Trent Richardson Outclassed by Alfred Morris and Doug Martin: Will It Last?

Cold, Hard Football Facts for May 24, 2013



By Scott Kacsmar
Cold Hard Football Facts’ Comeback King (@CaptainComeback)

In 2012 the Cleveland Browns used the No. 3 overall pick in the draft on Alabama running back Trent Richardson.

It was the highest pick used on a running back since Reggie Bush went No. 2 overall to New Orleans in 2006.

If the two players have anything in common, it would be that they were both outplayed by other running backs from their draft class.

Joseph Addai and Maurice Jones-Drew were better than Bush. Carolina’s DeAngelo Williams has also rushed for more yards and scored more touchdowns.

None of those three players were drafted higher than 30th.

Richardson and Bush also both graded out as the worst backs in the league (minimum 400 snaps) at blocking in 2012, according to Pro Football Focus.

Last year, rookies Doug Martin (31st pick) and sixth-round steal Alfred Morris outplayed Richardson, who averaged only 3.56 yards per carry (he was at 5.80 in college).

That average ranked 40th out of 44 players with at least 100 carries. Of the four backs to average less, the only one with more than 150 carries was Darren McFadden (3.27), who was the last running back taken with a top-five pick in the NFL draft.

We can exhibit the pitfalls of drafting a running back this high any time.

But here we want to look at rookie running back performances to see what we can learn about long-term success.

 

Rookie Workhorses vs. Long-Term Success

Running back is one of the few positions known to have rookies often enjoy instant success. From Beattie Feathers’ record-breaking 1934 season to Alfred Morris’ 2012 campaign in Washington, 58 true rookie running backs have rushed for at least 1,000 yards.

But what about the running backs that received a lot of carries their first year and did not perform so well with them?

For every Adrian Peterson and Clinton Portis, there is a Ron Dayne and Sammie Smith. Miami used the No. 9 pick in the 1989 draft on Smith to try to give Dan Marino a running game. Even with Marino in his prime, Smith carried the ball 200 times for 659 yards as a rookie. His 3.30 yards per carry is the lowest in NFL history by any of the 86 rookie running backs with at least 200 carries.

Richardson ranks 81st out of 86, so should Browns fans be worried about his future? Smith lasted four seasons and 44 games in the NFL. Everyone knows 4.0 YPC is an important benchmark for a back to hit. The league average for rushing YPC continues to rise as well.

We used Pro-Football-Reference to get the list of 86 rookie running backs with at least 200 carries. Tuffy Leemans (1936) was the first player to do it, giving us 87, but he was excluded since he played in the era of two-way players. He was playing T-formation back for the Giants late in his career.

Why use 200 carries instead of 100 or 150?

No real reason outside of it being a round number that is large enough to justifiably say the back was treated as a workhorse right away. One can argue if a player is playing so poorly, he will not have the chance to amass 200 carries, but we wanted legitimate comparisons to Richardson’s season, so 200 was the qualifier.

Unlike our past rookie quarterback studies that were very rigorous in what qualified as a true rookie season, we let that restriction go this time. Besides, only two players were technically in their second year after never playing in their first due to injuries: Ricky Watters and Willis McGahee.

For the 86 running backs, we looked at their rookie rushing numbers and their career rushing numbers, subtracting the two to get their post-rookie rushing stats.

We were only interested in attempts, yards and yards per carry (YPC). Sure, YPC is a very imperfect stat, and while something like success rate would be great, it is not easy to churn that out for decades of NFL history. Touchdowns are more about situational opportunity. Only regular season stats were used.

The correlation coefficient between rookie YPC and post-rookie YPC is 0.20, so rookie success does not have a strong relationship with career performance.

This probably comes as little surprise since YPC can be a volatile stat. A few big runs can have a significant impact on it. We have shown in the past how YPC is really irrelevant for team success, but it does speak well for how good an individual running back is.

Rarely do you ever see a running back get respect when he averages less than 4.0 YPC.

That might be a factor in keeping Jerome Bettis, who averaged 3.93 YPC as a big back, out of Canton. Oddly enough, Bettis averaged a career-best 4.86 YPC when he was Offensive Rookie of the Year for the Rams in 1993, but after packing on some pounds, that average dropped.

Joining Morris, Martin and Richardson on the list was Colts’ rookie Vick Ballard (211 carries for 814 yards). Excluding these four rookies from the stats, here is another breakdown:

Rookie vs. Post-Rookie Rushing

Type

Attempts

Yards

YPC

Rookie Season

21,135

91,109

4.31

Post-Rookie Career

97,866

404,754

4.14

Several of the players are still active so this is subject to change, but this group of 82 backs collectively had a higher YPC as rookies than they did the rest of their careers. This makes some sense in that backs decline with age, and sometimes that can happen sharply. Fresh legs are nice.

For these 82 players, 17.8 percent of their career carries came from just their rookie season.

Shelf life is not long for this position. Nine players had more than 50.0 percent of their career carries come as rookies.

Sometimes a player can see their career cut short by injury, such as Ickey Woods.

Woods’ 1988 rookie season for Cincinnati was fantastic. His 5.25 YPC matches Barry Sanders’ rookie season and only trails Adrian Peterson (5.63) and Clinton Portis (5.52).

After tearing his ACL two games into his 1989 season, Woods was never the same. He averaged just 3.56 YPC on his final 129 carries. That -1.69 drop in YPC from his rookie season is the largest of all 82 players.

The average difference in YPC is -0.31 for the 82 players.

The two players with the highest percentage of career carries coming as rookies were both New England Patriots. Robert Edwards (93.6 percent) was injured at a Pro Bowl event and was unable to fully recover. Vagas Ferguson (72.8 percent) is an odd case. It is unclear why he fell out of favor with the team, but he was gone in 1983 and out of the league for good after one total carry in 1982-83.

Some players can only wish it was injury that shortened their career. Consider the tragic case of Chiefs’ back Joe Delaney. After a Pro Bowl debut in 1981, he died on June 29, 1983 after attempting to save children from drowning in a lake.

With the varying career length in mind, here is a look at the 82 backs broken down into six groups by their rookie YPC:

Rookie Yards per Carry

No. RBs

Rookie

Post-Rookie

Diff.

Att.

Yards

YPC

Att.

Yards

YPC

Less than 3.70

11

2,830

10,036

3.55

10,781

42,898

3.98

0.43

3.70-3.99

16

4,205

16,373

3.89

13,747

55,869

4.06

0.17

4.00-4.29

15

4,099

17,041

4.16

21,298

86,360

4.05

-0.10

4.30-4.69

15

3,857

17,198

4.46

20,750

88,846

4.28

-0.18

4.70-4.99

16

3,995

19,219

4.81

21,596

87,886

4.07

-0.74

Greater than 5.00

9

2,149

11,242

5.23

9,694

42,895

4.42

-0.81

From here we see that the running backs averaging less than 3.70 YPC do tend to be just under 4.0 the rest of their career. They also average the second-fewest carries after their rookie season. The fewest belongs to the 3.70-3.99 range, though players like Marshawn Lynch, Matt Forte, Willis McGahee and Knowshon Moreno can (and will) change that.

But the results are clear in that the 27 backs averaging less than 4.0 YPC as rookies do not get as many career carries.

Of the 11 players under 3.70 YPC, the three success stories have been LaDainian Tomlinson, Ricky Williams and Travis Henry. All three have the biggest boost in post-rookie YPC, each gaining over 0.70 YPC. Henry is the highest at 0.78.

Technically, Robert Edwards gets the highest post-rookie YPC increase at 1.52, but that is very misleading. He had just 20 carries for 107 yards in his attempt to make a comeback after injury.

Matt Forte (+0.40) and Emmitt Smith (+0.29) are two more notable names to improve on rookie seasons that averaged less than 4.0 YPC.

The next four groups all stay just above 4.0 YPC the rest of their career, except for a boost (4.28 YPC) by the 4.30-4.69 range of backs.

While you can see the 16 backs in the 3.70-3.99 range average nearly the same YPC as post-rookies as the 16 backs in the 4.70-4.99 range do, look at the difference in attempts. The 4.70-4.99 backs average 490.6 more carries per back than the 3.70-3.99 players. This is even with the 3.70-3.99 group feeding off of Emmitt’s record number of carries.

So there is something to be said for playing well as a rookie, even if many players fall back to that 4.0 average.

With the 15 players in the 4.30-4.69 range, you have some true greatness with Jim Brown, Eric Dickerson (rookie-record 1,808 rushing yards in 1983) as well as Fred Taylor and Warrick Dunn. Larry Brown won a league MVP for Washington. Curt Warner, George Rogers and Calvin Hill all had their moments. This is the best group of players out of the six.

Then on the high end, the nine backs to go over 5.0 YPC as rookies, they do tend to have the best career averages. This group includes Adrian Peterson, Clinton Portis, Ickey Woods, Barry Sanders, Cookie Gilchrist, Don Woods, John Brockington, LeGarrette Blount and Mike Anderson.

Gilchrist and Blount (who Martin has replaced as the featured back in Tampa Bay) were undrafted. The only other undrafted player in the 86-man study was Dominic Rhodes, who rushed for 1,104 yards for the 2001 Colts after Edgerrin James tore his ACL.

Here is the complete list of 86 running backs. Active players are in bold, and the 2012 rookies are in red. An asterisk denotes a Hall of Fame player. The “Pct.” is the percentage of career carries that came in the player’s rookie season. Players are sorted by descending YPC in rookie season.

NFL Rookie Running Backs (Min. 200 Attempts): Rookie vs. Post-Rookie

Player

Year

Team

Att.

Yards

YPC

Att.

Yards

YPC

Pct.

Adrian Peterson

2007

MIN

238

1341

5.63

1516

7508

4.95

13.6%

Clinton Portis

2002

DEN

273

1508

5.52

1957

8415

4.30

12.2%

Ickey Woods

1988

CIN

203

1066

5.25

129

459

3.56

61.1%

Barry Sanders*

1989

DET

280

1470

5.25

2782

13799

4.96

9.1%

Cookie Gilchrist

1962

BUF

214

1096

5.12

796

3197

4.02

21.2%

Don Woods

1974

SD

227

1162

5.12

536

1925

3.59

29.8%

John Brockington

1971

GB

216

1105

5.12

1131

4080

3.61

16.0%

LeGarrette Blount

2010

TB

201

1007

5.01

225

932

4.14

47.2%

Mike Anderson

2000

DEN

297

1487

5.01

622

2580

4.15

32.3%

Kevin Mack

1985

CLE

222

1104

4.97

1069

4019

3.76

17.2%

Ricky Watters

1992

SF

206

1013

4.92

2416

9630

3.99

7.9%

Chris Johnson

2008

TEN

251

1228

4.89

1212

5660

4.67

17.2%

Jerome Bettis

1993

RAM

294

1429

4.86

3185

12233

3.84

8.5%

Ottis Anderson

1979

CRD

331

1605

4.85

2231

8668

3.89

12.9%

Corey Dillon

1997

CIN

233

1129

4.85

2385

10112

4.24

8.9%

Tony Dorsett*

1977

DAL

208

1007

4.84

2728

11732

4.30

7.1%

Alfred Morris

2012

WAS

335

1613

4.81

-

-

-

100.0%

Earl Campbell*

1978

HOU

302

1450

4.80

1885

7957

4.22

13.8%

Joe Delaney

1981

KC

234

1121

4.79

95

380

4.00

71.1%

Steve Slaton

2008

HOU

268

1282

4.78

174

614

3.53

60.6%

Joseph Addai

2006

IND

226

1081

4.78

869

3372

3.88

20.6%

Reggie Brooks

1993

WAS

223

1063

4.77

214

663

3.10

51.0%

Dominic Rhodes

2001

IND

233

1104

4.74

581

2182

3.76

28.6%

Rueben Mayes

1986

NO

286

1353

4.73

580

2131

3.67

33.0%

Terrell Davis

1995

DEN

237

1117

4.71

1418

6490

4.58

14.3%

Kevin Jones

2004

DET

241

1133

4.70

554

2043

3.69

30.3%

Jim Brown*

1957

CLE

202

942

4.66

2157

11370

5.27

8.6%

Eric Dickerson*

1983

RAM

390

1808

4.64

2606

11451

4.39

13.0%

Fred Taylor

1998

JAX

264

1223

4.63

2270

10472

4.61

10.4%

Calvin Hill

1969

DAL

204

942

4.62

1248

5141

4.12

14.0%

Doug Martin

2012

TB

319

1454

4.56

-

-

-

100.0%

Alan Ameche

1955

BAL

213

961

4.51

751

3084

4.11

22.1%

Terry Miller

1978

BUF

238

1060

4.45

153

523

3.42

60.9%

George Rogers

1981

NO

378

1674

4.43

1314

5502

4.19

22.3%

Jamal Lewis

2000

BAL

309

1364

4.41

2233

9243

4.14

12.2%

Matt Snell

1964

NYJ

215

948

4.41

842

3337

3.96

20.3%

Larry Brown

1969

WAS

202

888

4.40

1328

4987

3.76

13.2%

Ronnie Brown

2005

MIA

207

907

4.38

1009

4264

4.23

17.0%

Warrick Dunn

1997

TB

224

978

4.37

2445

9989

4.09

8.4%

Domanick Williams

2003

HOU

238

1031

4.33

532

2164

4.07

30.9%

Curt Warner

1983

SEA

335

1449

4.33

1363

5395

3.96

19.7%

Paul Robinson

1968

CIN

238

1023

4.30

499

1924

3.86

32.3%

William Andrews

1979

ATL

239

1023

4.28

1076

4963

4.61

18.2%

Tony Collins

1981

NE

204

873

4.28

987

3774

3.82

17.1%

Thurman Thomas*

1988

BUF

207

881

4.26

2670

11193

4.19

7.2%

Anthony Thomas

2001

CHI

278

1183

4.26

766

2708

3.54

26.6%

Edgerrin James

1999

IND

369

1553

4.21

2659

10693

4.02

12.2%

Olandis Gary

1999

DEN

276

1159

4.20

220

839

3.81

55.6%

Greg Bell

1984

BUF

262

1100

4.20

942

3859

4.10

21.8%

Mel Farr

1967

DET

206

860

4.17

533

2212

4.15

27.9%

Billy Sims

1980

DET

313

1303

4.16

818

3803

4.65

27.7%

Kevin Smith

2008

DET

238

976

4.10

360

1370

3.81

39.8%

Eddie George

1996

HOU

335

1368

4.08

2530

9073

3.59

11.7%

Marshall Faulk*

1994

IND

314

1282

4.08

2522

10997

4.36

11.1%

Don Perkins

1961

DAL

200

815

4.08

1300

5402

4.16

13.3%

Cadillac Williams

2005

TB

290

1178

4.06

765

2860

3.74

27.5%

Curtis Martin*

1995

NE

368

1487

4.04

3150

12614

4.00

10.5%

Marshawn Lynch

2007

BUF

280

1115

3.98

1172

5017

4.28

19.3%

Willis McGahee

2004

BUF

284

1128

3.97

1673

6969

4.17

14.5%

Johnny Johnson

1990

CRD

234

926

3.96

812

3152

3.88

22.4%

John Stephens

1988

NE

297

1168

3.93

648

2272

3.51

31.4%

Matt Forte

2008

CHI

316

1238

3.92

946

4089

4.32

25.0%

Bobby Humphrey

1989

DEN

294

1151

3.91

401

1706

4.25

42.3%

Mike Thomas

1975

WAS

235

919

3.91

852

3277

3.85

21.6%

Boobie Clark

1973

CIN

254

988

3.89

548

2044

3.73

31.7%

Emmitt Smith*

1990

DAL

241

937

3.89

4168

17418

4.18

5.5%

Vagas Ferguson

1980

NE

211

818

3.88

79

345

4.37

72.8%

Joe Cribbs

1980

BUF

306

1185

3.87

1003

4171

4.16

23.4%

Ronald Moore

1993

CRD

263

1018

3.87

361

1192

3.30

42.1%

Vick Ballard

2012

IND

211

814

3.86

-

-

-

100.0%

Alfred Anderson

1984

MIN

201

773

3.85

425

1601

3.77

32.1%

Knowshon Moreno

2009

DEN

247

947

3.83

358

1483

4.14

40.8%

Robert Edwards

1998

NE

291

1115

3.83

20

107

5.35

93.6%

Rodney Thomas

1995

HOU

251

947

3.77

281

1026

3.65

47.2%

William Green

2002

CLE

243

887

3.65

325

1222

3.76

42.8%

LaDainian Tomlinson

2001

SD

339

1236

3.65

2835

12448

4.39

10.7%

Karim Abdul-Jabbar

1996

MIA

307

1116

3.64

697

2295

3.29

30.6%

Rashaan Salaam

1995

CHI

296

1074

3.63

175

610

3.49

62.8%

Leonard Russell

1991

NE

266

959

3.61

898

3014

3.36

22.9%

Errict Rhett

1994

TB

284

1011

3.56

890

3132

3.52

24.2%

Trent Richardson

2012

CLE

267

950

3.56

-

-

-

100.0%

Andra Franklin

1981

MIA

201

711

3.54

421

1521

3.61

32.3%

Ricky Williams

1999

NO

253

884

3.49

2178

9125

4.19

10.4%

Travis Henry

2001

BUF

213

729

3.42

1275

5357

4.20

14.3%

Ron Dayne

2000

NYG

228

770

3.38

755

2952

3.91

23.2%

Sammie Smith

1989

MIA

200

659

3.30

332

1222

3.68

37.6%

 

Will Richardson Ever Live Up to the No. 3 Pick?

In the NFL Network’s “The Top 100 Players of 2013” show, Richardson is ranked as the 71st player. Morris is 64th and Martin was just revealed last night as 57th.

That pecking order sounds about right, but should Richardson even be on the list at all?

This looks more like a selection based on potential and draft status more than anything. Richardson’s most notable rookie feat may be giving the league a poster boy for the new Crown Rule after his devastating Week 1 hit on Philadelphia’s Kurt Coleman.

Few running backs not named Adrian Peterson have made a top 10 pick worth the cost in today’s NFL. When you use a No. 3 pick like Cleveland, you expect more in return than what Richardson showed last year.

Fans will point to his 11 rushing touchdowns, his 51 receptions, and the fact that he missed one game and played injured as proof he was better than his average suggests.

Some of that is true, but so far advanced stats do not buy what Richardson is selling. Football Outsiders has Richardson ranked 34th in DVOA and 36th in success rate for 2012. Advanced NFL Stats has Richardson ranked 72nd in expected points added and 43rd in success rate (rushing and receiving factored in).

There is a lot of room to improve for Richardson, who is apparently injured again with a pulled shin muscle. He must stay healthy this season.

Meanwhile Martin was a delight to watch in Tampa Bay last year. He exploded at midseason with 486 yards from scrimmage against Minnesota and Oakland. That’s the most in NFL history by a rookie in back-to-back games. He became the first player in NFL history to score three rushing touchdowns of at least 45 yards in the same game (at Oakland).

Martin scored a total of 12 touchdowns and fumbled just once on 368 touches. With Tampa Bay likely fielding a better defense in 2013, Martin could exceed his rookie season by wearing defenses down late with the lead.

For a sixth-round pick, Morris had a monster season with 13 touchdowns and 1,613 rushing yards. Only Dickerson (1,808) and George Rogers (1,674) rushed for more yards as rookies.

However, you have to give a lot of credit to Mike Shanahan’s offensive system once again. Note that five players on the list played for Shanahan and all went over 1,000 yards as rookies: Terrell Davis, Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson, Clinton Portis and now Morris. Davis and Anderson were also sixth-round picks like Morris.

Time will tell if Morris can sustain this success, or if he is just another Gary/Anderson.

Richardson is clearly trailing Morris and Martin now, but if running back history has taught us anything, nothing lasts forever.

Scott Kacsmar is a football writer/researcher who has contributed large quantities of data to Pro-Football-Reference.com, including the only standardized database of fourth quarter comebacks and game-winning drives. You can visit his blog for a complete writing archive. Please send any questions or comments to Scott at smk_42@yahoo.com, or you can follow him on Twitter at @CaptainComeback.


From our partners




Must See Videos
NFL Draft Changing Cities, Moving Out Of New York City | FootballNation.com
2014 NFL Draft: No Dunking In Football
2014 NFL Combine Winners

Team Pages
AFC East NFC
South
North
West

Connect With Us
Sign up for our newsletter to recieve all the latest news and updates...
Privacy guaranteed. We'll never share your info.




The Football Nation Network

© Copyright 2014 Football Nation LLC. Privacy Policy & Terms of Use
Some images property of Getty Images or Icon/SMI