Browns' Richardson could be fantasy standout early

Posted Aug. 03, 2012 @ 12:52 p.m.
Posted By Mike Wilkening

In theory, a rookie running back who is the centerpiece of an offense that has been one of the NFL’s worst in recent seasons should be a tough sell to fantasy owners.

But Trent Richardson is no ordinary rookie running back, and this is no normal year to be looking for RB help.

Richardson’s talent, coupled with the dearth of reliable RB options and the unyielding demand for fantasy points out of the tailback position, makes the former Alabama star a perfectly reasonable consideration late in Round One. Indeed, his average draft position in standard leagues was around ninth as of Aug. 3.

Once the Texans’ Arian Foster, the Eagles’ LeSean McCoy, the Ravens’ Ray Rice and the Jaguars’ Maurice Jones-Drew come off the board, Richardson quickly becomes one of the top tailbacks available. Jones-Drew’s contract squabble could drive Richardson’s value even higher; some owners simply might pass on the prospect of a Jones-Drew who's potentially distracted, out of shape or unavailable altogether.

There’s reason to believe Richardson carries less risk than other rookie backs before him. For starters, he’s simply a special prospect. His PFW draft grade was the highest given to a running back since Adrian Peterson in 2007. Richardson was a standout for one of college football’s blue-chip programs, and he performed exceptionally in the Southeastern Conference, the nation's top league.

There’s no doubting Richardson’s talent. Nor is there any doubt he will receive a lot of work. The Browns don’t have a backup who is capable of seriously challenging Richardson for carries. Brandon Jackson could see time on passing downs, and Montario Hardesty and Chris Ogbonnaya could spell Richardson on occasion, but the defending Doak Walker Award winner will be very, very busy this season.

Of course, Richardson will face a lot of defenses stacking the line of scrimmage. He undoubtedly could struggle to find a lot of running room at times. Other times, though, he will shine, displaying the power, athleticism and natural run skills that made him a collegiate standout.

His addition surely will bolster a Browns offense that has added a good deal of young talent in the past two seasons. Sure, the Cleveland attack will have moments where its inexperience shows, but it also looks to be more capable of putting a defense on its heels than at any other point since 2008, when WR Braylon Edwards and TE Kellen Winslow Jr. were in the fold.

Running backs can be fantasy difference makers in otherwise weak offenses. Two seasons ago, then-Browns RB Peyton Hillis emerged as a fantasy star, racking up a combined 1,654 rushing-receiving yards and 13 TDs on 331 touches.

Richardson is a more talented player than Hillis, and the Browns’ offense, on paper, looks to be more skilled than the 2010 attack. Moreover, Richardson figures to get a similar number of touches to Hillis, who’s now with the Chiefs.

No, the Browns’ offense won’t rank among the NFL’s best, but Richardson is a solid first-round pick who could be a gem even if Cleveland sputters.