The Cleveland Browns stunned fans and analysts alike this week when they traded second-year running back Trent Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts for a first-round pick in the 2014 NFL draft. The consensus response to this sudden and unconventional trade was that the Browns had given up — resigned themselves to tanking for draft positioning by trading their best offensive player. But the truth is that the Browns have many holes they need to fill to become contenders, and Trent Richardson’s performance, even if it improves, will not be a major factor in achieving this goal.

Before delving into the inherent liabilities in the running back position, it must be said that Trent Richardson is not a superstar — at least not yet. Logistically, trading Richardson represented a loss, considering that he was the third overall pick in the 2012 Draft — the highest for a running back since Reggie Bush — and the Colts will most likely be handing over a mid-to-late first-round pick. But the new regime in the front office should not hold onto Richardson just because he has higher value on paper. The truth is that his numbers do not inspire superstar confidence; he did not rush for 1,000 yards as a rookie, and his paltry 3.5 yards per carry hasn’t improved so far in his sophomore season. He did have 11 rushing touchdowns as a rookie, but touchdowns are an overrated stat; there are plenty of guys who can hammer the ball into the end zone from a few yards out. Richardson’s biggest strength is also his biggest weakness: his size. Richardson was a bear to tackle in college because he was bigger than a lot of college linebackers. But in the NFL, where everything and everyone is bigger, he is no longer able to get by on size alone. His speed and acceleration, which were formidable as a freshman at Alabama but dropped as he added more and more weight to his frame, are sub-par. This is evident in the fact that less than 1 percent of Richardson’s career carries have gone for more than 10 yards; simply put, he cannot accelerate to the next level quickly enough once he has hit the hole. Additionally, despite his size, Richardson is surprisingly not a fantastic pass protector. Because the Colts’ main concern is pass protection rather than the run game, and because they employ the premier pass-blocking back in the league — Ahmad Bradshaw, who is also a more proven runner than Richardson — this trade puzzles me.

It must be said that the Browns have not done Richardson many favors; an anemic passing offense allows teams to stack the box against Richardson, leaving him less openings to exploit. This didn’t stop other backs like Adrian Peterson, Chris Johnson, Steven Jackson, Matt Forte and Frank Gore from having big seasons early in their careers when asked to compensate for weak quarterbacks, but it’s too early to condemn Richardson for not shining as quickly as the aforementioned group. However, there is also nothing so far to suggest he will live up to his draft billing at the end of the day, and with a very small timeframe to capitalize upon Richardson’s currently high value before his stock drops, the Browns were smart to recover some of their losses from a draft decision that was wrong from the beginning.

Despite my skepticism concerning Richardson’s development and skills, the real reason the trade makes sense for the Browns is that a mid-first-round pick in the draft next year can be used on a more essential position. There is a reason that running backs are rarely drafted early in the first round: Can’t-miss talent Peterson was taken only with the seventh pick, and virtually all other running backs picked in the top 15 of a draft in the past decade have failed to live up to expectations, with the exception ofMarshawn Lynch and perhaps CJ Spiller, if only for his all-purpose utility. Meanwhile, Arian Foster (undrafted) and Alfred Morris (sixth round pick) have churned out massive seasons, and the rest of the running back leaderboards are littered with players drafted in the late second round, third round and fourth round. It seems evident from this that in most cases, rushing success is determined more by the strength of the offensive line and finding running backs that fit into certain schemes rather than raw talent. When you add in a high risk of injury, the general value of the running back position seems hardly worth a first-round pick. The Browns’ offense scored more points in one half than they did in two full games with Richardson and now they have an extra first-round pick to play with — most likely to invest in some protection for whichever talented quarterback they choose with their other pick. Meanwhile, Richardson is struggling through another day with fewer than three yards per carry. Something tells me the Colts will be wishing they had a first-round pick to devote to protecting their prized quarterback when the draft comes around.

Darius Majd is a junior in the College. THE SPORTING LIFE appears every Tuesday.

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