With the draft quickly approaching, mock drafts are piling up around the internet. Pick a position on the field, sans quarterback, and there is a mock draft that has the Bengals using one of their first round picks on that position. One of the most common positions these drafts have the Bengals selecting is RB, and one of the most common players the Bengals are predicted to select is Alabama RB Trent Richardson.
Comments concerning Richardson are endless and one of the most eye-catching is that Richardson is a better prospect coming out of college than Adrian Peterson was when he came out in 2007. This is very high praise for a running back as Peterson is widely known as one of the best, if not the best, running back in the NFL. One question that comes to mind, though, when talking about Richardson's prospectual value in the 2012 draft is that if he is that valuable (ranked no. 3 overall on Mel Kiper's Big Board) then why are many analysts projecting him to drop to no. 17?
If Richardson is passed up by 16 teams, is he really that valuable? Why would other teams, who have a mediocre or barely average running back, pass on the best RB since Adrian Peterson? If he is that valuable, would the Bengals be better off trading up to pick Richardson early?
First, let us start off by examining why Trent Richardson (TR) is such a valuable pick.
1. He is a physical freak of nature. He is by no means the tallest RB to ever enter into the draft at 5-11 nor is he the heaviest at a meager-but-healthy 220 lbs, but whatever he lacks in height and weight, TR more than makes up for in the things that he can control. Power Clean: 365 lbs. Squat: 600 lbs. Bench Press: 475 lbs. 40: 4.4. Scott Cochran, Alabama strength coach, will not let Richardson go higher because he's afraid that TR would lift TOO MUCH WEIGHT. Cochran has stated that no one will ever know his true max, he picked up 365 lbs "like a toothpick," but that he is able to rep out 405 lbs on bench with ease. Those stats alone are impressive, but when asked why he goes so hard in the gym, it is not uncommon for TR to reply with gems such as,
"I throw [defensive players] off of me"
"I'm never going to be taken down by the first person."
2. Durability. A direct consequence of TR's weight room ethic is this: He has NEVER been injured. This is due in part to splitting carries with Mark Ingram in his first two years at Alabama, so his body does not have a lot of wear and tear on it, but this is mostly in part to his body being in peak physical state. Even the best RB's like Matt Forte and Adrian Peterson have had their health issues in college and the NFL, but when you watch tape of TR and see 230 lb. linebackers try to tackle him low and just bounce off of his legs, then you can see how TR differs from even the elite RB's in the NFL. In a hard-nose division such as the AFC North, a durable, tough, big RB can take you a very long way (see: Jerome Bettis, Jamal Lewis, Peyton Hillis, Rudi Johnson, et cetera). Case in point: Rams QB Sam Bradford had two shoulder injuries his senior year at OU to his AC Joint. Bradford has reconstructive surgery and rehabbed in the offseason, but what he also did was built up more muscle on his shoulders and he has never had another injury issue with his shoulder. In physiological terms, ligaments connect bone to bone which provide stability to the joints. The muscles around the ligaments are the foundation of a healthy shoulder because they protect the ligaments, which stabilize the joints; in Bradford's case, he put on 15-20 lbs of muscle to protect his AC joint. In short, more muscle, less injuries. Oh, and I forgot to mention that TR has only had one fumble in three years at Alabama.
So, we get it, TR is one of the most valuable RB college prospects in a long time, if ever, and any team would be lucky to have him on their team. If this is true, then why are we all saying, and hoping, that he will drop to the Bengals pick at no. 17? The main reason that many think this will happen is because of the needs of the 16 teams who pick prior to the Bengals. There is not one team that really needs a RB who pick in spots 1-16 because they have other roster holes that need to be filled, but there are a few situations that would lead to him being drafted before the 17 spot. For instance, if the Colts decide to keep Peyton Manning and trade down with another team. If this happens, the Colts could pick up TR and have a solid RB for the first time since Edgerrin James. All signs point to the Colts taking Luck and cutting Manning, but it is a situation that could happen.
Barring this set of circumstances, teams that could take TR before the Bengals get a chance are few, but they are there. Mel Kiper has TR going to Tampa Bay at no. 5 and Russ Land, from SB Nation, has the New York Jets taking TR with the no. 16 pick. Aside from these two teams, it would be possible for the Browns (with Hillis all but gone and the only other option being Chris Ogbonnaya, TR would make sense), Redskins (CB may be more of a need for Wash, but they have not had a reliable no. 1 RB since Clinton Portis), and the Cowboys (DeMarco Murray had a great year but had some injury concerns late in the season and it is unknown if he can be a no.1 back for an entire season). There are teams that could certainly use TR as their no. 1 back, but will they pull the trigger and take the chance on a RB in the first round? Crazier things have happened on draft day.
If the Bengals are in need of a RB and do not get one in free agency, would it be a smart move to use one, or more likely both, of their first round picks to get a better spot and pick TR at an earlier position (see Nick Crago's compelling article arguing FOR the Bengals trading up to get TR)? Two lines of thought must come into play in making a decision about trading up to get TR.
1. Is one impact player worth two impact players?
Let's make this short: The Bengals would be lucky to get TR in the first round, but the number of needs that they have to address are much more important than just one good RB. There has never been a team to win the Superbowl after drafting one impact player. Look at the Vikings and Peterson, Saints and Ricky Williams in 1999, the Bears and Forte, or even the Texans with Foster AND Tate. For the Bengals, two players that will fill voids in the roster, and help to make the team better overall, and who will start immediately are more essential than one RB, even if it is Trent Richardson.
2. Will another valuable RB be available in the second or third round?
In short, YES, but not worth a first round pick. The Bengals front office needs to decide if TR is worth two picks, which we referred to above, and if he isn't, then there are a slew of RB's worthy of a second or third round pick who could be as productive as TR. Be sure to follow Joe Goodberry on Twitter and you will see that RB's like Doug Martin, David Wilson, Lamar Miller, and Chris Polk will be available in the second round, they have the same traits as TR (downhill runners, tough, strong, etc), and will have as much success in the NFL as TR. There is RB talent after TR and we, as fans, need to come to terms with the possibility of the Bengals not being able to draft him and be okay with another top-5 RB in this deep draft class.
If we look to history to be our guide in figuring out what the Bengals will do with their two first round picks, we would have no idea. Anthony Cozenza comments on the Bengals history with draft picks and says,
[u]nder the ownership of Mike Brown, the Bengals' strategy in the first round has been a complete mystery. We've seen them move up and give up picks to grab Ki-Jana Carter (ouch), we've seen them trade back and accumulate picks while drafting Chris Perry (another ouch), and we've seen them stay put with two first round picks and grab two solid players in Brian Simmons and Takeo Spikes. With two late first round picks, nothing would surprise me.
In reality, we have no idea what Mike Brown will do; in 2006 everyone expected the Bengals to take a tight end, either trade up to try and get Vernon Davis or take Marcedes Lewis with the no. 24 pick. Instead, the Bengals took the no. 3 ranked CB in that years draft, Jonathon Joseph, and surprised a lot of people. Joseph turned out to be pretty good and since 2006 Brown has put together a string of good drafts (save Andre Smith at no. 6 in 2009). If anything, we should put our trust in Marvin, Jay, Zimmer, and, as much as it will hurt, Mike Brown, and trust that they will make the right decision regarding the future of the Cincinnati Bengals. If that means they trade up and take TR, that would be great. If they don't trade up but take an OG and CB, great. If they take two defensive players, great. No matter what, there are holes that need to be filled that are better left for the draft than free agency, specifically defensive players, and whatever decision the Bengals end up making, we, as fans, should be behind our team 100 percent.
The draft will be filled with a million and one situational choices and no one, not even Mike Brown, will know who the Bengals will draft with their two first round picks. Each choice the Bengals could make is determined by what happens prior to them and, as fans, we can speculate and make our wishes and desires known but on April 28, Mike Brown could surprise everybody.
In the end, let's be honest for a moment, it is a pipe dream of all Cincinnati fans to be able to draft TR in this year's draft, but it is not out of the realm of possibility. It is safer to bet on a second round RB like Martin or Wilson than trade up for Richardson. Please, CJ readers, do not read this wrong, if Richardson is available at no. 17 THEN ABSOLUTELY DRAFT HIM, but to have it put simply: he is not going to be available. TR is no. 3 overall and it is hard to believe, if not impossible to believe, that the no. 3 overall prospect in the ENTIRE NFL DRAFT will be available after 16 teams pick. If he is as valuable as everyone says, then a team that needs a (better) RB will not pass him up. TR would be a steal at no. 10, an absurdity at no. 15, and an absolute violation of natural law at no. 17. So, Bengals fans, for your own sake, please stop dreaming about Trent Richardson in black and orange and start being more realistic about the Bengals two first round picks....and pray that the Browns don't draft him.