Trades don’t normally happen during an NFL regular season. Last year, the trade deadline came and went without anyone getting dealt despite lots of speculation about Steven Jackson, Dwayne Bowe, and DeAngelo Williams. It’s usually hard for NFL teams to pull the trigger on deals during the season because of salary cap implications and the learning curve required when picking up a new offense in the middle of the season. That’s why Wednesday afternoon’s news of Trent Richardson getting traded to Indianapolis sent NFL fans into a state of shock.
We’ll start in Cleveland where fans have to once again undergo the feeling of rebuilding. It was only a few weeks ago that there was a slight groundswell for the Browns being feisty this year. That stopped quickly. Richardson and Brandon Weeden were both first-round picks for the Browns in 2012, but those were under an old regime. The team’s new management doesn’t seem to have much faith in Weeden and obviously didn’t think too highly of Richardson. (We’ll get to that.) Landing a first round pick (likely in the teens or early 20s from the Colts) is great only if you actually make a good football decision with it. Other than Joe Haden, Jordan Cameron, and Jabaal Shaeard, Cleveland has failed miserably to draft good talent and they’re paying for it. Now the Browns will tank in hopes of drafting Teddy Bridgewater. We’ll see whether or not these new guys can put together a quality roster by 2015.
Indianapolis is taking a chance by trading away a first round pick for a running back. Running back seems to be the most replaceable position in all of football. Sixteen guys ran for 1,000 yards last season. (One of them actually plays for the Colts now and isn’t named Trent Richardson.) Two of those 16 guys were undrafted free agents. The other 14 have an average draft position of the 64th, which is at the beginning of the third round. The moral of the story is you don’t need to draft a running back early in the first round of the draft in order to get production. The Browns learned that lesson. The Colts are taking a chance on Richardson because their offensive line has issues pass-blocking and they’re trying to keep their young quarterback safe. A heavy running game and the threat of quality from that position will definitely help, but the question must be asked: how good is Trent Richardson?
There was already a running back in place when Trent Richardson arrived in Tuscaloosa. Mark Ingram had averaged 5.1 yards per carry as a freshman and went on to rush for 1,658 yards and 17 touchdowns in his second season at Alabama. He became the youngest player to ever win the Heisman trophy. That’s a nice resume. Fast forward to 2013 and Ingram is now in his third year in the NFL with an average yards per carry of 3.8. He’s about to become irrelevant. Trent Richardson exceeded Ingram’s numbers in his junior season. He didn’t win the Heisman, but he became the 4th pick in the NFL Draft. He ran for 3.6 yard per carry last year and only managed 3.4 per carry this year with a line ranked 10th in the league by Football Outsiders. (It’s early, but they were 20th last year, so they’re not THAT terrible.) That’s mildly alarming. He only had two runs of over 20 yards in 267 carries last year. That's very alarming.
Since Richardson left Alabama, they’ve continued to have success running the ball. They had two backs run for 1,000 yards last year while combining for 29 touchdowns. One of them, Eddie Lacy, got drafted in the second round this year. With Lacy gone, the other running back, T.J. Yeldon, is on his way to a 1,000-yard season with a healthy 5.3 yards per carry through 3 games. It seems like Alabama is doing OK.
Part of Alabama’s running back success is because they recruit at the position as well as anyone in the country, but it’s very well possible that the success is also highly predicated on the strength of Alabama’s offensive line and the coaches’ blocking schemes. Those offensive linemen are getting drafted in the first round as well. Remember when the University of Miami kept producing good college quarterbacks? Jim Kelly, Bernie Kosar, Vinnie Testaverde, Steve Walsh, Craig Erickson, Gino Torretta, and Ken Dorsey all had great success in college. While Browns fans probably wish they had someone of Kosar’s quality at the helm again, college success didn’t necessarily translate to success at the next level.
We’ll see what happens with Trent Richardson in Indianapolis, but it by no means decided that Cleveland is any worse off long-term or Indianapolis is that much better right now. Just don’t expect Richardson to turn into the next Edgerrin James overnight. He’ll likely succeed because the Colts have a passing game to keep defenses honest, but the Colts did have the 26th-rated offensive line for rushing last year. There may just be such a thing as the myth of the Alabama running back.
Survivor Pick of the Week:
SEATTLE over Jacksonville
There's a very obvious choice for survivor pools this week. Seattle is a 19-point favorite at home against Jacksonville. This is the largest spread the NFL has seen since New England was favored by 21 points against the Manning-less Colts in 2001. The spread should be pretty self-explanatory. Seattle is one of the best teams in the league and never loses at home. Jacksonville has looked like the worst team in the league after two weeks and has struggled to produce anything offensively. (Cleveland is about to give them a run for their money.) Choosing another team this week means that you're choosing to go against a sure thing. Some people like to be a little bolder, leaving great teams like Seattle until the end. That's not my style.
There are a few other choices if you're looking to go in a different direction this week. Denver would be the choice if the Seattle game didn't exist. They're favored by over two touchdowns at home and have looked unstoppable on offense through two games. San Francisco isn’t a bad idea giving 10 points at home to Indianapolis. The Colts can’t play defense and the 49ers will be fired up after being embarrassed last week. New England welcomes a Tampa Bay team that looks ready to implode with coach and quarterback throwing down on the sidelines. It's just not as sure a thing with the way the Patriots have looked offensively through two weeks and the Buccaneers have only lost their two games by a combined three points. Minnesota might seem like a good idea to some since Cleveland is now bereft of Trent Richardson and shouldn't produce much of anything for points. I'd just rather not have to rely on Christian Ponder for anything.
Teams used: Indianapolis and New England
Thursday Night Pick:
Kansas City +3.5 over PHILADELPHIA
The fat man returns to Philly tonight when Andy Reid grabs the menu from Tony Luke's and holds it on the sideline while "coaching" his Chiefs. (What's the chance he calls a "wiz wit" on the first play?) Reid's departure from town was the best thing for both parties. A fresh start was needed and both cities seem happy with where things are today. Conveniently, the NFL placed the game with the interesting storyline on their network for Thursday night. Hopefully it will be slightly more exciting than last week’s game between the Patriots and the Jets, but expectations for Thursday night’s games are always pretty low with the short week to prepare and physically recover.
The Eagles do two things well. They score points and they allow their opponents to score points. The problem is that second thing they do well doesn’t benefit the bottom line. The Chiefs have a pretty good defense, but their secondary was exposed last week by the Cowboys and there’s no reason to think this week will be any different. The situation will only get worse if Brandon Flowers misses the game with a knee injury. The Chiefs are steady and consistent offensively, but do they have the firepower to keep up with Philadelphia in a shootout? One would’ve thought San Diego didn’t have it, but they did just fine. The aura around the Eagles’ offense will encourage people to take their side here, but I’ll take the points. Something’s working in Kansas City. I’m not exactly sure what it is, but you can’t argue with the results.
Reggie’s pick: PHILADELPHIA
Last Week: 8-8
Reggie’s Picks: 16-15-1