Each Spring, NFL fans argue over how a stud college athlete’s skills will translate “on the next level.” We all channel our inner Mel Kiper Jr. Draft Expert (Wasson Bon Mot No. 1: is it just me, or are there 2.8 million more “draft experts” than there were ten years ago?) and do mock drafts, thinking about the “need” of a certain team and how your favorite player may be “slotted” in the draft.
While I am no Kiper (Bon Mot No. 2: I neither have a pompadour nor a ghostly pallor), I am of a like mind with the draft expert hivethink that has Alabama running back/wrecking ball Trent Richardson being The Next Big Thing for the Cleveland Browns.
(Bon Mot No. 3: Ewwwww. Cleveland? Really? I have been to Cleveland, once. Spent just over 24 hours there watching Kennedy Winston and Co. stink it up in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. There are no especially redeeming values to Cleveland.)
Despite Richardson being essentially married to the once-average Browns for the duration of his rookie contract, I am ready to step out on a considerable limb and make a very bold prediction about Richardson’s professional future.
Trent Richardson will be a better NFL player than Andrew Luck.
There, I said it. And while it may seem blasphemous to anoint a running back in a pass-happy NFL as superior to the Second Coming Of John Elway, let’s consider the long view of things.
First, even with Commissioner Roger Goodell practically bubble-wrapping the league’s quarterbacks in an attempt to keep each team’s offensive backfield from resembling a M*A*S*H* unit (Bon Mot No. 4: I hate to admit it, because my dad hates “M*A*S*H*,” I actually kind of thought it was a well-written show), quarterbacks get hurt. They get hurt every season. And in Indianapolis, well, Andrew Luck will get hit early and often.
Second, there is no guarantee that Andrew Luck is the next Peyton Manning. In fact, he could easily be the next Ryan Leaf. We’re talking about a young man who studied architecture at one of the more liberal universities in the world. He may possess the prototypical quarterback body, but that isn’t exactly your prototypical brain rattling around inside his helmet.
Third, as I gracefully age, I notice how just about everything cycles to and fro. Fashions change. (Bon mot No. 5: I maintain the same wardrobe, and only hope to come back into fashion during said changes.) Defenses who five years ago couldn’t figure out how to stop the spread to save their lives will eventually unlock that riddle – with the NFL again becoming a running back-centric league.
That is where Richardson comes in. A 5-foot-11, 224-pound combination of bedrock and dynamite, Richardson will be rounding into full-on NFL stud right around the time defenses crack the spread code. He has shown that he can dominate stout defenses in the SEC, and with continued good health there is no reason Richardson won’t become a multi-dimensional force at the next level.
And could Cleveland ever use someone even remotely resembling a next-level force. The Browns (Bon mot No. 6: In 1994, when Cleveland last tasted a playoff victory, Richardson was three years old) finished 30th in the league in scoring last season. They finished 24th in passing, and 28th in rushing. Moving the ball up and down the field was a challenge, primarily because the Browns lacked the personnel to move the ball.
Adding Richardson cannot and will not solve Cleveland’s woes, but he will at least be the kind of presence the Browns had in 2010 when Peyton Hillis was healthy and productive. Richardson’s success will make life much easier for Colt McCoy, who needs as much help as he can get given his limitations as a quarterback. McCoy likely will never be Tom Brady (Bon mot No. 7: Neither will Andrew Luck, incidentally …), but McCoy could at least be an effective quarterback if he had a running game to take some pressure off him.
If Browns general manager Tom Heckert takes anybody other than Richardson, he would be rolling the dice. There’s no need for Cleveland to do that, as drafting Richardson would be them not only making a safe pick, but the best pick they can possibly make.
Because Trent Richardson is a once-in-a-generation player. And he will be a better NFL player than Andrew Luck.