Richardson brings spark, identity to Browns

April, 26, 2012
4/26/12
10:10
PM ET


BEREA, Ohio -- The Cleveland Browns couldn't hide their enthusiasm for Trent Richardson.

The Browns wanted him so badly that they gave up three picks to move one spot to make sure they got the only elite running back in this draft. Then, even before the Washington Redskins made their pick at No. 2, Cleveland turned in its card with Richardson's name on it.

Richardson brings new life and enthusiasm to one of the worst offenses in the NFL. He also brings something equally important -- a physical identity.

Cleveland's long-plodding offense is now tougher, rougher and meaner. With all due respect to Jim Brown, Richardson is far from "ordinary." Richardson is the type of no-nonsense running back a team needs when colliding with the likes of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens.

In the SEC, one of the best college conferences in the country, Richardson set Alabama season records for rushing yards (1,679) and touchdowns (21) by showing no hesitation when running between the tackles. He was fearless in bulling past defenders and stiff-arming them. What makes him a playmaker is his ability to also make players miss in the open field. His power and elusiveness are a special combination.

This is a draft where the Browns must rebuild their offense. They started by finding the centerpiece for it.

"We’re thrilled. He’s one of the guys who’s passionate, productive and durable," Browns coach Pat Shurmur said. "He’s the kind of runner that we feel is going to help us to put an offense together to score the points that we need to win the games that we’re going to win.

"If you don’t sense the excitement in my voice, then you’re missing it."

What the Browns were missing last season was a spark on offense. Cleveland ranked 29th in yards and 30th in scoring. That's why trading up to secure Richardson wasn't just the right move. It was the only one.

It was an aggressive move for an aggressive player. Outside of quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, Richardson was the only other player in this draft who could immediately affect an offense.

Problem: The Browns scored four rushing touchdowns last season, which was tied for the the second-fewest in the past 15 NFL seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Solution: Richardson is one of three players in SEC history to score 20 or more rushing touchdowns in a season.

Problem: The Browns' running backs averaged the fewest yards after contact (1.77) last season.

Solution: Richardson thrives on contact and talked openly Thursday night about crashing into Ray Lewis and Troy Polamalu.

There's a risk in taking a running back so high in the draft, which is why few teams do it. There have been five running backs taken in the top five in the previous 10 drafts: Cedric Benson (2005), Ronnie Brown (2005), Cadillac Williams (2005), Reggie Bush (2006) and Darren McFadden (2008). They've combined for one Pro Bowl.

Shurmur indicated that if the Browns didn't take Richardson in the top five, another team would have. This prompted the Browns to give up picks in the fourth (118th overall), fifth (139th) and seventh (211th) rounds to move up one spot to get Richardson. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and St. Louis Rams reportedly were thinking about trading up for him.

[+] EnlargeTrent Richardson
AP Photo/Dave MartinThe Browns couldn't contain their excitement over getting Alabama's Trent Richardson.
Why were so many teams interested in Richardson? As Shurmur describes him, Richardson is virtually flawless.

"He can run with power. He can make you miss when he gets in the open. He can score," Shurmur said. "I like the fact that when he’s asked to pass-protect, he will do it aggressively. And, when you throw him the football, he catches it. Unless I’m missing something there, that’s what runners got to do."

The Browns needed a playmaker at running back. Perhaps just as important, they needed a running back who will show up every week. That was a major problem last season, when Peyton Hillis, Montario Hardesty and Brandon Jackson missed a chunk of the season with injuries.

"The other guys on this team, the coaches and our fans need to know that our players are going to show up," Shurmur said. "I’ve seen this in this player. We feel like that’s what we’re getting."

Richardson has his skeptics, namely the best running back in Browns history. When asked Thursday afternoon about the possibility of Cleveland taking Richardson, Jim Brown said, "I'm not overwhelmed with it. The problem is that he's ordinary. I think he's ordinary." Asked what about him is ordinary, Brown said, "the size, the speed, his moves."

You have to admire how Richardson responded to the criticism. Like his style of play, he attacked it head on.

"I got a lot to prove," he said on a conference call with reporters. "I'm going to make sure they all mention my name and compare people to me."

Shurmur couldn't say at what point during the draft process that the Browns knew Richardson was going to be their pick.

It could have been during his pro day in late March, when he knocked down Cleveland running backs coach Gary Brown in a blocking drill.

It could have been when he took 17-year-old cancer survivor Courtney Alvis to the senior prom 10 days before the draft.

Richardson acknowledged he didn't know he was going to be taken this high. But he's as excited as the Browns that it happened.

"It's bigger than winning the national championship game," Richardson said.

In a perfect scenario, the Browns would've been able to trade up last month to get RG3. They didn't get their quarterback, but they were determined not to lose out on their running back.

But Richardson is more than a running back to the Browns. He's their cornerstone and their new identity.

"He’s going to be what we think is going to be a really, really fine addition to the Cleveland Browns team," Shurmur said. "He’s going to be one of those players that our fans and our community will be able to watch run the ball for a lot of years. That’s what we’re excited about."

Jamison Hensley

ESPN Ravens reporter

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