As part of our comprehensive draft guide I shared a piece on the importance of assessing a player’s team and offensive context when deciding on his relative value compared to other players at the position. Along that line of thinking, it is worth noting that six of our consensus top twelve running backs ranked as RB1s in twelve team leagues are operating in new offensive systems this year. In a series of posts, we’ll take a look at the impact of this change of context on each player.
Today, we’ll consider Trent Richardson. Its worth noting that the Browns aren’t as bad as their 2012 record would suggest – the team has a solid defensive core, some great pieces on the offensive line, and talent (if not a history of production) in the receiving game. They’ve also got Brandon Weeden who didn’t show us a whole lot in his rookie season but has the tools to be productive in his second year.
Despite the assembled talent the Browns plodded to a 5-11 record and Pat Shurmer and his staff were replaced. In comes Head Coach Rob Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner. Much has been made about how Turner’s offense means a great deal for the down field passing game, and for the fantasy value of tight end Jordan Cameron (who has recently climbed our consensus rankings and found his way onto our sleepers list), but Turner can help the Cleveland run game as well.
Turner (and Chudzinski) come from the Air-Coryell offensive framework which does emphasize the deep passing game but always contains a strong power rushing element. Of course while in San Diego he was blessed to work with one of the best running backs we’ve ever seen in LaDainian Tomlinson, but Turner has a nice resume of success with his primary rushers.
Richardson, meanwhile, comes off a rookie season where he underwhelmed by most assessments and still managed to finish as fantasy’s 9th most productive running back. His 950 yards on 267 carries aren’t much to write home about, but the 11 scores were impressive – many of them being of the “leg-churning-he’s-tough-to-tackle” variety. This year, Richardson will be running behind the league’s 5th ranked offensive line (according to DavidGonos.com) and in an offense that is expected to easily produce more points. He should be able to approach last year’s score total again, if not eclipse it… it won’t be easy as just eight backs had double digit scores last season, but Richardson is in as good of shape as any to do so.
Moreover, he’s expected to be busy. As a first year rusher Richardson caught 51 balls to go with his 267 carries. This season, one would expect a similar reception count – despite the down field focus – and Turner has hinted on more than one occasion that 300 carries could be in store for the second year back. Only five rushers had that much work last season.
Let’s summarize: we’re expecting more from the offense, the guys blocking for him are impressive as a unit, he’s got a nose for the end zone and his volume should go up. Last year he finished 9th, and this year the arrow is pointing up. Provided he makes it through training camp unscathed there are plenty of reasons to get behind Richardson in your fantasy draft.