Modern NFL wisdom states that teams should not draft running backs early. There are many serviceable running backs available in later rounds, and most teams use committee systems that can be filled with two or three mid-round selections. Factor in the modern 60-40 pass-run ratio and the NFL's infatuation with empty backfields and spread formations, and the bell cow backs of the last generation start to look like dinosaurs.
There's a lot of truth in those last few sentences. But right now, there are teams preparing to draft Ryan Tannehill, who just converted from wide receiver to quarterback a year and a half ago, high in the first round. They are planning to draft Dontari Poe, a blocking sled who had a few great workouts, high in the first round. The econometric approach to the draft can be taken too far. Sometimes, a team needs a running back, and there's a great one available.
Richardson's tackle breaking ability places him a cut above the typical running back. The Browns, a team likely to draft Richardson, suffered through a 2011 season in which featured runner Peyton Hillis broke just four tackles, according to Football Outsiders. A great running back breaks 30 or 40 in a season. Imagine how much better the Browns offense will be if Richardson adds an extra 200 yards just by blowing through tackles that dropped Hillis. That improvement would come sooner, and surer, than whatever upgrade a player like Tannehill would provide. You can make the same argument for the Buccaneers, though LeGarrette Blount's problems involved fumbling and assignment responsibilities, not broken tackles. Put Richardson in the backfield, and suddenly there are fewer questions about the quarterback and the receivers.
There is still a place for the 20-carry grinder in the NFL, especially when he can also catch the ball. Sometimes, it is best to ignore cost-benefit analysis and select a great player.
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