Even before Trent Richardson almost fumbled away his team's upset victory over the Denver Broncos last night, he was having a bad game. Which is to say, he was having the kind of game he's been having all season. It's hard to believe that Richardson—the guy who was drafted third overall in 2012 and was poached from Cleveland by the Colts in exchange for a prized first-round pick early this season—can be this bad, but it may be time to face the fact that Trent Richardson is just not a very good running back.
In his rookie season last year, Richardson didn't put up gaudy numbers, but he seemingly showed promise. He finished with 950 rushing yards and 11 TDs, and ran for over 100 yards in a game three times. Those numbers aren't bad, especially for a rookie who had to spend the year running behind the Cleveland Browns' offensive line, which Football Outsiders ranked as the 13th-worst run-blocking unit in the league by adjusted line yards.
And yet, advanced stats do not paint a very flattering picture of Richardson's rookie season, either. Football Outsiders ranked him as the 6th-worst back in the league in 2012, as he posted a -51 DYAR and a -13.3% DVOA. Basically, he played far below replacement level for the entire season. Advanced stats reckoned him a worse running back than both Shonn Greene and Mark Ingram. And what of his pass blocking? Basic statistics indicated that he was a good protector in the backfield, but deeper investigations like this one, done at Football Perspective, indicate that he was average at best.
But even when using advanced stats, it's tough to separate a running back's performance from that of his offensive line's, and vice versa—though Football Outsiders' metrics do try. Was Richardson really that bad of a runner in 2012, or did his talents simply fall victim to playing for a crappy team with a crappy line? Thanks to Richardson's arrival in Indianapolis after Week 2, it appears that we have the answer to that question.
When Richardson left Cleveland for Indianapolis, he traded the 12th-worst offensive line for the league's best. Based on Football Outsider's adjusted line yards, the Colts have boasted the best run-blocking unit in the league this year, and yet somehow Richardson has continued to play poorly. He's currently ranked as the 15th-worst running back (out of the 36 with 50 or more carries) in the league with a DYAR of eight and a DVOA of -6.2%.
Even more damning for Richardson is the fact that the Colts' other running backs have found great success running behind the team's line this year. Donald Brown only has 33 carries (he needs 17 more to qualify for Football Outsiders' rankings), but he's averaging 5.9 yards per carry. Before he went down with a neck injury, Ahmad Bradshaw was also carving up defenses on the ground. In three games, Bradshaw amassed 186 yards on 41 carries, good for 4.5 yards per carry. Meanwhile, Richardson's yards per carry average sits at a paltry 3.0.
The Colts proved that they are a team to be reckoned with last night, and it's hard to believe that they won't be able to find a way to wring some value out of Richardson. If you're looking for a bright spot, his effective yards gained (311) outpace his total rushing yards (256), which may indicate that he's playing at least a little better than his standard statistics—which are incredibly bleak—indicate.
Still, it looks like Richardson isn't the franchise running back so many people expected him to be. Before this season, we were told that he was set to become the next LaDanian Tomlinson, but so far he's looked a lot more like Curtis Enis. Richardson can likely be a useful cog in a successful team's running-back-by-committee scheme, but the Colts will very likely end up wishing they still had that first-round pick when all is said and done. After all, there are usually some pretty talented running backs to be had late in the first round.