When to draft Trent Richardson?

Browns' rookie has opportunity on his side, but inexperience surrounds him

Updated: July 18, 2012, 6:07 PM ET
By AJ Mass | ESPN.com

How high should rookie Trent Richardson be drafted in fantasy leagues?

Decisions 2012

Shortly after the Cleveland Browns drafted Trent Richardson with the third overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft, Jim Brown was quoted as saying he thought the running back was "ordinary" and that he saw nothing outstanding about him.

While you don't have to agree with the Hall of Fame legend's assessment, you would do well to understand well before you select Richardson in your fantasy football draft that the odds of the rookie doing something extraordinary are not that great.

Deciding to hang your hat on a newcomer to the NFL -- even one who rushed for 1,679 yards and scored 24 total touchdowns in his final season at Alabama -- is an incredible risk. Why? Because in order to be considered worthy of being a top-10 running back selection you need to be counted on for about 80 yards per game and a touchdown approximately every other game.

Over the past several seasons, you can see that's pretty much where the bar has been residing:

RBs to average 80 or more yards rushing per game
Minimum 10 games played, Since 2005

2011: 9
2010: 7
2009: 9
2008: 9
2007: 10
2006: 11
2005: 11

But regardless of how good Richardson might be, it is a pretty rare occurrence for a rookie running back to reach this plateau. Since 1995, only 14 rookies have managed to accomplish the feat, and not a one has pulled it off in any of the past three seasons. That group of "slow starters" includes a bevy of backs taken in the first round, such as Knowshon Moreno, Donald Brown, Beanie Wells, C.J. Spiller, Ryan Mathews, Jahvid Best and Richardson's former Crimson Tide teammate, Mark Ingram.

Now let's throw another monkey wrench into the mix: Rookie Brandon Weeden is likely to start the majority of games at quarterback for the Browns. So while there likely isn't much in the way of competition for Richardson to get most of the carries with leftover parts such as Montario Hardesty, Brandon Jackson and Chris Ogbonnaya as his only rivals for the rock, there's also not a lot of experience in that huddle.

Mistakes are bound to be made.

Traditionally, Cleveland hasn't exactly been the birthplace of breakout backs. Before Jamal Lewis met our "80-10" benchmark in 2007 (in his eighth year in the league, mind you), you have to go back all the way to Mike Pruitt in 1979 to find another Browns runner to reach that goal. Even with the team's three-year "hiatus" in the 1990s, that's not exactly a stellar track record.

Now nobody is saying that Richardson is going to be a complete bust, and certainly with Brad Childress as the team's new offensive coordinator -- the same man who coached Adrian Peterson when he broke on the scene in 2007 -- there's reason for optimism. Richardson should not only get a ton of handoffs, but will almost certainly be worked into the passing mix as well. He'll be in there on nearly every down.

That said, playing in a division with three of the returning top-10 defenses against the run certainly makes the margin for error a lot smaller than had Richardson been drafted elsewhere. The Cleveland offensive line has just two members with more than three years of NFL experience (Alex Mack and Joe Thomas) and supplemental draft pick Josh Gordon may not be completely ready to step into the wide receiver mix out of the gate.

In short, the Cleveland Browns are looking awfully green on offense, which makes me quite yellow when it comes to selecting Richardson any higher than the No. 15-17 running back off the board. Unless you're in a keeper league in which, much like Cleveland, you're already planning ahead for the future, you really can't afford to pick him any sooner.