You can say that running backs aren’t worth high picks anymore. You can say that this is a passing league, that serviceable starting running backs can be found in the lower rounds, that Arian Foster — Arian Foster, for heaven’s sake! — went undrafted.
There is a lot of evidence that drives home the importance of the passing game in today’s NFL. There are reams and reams of it — stacks from floor to ceiling. Every time I speak of the continued importance of the running back in 2012, I feel like I’m a woolly mammoth in a tweed jacket, harrumphing my way toward the tar pits.
Others are right about the importance of the passing game, and I know it. No one wants to be left behind; hence, me feeling so awkward about liking the hand-off as much as the forward pass.
But I am heels-dug-into-the-batter’s-box on this point: The Browns did not make a mistake taking Alabama RB Trent Richardson on Thursday night. Nor did they err in trading three third-day draft picks to move up all of one spot to take him at No. 3 overall. That's not much at all, frankiy.
The Browns need to improve their passing game; that isn’t lost on anyone. They still need a go-to wide receiver. Their long-term starting quarterback may still not be on the roster. They especially need to add pass-catching help in this draft, and I believe they will. It's a good draft to be looking for a wideout, and this is an offense that doesn’t scare anyone.
However, Richardson, the highest-ranked back in this draft, should give the Browns’ attack an immediate boost. As of tonight, he is the offensive player whom Browns opponents fear most. He is tough, and he is explosive. He can get the tough two yards when needed, and he can break off the 15- and 20-yard rushes that can make an offense’s collective life easier.
Nothing has been easy for the Browns on offense the last three seasons — zip, zilch, zero, null set. Their running game has been a big part of the problem. Peyton Hillis, such a pleasant surprise in 2010, rarely played to that form a season ago, and he departed in free agency. Montario Hardesty’s two-season NFL career has been marked by injuries.
Richardson solves their RB woes. Hardesty, Chris Ogbonnaya and Brandon Jackson now can be fine complementary players in this offense.
But now, the Browns have their franchise back.
Yes, teams are passing more these days. I’ve done the research. Teams passed 53.5 percent of the time in 2011; by comparison, teams passed just 51.4 percent of the time in ’05 — a year when three backs were selected in the draft’s top five picks.
Richardson will be the only back selected in the top five of this draft.
He’s worth it.