Forget boogeymen, injury imps and even Mike Shanahan, the entity fantasy gamers fear most: The unknown.
For that reason, rookies, regardless of position, are heavily discounted in drafts every season. To the casual player passivity reigns supreme. From the cautious perspective, it's asinine to waste an early round pick on an unproven commodity, no matter how favorable the setup. Do so, these naysayers crow, and unwanted Ls will sour your record. The following tidbit from Arcade commenter LA Andy speaks to the heart of the matter:
To some extent the above "expert" advice rings true, particularly when discussing first-year running backs. For every stud there are at least three duds. Drafters who overreached for Ryan Mathews two years ago or Mark Ingram last year surely still harbor bitter feelings, warranted disdain. However, because of the vertical focus of today's NFL, spectacular freshmen campaigns logged by Cam Newton, A.J. Green and Rob Gronkowski (in 2010) defy such logic. Still, despite rookie success at other positions, most owners continue to choose experience over upside at RB. Their reasoning is understandable. Matt Forte, four years ago, was the last rookie rusher to produce a top-12 yield over a full season.
But purposely dodge Trent Richardson in drafts this year and you will sorely regret it.
The 'Bama product was selected No. 3 overall by Cleveland last April, the earliest a rusher fell off the board since New Orleans snapped tendons to acquire Reggie Bush at No. 2 in 2006. Long gone are the days of Ki-Jana Carter. In an era where RBs are completely dispensable, most would agree it's silly to shell out stacks of cash for their services. Just ask GMs in Jacksonville and Chicago.
Richardson, though, will be the exception. Take the plunge in the late-first, and you could be hoisting a virtual trophy come year's end.
Here are four reasons why:
Talent. Without question Cleveland's newest junkyard dog is the complete package. He's a bulldozing interior runner with plus burst, open-field wiggle, terrific lateral quickness, sticky hands and sound blocking ability, a throwback in a timeshare age. There are little to no flaws in his game (See visual evidence here).
Some have compared him to Adrian Peterson, an unfounded description. Richardson isn't as dynamic a runner, but his all-around skill set is more well-rounded than All-Day's was when he entered the league in 2007. In actuality, he's a bigger version of Maurice Jones-Drew. A stoutly built, low-center-of-gravity yards-munching machine.
Opportunity. The primary knock against T-Pain (T-Rich is a terribly uncreative moniker people) is the division the Chihuahuas play in. Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Cincinnati are daunting defensively. The Ravens and Steelers ranked inside the top-five in fewest fantasy points allowed to rushers in 2011. But none of those foes appear on the Browns' docket Weeks 14-16 (KC, Wash and at Den). And, in fantasy, volume talks. All indications suggest the youngster will touch the rock, a lot. From Fox Sports Ohio:
"They're doing a lot of stuff with me as far as coming out of the backfield," Richardson said of Cleveland's off-season practices. "They're really putting me out there to showcase everything."
"There ain't no sugarcoating. I'm going to get the ball. I'm going to catch the ball. I'm going to block. I'm going to do everything I can and they're going to put me in the best situation. I want to be that guy they don't have to take off the field."
It's entirely conceivable he will grip the grape between 20-25 times per game. Don't be shocked against softer opponents that number exceeds 30, an almost unthinkable output in this day and age. Barring injury, he will likely rank alongside pack animals Arian Foster, Ray Rice and LeSean McCoy in total touches come January.
Blocking. Cleveland's offensive line underachieved last year — the early loss of guard Eric Steinbach crippled it — but it still has plenty of talent to quickly reverse course. Joe Thomas is arguably the finest left tackle in the AFC. And, though young, Jason Pinkston, Alex Mack and Shawn Lauvao have the muscle and toughness needed to develop into a nasty lane-creating unit. Jell rapidly and the Browns line could return to the level it executed at moving mountains for Peyton Hillis two years ago.
Brandon Weeden. The Oklahoma St. gunslinger might be the Jamie Moyer of NFL draftees, but age ain't nothing but a number. The 28-year-old has the polish, poise, pocket presence and leadership skills to deliver immediate success. His quick cannon arm, vision and dead-on accuracy in the short-to-intermediate field should excel in Pat Shurmur's West Coast brand, a system predicated on fitting balls into tight windows. If he and Greg Little strike an instant chemistry, it will greatly enhance Richardson's chances to produce frontline numbers. If not, and the rusher will face numerous stacked boxes, though, in the event of unfavorable circumstances, he may still crank out the points. Remember, MJD was crowned rush king last year even with Blaine "No pocket awareness" Gabbert as his QB.
In a highly scientific Twitter poll asking Noise Nation members which rusher was more desirable in a standard setting 68-percent preferred Richardson over Peterson. The results flipped when followers were presented with "Better Bar Brawler." But, all kidding aside, the initial outcome was somewhat surprising. Yes, Peterson's track-record is incomparable, but there are fewer injury/workload/legal questions surrounding the rookie. As discussed previously, it's very likely "Part" could replace "All" in the Viking's nickname, at least to start the season.
Doubters, Jim Brown included, will continue to state their case against Richardson, which will keep his average draft position suppressed (17.0 Y! ADP). Let them hate. Based on the reasons detailed above, he's a legitimate RB1 worth entertaining at the end of Round 1 in 12-team drafts — far from "ordinary."
The Tide on Lake Erie is about to roll. Get swept up.
Fearless Forecast (16 games): 286 attempts, 1,229 rushing yards, 37 receptions, 327 receiving yards, 10 total touchdowns
Want to bull rush Brad? Follow him on Twitter @YahooNoise and be sure to check him along with Andy Behrens, Brandon Funston and Scott Pianowski on The Fantasy Freak Show (Now on iTunes) every Friday at 5 p.m. PT/8 p.m. ET on Yahoo! Sports Radio
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