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When Jim Irsay tweeted what seemed like possible gibberish about a trade, nobody in their right mind would have guessed that Trent Richardson, the third overall pick in the 2012 draft, would be taking a permanent trip to Indianapolis. But that's what happened when Colts' GM Ryan Grigson traded their 2014 #1 pick for the young running back.
The fantasy fallout is fairly extensive, but let's start with the main chess piece in this move. Trent Richardson was born in the 90's, so yeah; he's not too old. He's 23 to be close to exact. So what he's done so far is just the beginning. In 17 games with the Cleveland Browns he rushed 298 times for 1,055 yards and 11 touchdowns and caught 58 passes for 418 yards and one touchdown. That "career" 3.5 yards per carry has some people down on him, but we do have to take into account his offensive line, quarterback and injuries. Last season the Browns went 5-11 with their quarterback Brandon Weeden completing just 57% of his passes for 3,385 yards, 14 touchdowns and 17 interceptions and still Richardson ran the ball 267 times and caught 51 passes scoring 12 touchdowns. He was their only reliable weapon on offense and defenses knew it and still he moved the ball. Last year he ranked 7th in Pro Football Focus' Elusive Rating. He caused 59 missed tackles on his touches and still had just 3.6 yards per carry. He was getting hit at the line. He also played through a rib cartilage injury at less than 100% and other nicks and bruises. This is all to say that Richardson is good and even after two sub-par statistical games with Cleveland this season, he still led all running backs in PFF's Elusive Rating. He's doing more work for those few yards than most backs do for 20.
The New Team:
So now he's a Colt. He goes from Brandon Weeden to Andrew Luck and that might be all you need to know, but I'll go on. As it was, Vick Ballard (now injured) and Ahmad Bradshaw weren't anywhere near the top tier at running back, but were still finding some room to run in an offense run efficiently by Luck. Now bring in a back who has been keyed on his whole NFL career and give him space to run and receive and you are looking at fantasy upside every week, even against tough opponents. Richardson will become the every down back as he works into the offense. New offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton wants to run a balanced offense and be able to mix up the run and pass effectively but wasn't able to do that with Ballard or Bradshaw. He will with Richardson. The Colts offensive line is not upper tier, but they do have the fifth best running game so far and their poor pass blocking will be helped with Richardson's threat and production.
The New Teammates:
The Colts recently lost Dwayne Allen and Vick Ballard for the season and Grigson wanted to win now and must not have been enamored with Ahmad Bradshaw's progress. In the short term Bradshaw will most likely see plenty of work in San Francisco while Richardson gets his bearings, but soon enough it will be Richardson's job with Bradshaw as his handcuff. Donald Brown needs to be dropped if he is owned.
The passing game was coming together with the emphasis on getting the ball to playmaker T.Y. Hilton, but now with a real threat on the ground, Hilton, Reggie Wayne and Coby Fleener will all see productive targets. And if the Colts had a top 10 defense we might expect those targets to drop with Richardson taking on a big load, but the Colts will still need to throw the ball to compete in the fourth quarter of many games. There will be balance and Richardson will get his 20 carries, but they won't abandon the pass, especially with Luck at quarterback.
This team looks to be balanced perfectly in the run/pass game. And with five key players on offense, I believe all five can be good to great in fantasy.
The Old Teammates:
Well, what can you say? The Browns say that Richardson wasn't a fit for Rob Chudzinski's offense, but there must be more to it. Did they not believe in Richardson's ability? Did they think he was too injury prone? Are they building for the future, i.e. Teddy Bridgewater? I'll lean to the latter, but that's just an opinion. So what do we do about the Browns fantasy players?
This season was shaping up to be a good one for fantasy production for the key Browns players like Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron and of course Richardson, because Norval Turner's offense has been a fantasy asset in the past. But Gordon's two game suspension and now Brandon Weeden's thumb injury put them in a hole. And without Richardson they have very little rushing attack to keep pressure off the passing game. The good news is Cameron and Gordon are both good and have very little competition. I mean no competition. If you were high on them before, I think you can still get your money's worth out of them, but just in a more garbage timey way. The Browns will need to throw the ball often and they'll most likely be losing just as often, so sheer volume should keep them in fantasy points. Remember Cecil Shorts and Justin Blackmon last season? Targets usually equal fantasy points.
So what about Richardson's replacement(s)? The Browns are in the process of signing old man Willis McGahee, who had a good year in Denver last season before blowing out his knee. They have Chris Ogbonnaya who is a fullback, but actually more of a h-back. And they also have Bobby Rainey, who has some upside, especially if used in space in the passing game, but has never had a NFL rush or reception. This situation is murky at best since we don't really know what kind of shape McGahee is in, but he is the veteran of the group and can pass protect as well as catch passes and follow his blocks. He is the most likely to be the starter once he gets up to speed, but they will see what they have in Rainey since they pretty much know what Ogbonnaya is.
Trent Richardson gets a huge boost now that he's in a dynamic offense. T.Y. Hilton, Reggie Wayne, and Coby Fleener were already good fantasy plays, but this solidifies them. Ahmad Bradshaw is droppable in shallow leagues and just a handcuff in deeper leagues. Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron might be more inconsistent, but should continue to see plenty of targets. Brandon Weeden, who I've yet to talk about, is a loser here. He'll have pressure on every pass play and his numbers will show it. And the running back situation in Cleveland is dire. In deep leagues I think all three can be rostered, but in 12 team standard leagues I'd give McGahee the first shot, then Rainey, with a slight bump in PPR leagues.