Alabama RB Trent Richardson believes he's a top 10 caliber pick and wants to show that running backs should get that type of lofty draft status with more regularity.
INDIANAPOLIS – In a league that has evolved into what many people think is a “passing” league, the value of the running back has seemingly been diminished.
In the past five years, only three running backs have gone in the top 10 of the NFL Draft and only one – Arkansas’ Darren McFadden – went in the top five.
That’s a far cry from the days when Ki-Jana Carter would go No. 1 overall and a flurry of backs would go in the top 10.
The reality, though, isn’t so much that running backs aren’t valued so much as the idea that you can find good ones in later rounds. While McFadden has been good when healthy, he hasn’t been healthy enough to play up to his lofty draft position.
In fact, only Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson – taken No. 7 in the 2007 NFL Draft – has been worth the high price that goes with being a top 10 pick.
This year, there’s one running back looking to change both perceptions by going in the top 10 and becoming an instant bellcow for his team. That player is Alabama’s Trent Richardson, a player who has drawn comparisons to Peterson himself from respected NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock and others.
“I believe he is and I don’t say that very often about running backs,” Mayock said. “I think the last guy where you banged the table this hard was Peterson when he came out of Oklahoma and was the seventh pick of Minnesota. I think his height, weight, speed, toughness all constitutes a pretty good pick.”
Nearly from the moment he stepped on the field for Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide, Richardson was a tour de force of talent. Even with Heisman Trophy winning back Mark Ingram around, Richardson was still talented enough to split carries with him.
When Ingram departed for the NFL before last season, Richardson finally got the chance to be the centerpiece of the offense. He did not disappoint.
In his only season with more than 200 carries (283 to be exact) Richardson rang up 1,679 yards with 5.9 yards per carry average and 21 rushing touchdowns. He proved to be an adept receiver also, catching 29 passes for 338 yards and three more scores. That virtuoso performance earned him an invite to the Heisman Trophy ceremony and helped Alabama to a BCS title.
It’s that combination of versatility, production and the general lack of tread on the tires (he had just 540 carries in his career at Alabama) that Richardson believes makes him the type of back who should go in the top 10.
“Most definitely,” Richardson said. “That’s why they say I’m No. 1 on the board, and that’s one thing I’ll be working on – catching the ball, running, blocking, knowing my defenses and breaking them down, all that kind of stuff. When it comes down to it, at this level and in this game today, you got to be a running back who can do everything to get in the first round.”
Considered something of a throwback player, Richardson scoffs at the notion that running backs don’t belong in the first round and they can be found just about anywhere.
In his mind, Richardson believes that teams can’t get the job done when it counts without having a solid running game to rely on when teams load up in coverage or the weather is bad or any other number of scenarios in which a bellcow running back is needed.
“It bothers me a lot because we’re getting pounded on every down and when it comes down to it, to be successful, you really just have to have a mindset that I know I’m not going in the first round, but I hope I go in the first round,” Richardson said. “And that’s a big issue with some football players that aren’t really strong mentally, that all the pounding that we do. Even in practice they get to hit on us and we can’t cut ‘em or they come at full speed and it just takes a toll on us and I really think that we all work more than that, because when it comes down to it, everyone needs a running back and they got to use that running back. So I’d say the value of a running back is not the same and it’s crazy to us.”
Richardson, in particular, seems to have few weaknesses in his game and many believe he could go as high as Cleveland at No. 4, among a few other teams in the top 10. Even the Rams have been connected to Richardson in the event that they move back in the draft.
But Richardson also doesn’t come without any question marks. He won’t participate in any of the drills here this weekend and he won’t participate in Alabama’s Pro Day after he has his knee scoped following the BCS title game.
Instead, Richardson will wait until March 27 to work out. It’s not something that seems like a big deal but any type of knee ailments on a running back can be potentially damaging to draft stock. Ingram found out as much last year.
“I’m very disappointed I can’t do the stuff here that everybody else can do,” Richardson said. “In college it irked my nerves when I heard guys say they don’t want to this and that at the combine. That’s something that you dream of and want to do your whole life and being a college football player and a competitor, I always wanted to come to this and show all my skills. That’s what the top guys do.”
Others have questioned whether Richardson has the type of game breaking speed that would land him a spot so early in the draft. He says he’s never been caught from behind and has the video to prove it.
“You want to a little league tape you can look at that,” Richardson said. “You can’t find a game where I get caught from behind. I can bring you a little league tape and show you that I haven’t been caught from behind.”
Ultimately, Richardson believes the pros of his game far outweigh the cons.
“When it comes down to it, I’ll be the dude that’s on the field and getting the ball on third and three or fourth and one and not to be cocky or anything, but I work on my game every day and even if it’s not physical stuff, I work in the classroom learning plays and learning the defensive line and what the linebackers and safeties are doing so I can pick up my blitzes. I love to block,” Richardson said. “Everybody knows I can run the ball. When it comes to playing football, any game you want to just look at it a try to find a negative. A lot of people try to find a negative in your game and there aren’t too many negatives I have. I don’t fumble. That’s one thing that I do not do.”
Perhaps Richardson won’t change perceptions of the value of a running back. Maybe his own value will have to be enough for the one of 32 teams lucky enough to take him.
That doesn’t mean he won’t try, though.
“Most guys, they try not to take us like they used to in the first round but hopefully I can change that or more guys in this draft can change that,” Richardson said.
VIKINGS LEANING?: If the popular scenario in which the Rams trade down with Cleveland and end up with the No. 4 pick, many think the Rams would then be at the mercy of Minnesota when it comes to who they’d draft.
The theory, as it goes, is that the Browns would obviously select Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III and then the Vikings would make the choice between Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon and USC tackle Matt Kalil.
The Rams, then, would draft the player that Minnesota doesn’t select.
Much like the Rams, the Vikings need help at both positions and Minnesota coach Leslie Frazier was non-committal but might have given a little clue which way the Vikings would go should that scenario play out.
"We need both,” Frazier said. “We need to do a good job protecting him. But we also have to get some playmakers around him. Of course, Percy being one of those guys, Adrian when we get him back on the field, and Toby. We have to improve on that area and improve our offensive line as well. A combination of the two. But we definitely want to get more playmakers for him to operate with."
THE WAITING GAME: Speculation about a trade in the top of the draft will swirl for a long time but anyone expecting some sort of resolution anytime soon will likely be disappointed.
While teams may be in preliminary negotiations, no team is going to OK a trade this early in the process.
Minnesota general manager Rick Spielman laid out why when he spoke to the media on Thursday.
“Usually there is sniffing around, but to me nothing is really etched in stone until maybe the night before and then heading into that day before the draft kicks off and then hopefully when you’re in that top three, I think that’s when the serious talks start happening,” Spielman said. “Rarely do you see a trade made before that time. There may be some talking going on, but very rarely is there ever a trade that’s going to happen. The one reason you wouldn’t do that is what if you traded up to go get that specific player and you knew you were going to get him – what if, God forbid, something happened the day before the draft where he was in a car accident or his arm fell off and he was a quarterback. You’re going to be pretty upset.”
COMBINE BITS: The quarterbacks, running back and wide receivers worked out on Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium…Neither of the top two quarterbacks threw, the top running back did nothing and the top wide receiver didn’t run…As expected, Griffin put on a show in the running portion, clocking in an unofficial 4.38 seconds in the 40-yard dash…Also of note, Georgia Tech receiver Stephen Hill rang up an unofficial 4.30 time in the 40 as well.