loved enough to warrant a third overall selection in last year’s draft. He is also only 22 years old with plenty of time to develop into the star the Browns thought they had when they drafted him.
Cleveland was a below-average run-blocking team in 2012, and have been about average in 2013. The Colts rank near the top of the league through two games this season, despite finishing near the bottom of the league last year, according to FootballOutsiders.
However, it remains to be seen if the Colts’ offensive line can keep up the stellar play all season after allowing a league-high 58 sacks last season.
Bradshaw could be benefitting from running behind a good line, but the separation between him and Richardson is a lot closer than most Colts fans might think.
Although he scored on his first carry in a Colts’ uniform, Richardson was pedestrian against a staunch 49ers defense. Richardson rushed 13 times for 35 yards and one touchdown, while Bradshaw was the star of the game, rushing 19 times for 95 yards and a touchdown.
It will be interesting to see how head coach Chuck Pagano and the rest of his staff decide to split the carries between the two backs. Colts fans may see more of Richardson in the coming weeks under pressure from ownership even if Bradshaw outperforms him.
Browns fans might not want to hear it, but losing Trent Richardson could be the right move for a team destined to finish below .500 with or without him in the backfield.
For the Browns, it’s safe to say even before they traded Richardson, they weren’t winning the Super Bowl this year. Certainly not with Brandon Weeden, Brian Hoyer or Jason Campbell playing quarterback.
The league as a whole is becoming more and more quarterback-centric with less emphasis on running the football. Over the last six seasons, 11 of the top 15 most single-season pass attempts have occurred. Having a stud running back certainly helps, but Willie Parker, James Starks and Pierre Thomas have all started for Super Bowl champions in the past five years.
Instead of being mediocre this year, the Browns opted to enter the Jadeveon Clowney and Teddy Bridgewater sweepstakes, stockpiling future draft picks in the process.
Getting a first-round pick in exchange for a running back is practically unheard of in recent years. As Justin Higdon pointed out on DraftBrowns.com, Ricky Williams was the last running back to fetch a first-round pick in a trade, and that was in 2002.
This trade will certainly go down as one of the most polarizing in recent history, and both teams should be excited about the future.
Browns fans know they’ll have to wait until after the 2014 draft to see the benefits of the trade, but this is nothing new to a Cleveland sports fan.
Colts fans, on the other hand, are excited about the immediate future. However, it’s unclear how long Indianapolis will have to wait until Richardson matures into the star he was pegged to be coming out of Alabama.