Just over a month ago, the sky was supposedly falling in Cleveland.
That's because the Browns had traded running back Trent Richardson, the third overall selection in the 2012 NFL draft, to the Indianapolis Colts in a move that many deemed sheer lunacy. The belief at the time was that Cleveland was giving up its best offensive weapon, a player who should be the bedrock of the franchise.
Now the only criticisms that can be heard are coming from Indianapolis, where Richardson remains the disappointing talent the Browns had the good sense to deal.
It's not that Richardson is a bad player. It's just that he's not an exceptional one.
He has yet to gain more than 60 yards in any of his five games with the Colts. He's had 75 carries during that time and produced all of 228 yards, which is a worse yards-per-attempt average than he generated in his first two games with Cleveland this season (3.04 compared to 3.39). Richardson scored the first two touchdowns of his season while in Indianapolis, but more people likely recall his critical fumble late in the Colts' upset win over Denver on Oct. 20.
As much as optimists in Indianapolis preach the importance of patience when faced with these facts, it's becoming hard to see the upside in a player who was supposed to be special and cost the Colts a first-round pick.
"We were getting killed when we made that deal, but now people are seeing the same things we saw in him," one Browns source said. "There is a lot to like about Trent. He's solid, dependable, hard-working. The problem is that he's not explosive."
That final indictment is the biggest reason Colts fans should be concerned about their new franchise running back moving forward. Richardson has logged 373 carries in his two-year career. Only 20 of those rushing attempts have ended in a run longer than 10 yards, which ranks him 32nd among all running backs since the start of the 2012 season. Richardson also has failed to be the perfect counterpart to quarterback Andrew Luck on a team that was hoping to balance its offense with a dominant power-running component.
[+] EnlargeTrent Richardson
AP Photo/AJ Mast
Trent Richardson has failed to impress in five games with the Colts, averaging a paltry 3.04 yards per carry, with just two touchdowns.
The Colts had the idealistic notion that Luck -- who threw 627 passes last season as a rookie -- would make life easier for Richardson. All of those Browns fans who balked at the trade believed that Richardson wasn't becoming a star in Cleveland because the team had nothing else around him. They didn't see a running back who rushed for 950 yards last season because that was the best he could do. They viewed Richardson as a promising talent who had the misfortune of facing eight- and nine-man fronts every time he lined up for the Browns.
Well, Richardson isn't seeing too many stacked boxes in Indianapolis these days. He's also not the only player in this league who has to deal with defenses designed to stop him. Minnesota's Adrian Peterson has seen that throughout his seven-year career, and he ran for 2,097 yards in 2012, less than a year after he underwent reconstructive surgery for a torn ACL. Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew hasn't had much of a supporting cast around him, either. He wound up leading the league in rushing in 2011 with a career-high 1,606 yards.
The issue with Richardson is that he's mostly effective in situations where his team needs tough yards. As the Browns source said: "I saw him score on a 1-yard touchdown in his first game there (a 27-7 win over San Francisco) and the announcer said that was why the Colts traded for him. And all I could think was that play was right in Trent's wheelhouse. He'll make those plays for you all day. But when you need seven yards, he'll still get you three."
There already have been several theories offered as to why Richardson has continued to struggle on a better team. Some have suggested that he's trying too hard to make something happen. Others suspect he's overthinking things or simply struggling to fit in with a new offensive line. Those people still think of Richardson as the same talent he was touted to be after leaving Alabama. They don't want to believe they possibly could be wrong.
In reality, it's hard to think Alabama didn't make Richardson look better than he really was. He played with three offensive linemen in college who were selected in this year's draft – including first-round picks D.J. Fluker and Chance Warmack – and it's not like he's the first Crimson Tide runner to disappoint in the NFL. Richardson split time with Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram at Alabama. That would be the same Mark Ingram who has 1,107 career rushing yards since the New Orleans Saints selected him with the 28th overall pick in the 2011 draft.
The only defense Ingram has at this stage of his career is opportunity. The Saints have enough talent in their backfield -- with Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles in the mix -- one could argue that a crowded depth chart has factored into Ingram's lack of production. On the other hand, another former Alabama runner, Green Bay rookie Eddie Lacy, has gained 446 yards this season and launched himself into the early conversation for offensive rookie of the year honors. He's already proven what some scouts thought about him when he entered the draft -- that he could be better than both Ingram and Richardson in the long run.
The big question the Colts now face is whether Richardson can elevate his game in the second half of this season. Indianapolis already lost one huge offensive weapon when Pro Bowl wide receiver Reggie Wayne tore his ACL against Denver, so it's fair to assume the Colts will need more from their running game. If Richardson really does have star potential, this is the time to start showing it. But if what we've seen so far is any indication, nobody in Indianapolis should be raising their hopes too high.