Sunday, April 29, 2012

Will the Richardson pick pay off for Cleveland?

image The Birmingham News’ Will Grant weighs in with a popular opinion among sportswriters, citing a well worn mantra that a change in offensive philosophy in the NFL has made the tailback position almost irrelevant. Grant goes out of his way to note Trent Richardson’s abilities. No one disputes that Richardson was by far the best player at his position. Indeed, most observers recognize that Richardson may be the best tailback to come along in a very long time.

He joins an offensive team that will be led by either former Texas quarterback Colt McCoy or former Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden. Both players came from pass happy spread attacks.

The game of football is cyclical. Over the last decade, the argument made by Grant et al is valid. Teams have been putting more emphasis on the quarterback and the passing game, and teams that have taken running backs in the first round haven’t set the world on fire.

Go ten or more years back however, and you find the likes of Shaun Alexander, Barry Sanders and Emmitt Smith, featured backs that lit up box scores with 1,000+ yard seasons. Defenses had to adjust and build units designed to stop the run.

Offenses adjusted right back, defeating run-stopping defenses with multiple wide formations. Ten years ago, third and one was almost always a running down. Now, an inside trap on third and one would be considered “trickeration.”

Defenses are adjusting again, with greater emphasis being placed on pressuring the quarterback and shutting down the corners. Teams are drafting defensive players suited for that purpose and you saw it in the 2012 draft. There’s a premium on pass rushers and shutdown corners. Interior linemen and inside linebackers are coveted too, but not like they were when defenses had to account for bowling balls like Smith and Sanders.

Could we be entering a new era? Surely, offensive wizards in the NFL aren’t going to let their defensive counterparts get the best of them. They’re going to adjust again, and the best way to defeat a pass-stopping defense is to run the football more.

It’s way to early to tell if Richardson’s physical gifts and abilities will make him such a special talent that the Browns’ pick was a no-brainer. It’s also too early to know whether the Browns are in the midst of a subtle philosophical adjustment that begins to swing the pendulum back to the Neanderball days.

If they are, the Browns made the right pick. Richardson is the product of an offensive system that runs right over you, and no one did it better than he and Alabama in winning two national championships. If they aren’t, and the Browns intend to go with the current flow of slinging the ball all over the field, the only beneficiary of Cleveland’s big bet will be Richardson and his family.

Whether this pick pays for the Browns or not, it’s sure going to pay Trent well.

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