Much like the four donuts he had for breakfast, Trent Richardson is finished. Freshly cut by the Raiders, Richardson is a free agent once again after signing a two-year deal earlier this off-season. Don’t worry about Richardson though – he keeps the $600,000 in guaranteed money, while still collecting $3.2 million in the last year of his rookie deal courtesy of the Colts. That rookie contract, of course, was a result of the Cleveland Browns using (wasting) the third overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft to choose him out of Alabama. The precipitous drop that has culminated in this release is a story unto itself.
Remember the Times
“Richardson is as compact and coiled an athlete as the position has seen since Adrian Peterson.”
“He has the rare combination to ram through linebackers and run away from defensive backs.”
“He’s like a Marshawn Lynch with speed and elusiveness…”
These were just a snippet of the praise given to Richardson during the NFL Draft process. Those who failed to see him at Alabama are undoubtedly wondering why anyone would bring up Peterson or Lynch when looking at Richardson. Let’s look at the following run:
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That one run encapsulates a lot of the traits scouts were gushing about in the above quotes. However, unlike most running backs with those highlights, Richardson was substance, too. Looking at his final season, he set the conference record for total scrimmage yards (which still stands) and showed a versatility in the run and pass game.
Looking at his college profile, it is easy to see how the hype train crashed into the insane asylum and let out all the draft crazies. Even if the draft capital used to select Richardson was exorbitant (it was), nearly everyone had sky high expectations for the Bama back.
Big League Chew-ed Up
We should have scratched and sniffed after that rookie season (some did) more and we would have found a lot more fleas than we initially thought. The 3.6 yards per carry were a bad sign, but looking at his decline as the game went on should have been an early indicator of his conditioning and motivation. Richardson went from a 3.8 yards per carry average in the first half all the way down to 3.1 in the second half. Add in the fact he failed to feast against bad defenses (3.1 yards per carry against bottom 16 defenses) and it becomes harder to feel optimistic.
Things got worse in year two, including the unexplainable trade by the Colts to acquire Richardson. No need to go too deep in the numbers as nearly every conceivable statistic declined. That led to his release, especially as they came to an agreement with Frank Gore. At that point, only his blocking remained an asset, perhaps endearing him to the Raiders in the first place. Like the others, the Raiders saw through the assessments from the NFL Draft and found the same doughy, plodding running back that two teams had already severed ties from.
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So, what the heck happened?
I invite everyone to comment with their hypotheses while I share my own here. A couple of the knocks I saw during the draft process (both in my own assessment and from draft analysts) were his questionable intelligence and the sheer dominance of his offensive line perhaps hiding his weaknesses. The former is obvious when you consider how his conditioning and motivation fell off. What once was a workout warrior became a player who gained weight and alienated himself by acting elitist towards his teammates. That ability to muscle through arm tackles and make quick cuts disappeared with the extra weight and reduced strength.
As for the latter, it has some validity but there was a truly special runner with or without the help of the line. Would Richardson have broken the SEC scrimmage record without them? No way. Could he have still been a solid running back and still ended up a first rounder? Absolutely.
What does the Raiders release mean?
For Richardson, this may have been the last straw. Perhaps another team brings him in at some point, but if a change in his habits has not happened already, it likely won’t. I see this going down as a player with all the potential squandering it in the face of money and responsibility.
How about a few others?
Latavius Murray, RB OAK
Murray benefits as it secures the team’s belief in him as the primary runner. Yes, I know we all thought he would be but it is nice when the team makes a move like this to confirm it. Any of the wasted carries to Richardson are now gone. A slight uptick in usage is possible, particularly in the passing game.
Roy Helu, RB OAK
Another runner with a fat hurdle removed. Helu will be the primary receiving back, which is a skill Richardson still has. As one of the highest on Helu in the DLF RB rankings, I obviously believe in the talent. Helu is a sneaky bet to get 50-60 catches on the season with perhaps a few more carries than pre-cut.
Michael Dyer, RB OAK
He is probably having a relaxing cocktail or in the weight room, in celebration of Richardson’s release. Dyer now becomes a key backup for the Raiders and a player who could easily see time with Murray’s injury history and upright running style. A lot of savvy owners have already been stashing the rookie runner, but there is still time to get him on the cheap.
Derek Carr, QB OAK
Largely neutral change with a slight downgrade in pass protection for 2015. As much as I have bashed Trent’s running ability, he can still block well and was the main reason he saw so much playing time. Carr will be fine as he dealt with porous pass protection last year and Helu is a good enough blocker to keep Carr from getting hit badly.