COMMENTARY | The Cleveland Browns preseason game against the Indianapolis Colts two weeks ago was the final dress rehearsal for Trent Richardson and the majority of the Browns starters before the 2013 season. And while the rest of the Browns looked like a spitting image of the 2012 version, which is to say, like a hungover CFL team, Trent Richardson showed a glimpse of what prompted the Browns to move up a spot in the 2012 draft to take him third overall.
In four series Saturday, Richardson rushed seven times for 31 yards–a 4.4 average–including a 12-yard run. He also had a reception for 10 yards.
Although brief, it was a refreshing performance from Richardson, who wasn’t able to perform up to expectations in his rookie year after suffering several broken ribs early in the season against the Cincinnati Bengals. The few highlights that Richardson had against the Colts were that much more important in light of the play of the other first rounder taken by the Browns in 2012–Brandon Weeden.
After two quality starts in the first two preseason games, Weeden looked lost and shaken throughout the seven possessions he was on the field against the Colts’ defense, amassing a paltry 59.6 passer rating while leading the Browns to just a field goal.
The performance was a wake-up call showing just how far the Browns still need to go to become a legitimate contender in their division, not to mention the rest of the league.
Since the Browns came back in 1999, they have managed only two winning seasons (’02,’07). One of the main reasons for the team’s ineptitude has been the front office’s inability to find star players in the draft, especially at skill positions.
To say the Browns drafts haven’t been very good since coming back in 1999 would be like saying that Kim Jong-un isn’t much of a “relationship guy.”
The list of offensive skill position players taken in the first round by the Browns since their return is uninspiring, to put it mildly.
Names like Tim Couch, William Green, Kellen Winslow, Braylon Edwards and Brady Quinn bring more punchlines to mind than memories of significant contributions.
That’s why it’s imperative that Richardson buck the trend of underwhelming Browns draft picks: If the Browns are going to be more than the perennial 5-11 joke of the AFC North, their top picks need to start making significant contributions.
Richardson has to become a star. And not just the type of star that can net you a few points on your fantasy team.
Top-five picks are supposed to be game-changers, players that opposing teams have to cater their whole game plan to stop.
If Trent Richardson’s season is going to live up to expectations, he’s going to have to be able to produce like Marshawn Lynch and Arian Foster–feature backs who can rack up 1,500 yards in a year.
The good thing for Browns fans is that all indications point to Richardson being poised for that kind of season.
Richardson looks healthy for the first time since his 2011 season at Alabama that saw him average 5.9 yards per attempt, lead the Crimson Tide to a national championship and garner accolades as a once-in-a-decade talent from analysts.
Also, having Norv Turner as the Browns’ new offensive coordinator should be a huge help for both Richardson and the offense. Norv Turner has had a running back rush for more than 1,000 yards in 15 of the 22 NFL seasons where has either been the head coach or offensive coordinator.
That being said, not having Pat Shurmur around doing Pat Shurmur things is guaranteed to help as well.
Of course, there have been other “can’t miss” running backs taken with top picks that haven’t panned out for one reason or another, but those players usually don’t do things like this.
There are only two days until the Browns debut the fully healthy Trent Richardson on the NFL. And if the hype is justified, Richardson will finally give the Browns an identity, and just maybe, the rest of the league a reason to worry.