With round 1 of the NFL draft just a week away there continues to be a lot of speculation that Alabama running-back Trent Richardson could be selected 5th overall by a Buccaneers team who’s new Head Coach Greg Schiano is determined to build the offense around a hard nosed running game. Schiano’s success with a back like former Rutgers tailback Ray Rice has fueled speculation that the Bucs new head man would covet a marquee back. Whether it’s in round 1, later in the draft, or picking up a free agent in the second wave of free agency, a backfield that only features Leggarette Blount and Mossis Madu is a position that will be addressed before the beginning of training camp.
The pros for Trent Richardson are pretty obvious. His smile seems every bit as real as it is wide, and the story of Trent’s prom date made it apparent that Richardson will be easy to root for if he is the pick for the Bucs. He seems to be a great young man, but that doesn’t make you a first round draft pick. As much as character is becoming a bigger and bigger part of the pre-draft evaluation, the bigger question for NFL teams is, will this great young man, become a great young football player. For me, the answer is yes. I believe Richardson has the drive and skill set to be a very good football player for the duration of his NFL career.
The question however, is how long will that career be. The average career for a runningback is not very long and physical backs like Marion Barber have seen them end even faster than others. While Richardson’s style isn’t as bruising as Barber’s, the physical style of his play has to be a concern for a football team considering taking him in the first round of the draft. The question the Buccaneers and other teams must answer, is, can he last long enough, and have sustained production long enough, to be worth a first round pick.
Many Bucs fans point to the team’s failure to draft Adrian Peterson in the 2007 draft as evidence that Richardson should be the pick a week from today. However, in the five seasons since making Peterson their top pick, the Vikings have had records of 8-8, 10-6, 12-4, 6-10 and 3-13. The only season they sniffed the Super Bowl is when they brought in Brett Favre.
While many Super Bowl teams have had great backs, great backs do not make you a winner. While Adrian Peterson has sold a lot of football jerseys, he hasn’t sold the Vikings many seats at playoff games. Adrian Peterson, Maurice Jones-Drew, Chris Johnson and Frank Gore are all examples of guys who had great seasons on teams that were mediocre at best. It’s not just today’s pass happy NFL either. There may only ever be one Barry Sanders, but he’s just one in a long line of guys who coulnd’t carry a football team on their own. A great running game only results in winning, on good football teams. On the flip side there are a number of teams that have seen success in the running game with players like Arian Foster who went undrafted or Ahmad Bradshaw who was selected in the 7th round. Emmit Smith was not the best running back in NFL history. He ran behind one of the best lines in NFL history.
At the end of the day, Trent Richardson is an extremely talented running back who seems to be a great person, on top of being a great athlete, but in this guy’s opinion he’s not the guy the Buccaneers should be targeting at number five. I just subscribe to a philosophy that says if you’re picking in the top half of the first round you need to be drafting value, at value positions. You may ask what a value position is, and that’s up for debate. It’s certainly no science. To me the value positions are quarterback (obviously), Left tackle, defensive end, and corner back. Look at the top free agent targets in the NFL. Last season it was Nnamdi Asomugha, and this year it was Peyton Manning and Mario Williams. It’s making things way to simple, but today’s recipe for NFL success is basically this, have a quarterback, protect your quarterback, and stop their quarterback.
There are a ton of guys who can run the ball if you have the offensive line to open the wholes. What there aren’t a ton of is franchise quarterbacks, shut down corners, stud left tackles or dynamic pass rushers. Josh Freeman had a historic second year in the league so it’s pretty absurd that so many thought the Bucs should consider Robert Griffin III had he been around at five. Fortunately the Redskins traded up and that ridiculous argument went out the window. Josh Freeman hasn’t proven to be a franchise quarterback just yet, but he’s flashed enough brilliance (yes having a top ten TD to INT ratio in the history of the NFL in your second season is brilliant) that considering drafting his replacement after just three years is foolish. The Bucs just spent first and second round picks at defensive end last season so that should leave two obvious targets (if a trade down isn’t considered) at value positions that could be available with the fifth overall pick. Matt Kalil and Morris Claiborne.
Claiborne fills more of a need at a thin cornerback position in a thin secondary. Claiborne would add first round talent to a postion where your best player could be released, suspended or arrested at any moment. With the possibility of Ronde Barber moving to safety Claiborne’s value to the Buccaneers seems to be growing as the draft moves closer. Matt Kalil fills much less of a need. The offensive line should be the strongest unit on the Buccaneers and isn’t in need of a boost like Kalil would provide. Kalil however, may be a talent the Buccaneers could not refuse if he was available. Many view Kalil as a future Johnathon Ogden, or Walter Jones type. As good as Donald Penn is Kalil has the pedigree and talent that makes him a rare prospect at left tackle. If Kalil is on the board at five, the Buccaneers will have to consider drafting him and putting him at right tackle for a season and then flip flopping he and Penn after year. For a team that wants to dedicate itself to the run, a tackle like Kalil would be a great fit, even if he doesn’t fill a great need.
Trent Richardson seems like a great kid, and there’s a lot of evidence that he may be a great NFL back. But in my opinion no runningback, especially a physical back who will likely have a shorter career than less physical backs of his ilk, just doesn’t provide enough value for a team with as many wholes as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The great news is, if the Buccaneers select Richardson at five, he will fill a large need for the Buccaneers and will add great character to a young locker room.