Dec 29, 2013; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indianapolis Colts running back Trent Richardson (34) runs with the ball against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

As the NFL Changes, Trent Richardson May Be the Last Bust of His Kind

Thanks to Jadeveon Clowney, Johnny Manziel, Sammy Watkins and everyone in between, the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft brought in 9.943 million viewers – the most of any draft.

Of course there had to have been at least a couple of star running backs to help bring in all that excitement, right? Nope. For the second straight year, there were no running backs selected in the first round. In fact, this year’s draft went longer without having a running back selected than any other draft. The Tennessee Titans were the first team to step up and take a running back – Bishop Sankey – with the 54th pick.

Last year’s draft was the first year without a running back selected in the first round since 1963, and this is the first time it’s ever happened in consecutive years.

Prior to the last two drafts, the running back position had been a staple of the first round. From 2000-2012, there were 39 running backs taken in the first round. 11 of those picks were taken in the top-10.

RBs Selected in the First Round from 2000-2012


Now why is this change happening? The NFL is slowly changing.

When you look at the average rushing attempts per game across the NFL, nothing too alarming pops out. Sure, 2013 brought in the fewest rushing attempts (27.10) since 1932, but it has been a very minuscule decline. 2003 brought in the most rushing attempts per game (28.34), in the past 14 years, and that’s basically just one more rushing attempt per game.

So since the rushing attempts haven’t taken an alarming drop, does that mean the production has been lackluster? Although it has been down, it still doesn’t appear to be a great deal. 2013 brought it the lowest rushing yards per game across the NFL (112.89) in the past seven years, but it isn’t far off from the average over the past 14 years (114.91).

Overall, the rushing attack in the NFL has both decreased a bit in both attempts and production, but is that enough to merely push the running back position aside? Probably not, but a more deadly passing attack might just do it.

The average passing attempts per game across the NFL has been on a steady increase since the 2009 season. The average passing attempts in the past 14 years is 33.17, and 2013 hit the high of 35.42 attempts per game. Still only a marginal increase, it’s a bigger change than the rushing comparison.

2003 had the most rushing attempts per game in the past 14 years, and consequently it had the fewest passing yards per game (200.45) during the same time frame. Now look at this past season. In 2013, the average passing yards per game across the NFL was 235.62. That’s a 35-yard difference, which is an incredible increase. This passing yardage has gone up every year since the 2009 season, and it doesn’t appear like it will stop soon.

With all that said, the message is pretty clear: The NFL’s passing game has become much more dynamic, whereas the running game hasn’t seen such positive change.

Knowing this, the Colts traded their 2014 first-round pick for running back Trent Richardson just this last season. It’s no secret that the newest regime for the Colts wants to be a power running team, so if you think you can get your franchise running back of the future, you go for it.

Unfortunately, things just haven’t worked out.

Although two seasons might not be enough to label someone as a bust, Richardson is definitely headed towards that path.

In his rookie season with the Cleveland Browns, Richardson had 950 rushing yards (3.6 yards per carry) and 11 touchdowns. However, Richardson did miss one game that season, and he played injured through a lot of it. Even considering that, Richardson didn’t prove to be worthy of the 3rd – overall pick, especially when rookie running backs Alfred Morris and Doug Martin took the league by storm and they were taken much, much later than Richardson (Martin was the 31st-overall pick and Morris was the 173rd-overall pick).

2012 Rookie Running Backs First Season

Rushing Attempts
Rushing Yards
Trent Richardson26795011-51
Alfred Morris335161313254
Doug Martin319145411155
Vick Ballard211814210
David Wilson71358430
Robert Turbin80354011
Lamar Miller51250135

Still, many were comfortable making excuses for Richardson – his team, injuries – and thought his transition to Indianapolis would take him to the next level. With Andrew Luck, Reggie Wayne, T.Y. Hilton and company, it was easy to see why all the optimism was generated.

In the 14 regular season games with the Colts, Richardson saw his production hit an all-time low when gained only 458 yards (2.9 yards per carry) and three touchdowns. And to put the cherry on top of Richardson’s figurative sundae, he only had four carries for one yard in two playoff games.

2012 Rookie Running Backs Second Season

Rushing Attempts
Rushing Yards
Trent Richardson1885633-108
Alfred Morris27612757121
Doug Martin1274561-31
Vick Ballard13630N/A
David Wilson441461-40
Robert Turbin772640-25
Lamar Miller17770926

Maybe Richardson will be able to tap into his potential and have a great comeback season this year, or maybe he will continue his gigantic fall. Whatever happens, the Colts will have to swallow their decision to give up a first-round pick on a running back when the game is changing directions.

And as the league continues to change directions, it could be a very long time until there is another running back drafted as high as Richardson.