- His 3.6 YPC average came on 267 carries, which represented 77% of all carries by Cleveland running backs
- He was a rookie last year
- He was a high first round pick
Since 1970, only 13 first round rookies have recorded 70% of all running back carries by their team. Two of those players were Richardson and Tampa Bay’s Doug Martin last year. Of that group, Richardson did post the lowest YPC average, but he was within 0.1 YPC of LaDainian Tomlinson. The next two lowest averages belong to Robert Edwards and Emmitt Smith; the former suffered a career-debilitating injury in a beach football game after his rookie season, while the latter ran for the most yards in NFL history.
Yeah, Richardson’s yards per carry average was well below average. But the universe of first round running backs who became workhorses right away as rookies and had a low YPC average consists of a HOF running back, a future HOF running back, and a player who suffered the flukiest of injuries. Richardson has something else in common with Emmitt Smith: after both of their rookie seasons, Norv Turner came on board as offensive coordinator.
But let’s say you don’t want to give Richardson any credit for his draft status. And you’re not in the mood to give him a pass just because he was a rookie. OK. Since 1990, 48 running backs have averaged fewer than 3.8 yards per carry while recording at least 70% of all running back carries for their team. Twenty-six of those players were at least 27 years old, and on the back half of their careers. Here are the other 22 running backs:
That looks to me like a pretty impressive group of running backs, including some of the best runners of the last two decades. Note that this excludes Marshawn Lynch, who was the main running back for the Seahawks in 2010. He averaged 3.5 YPC, but since he was traded from Buffalo in mid-season, he didn’t hit the 70% threshold.
A player’s yards per carry average can be inflated by a few large runs, and it can be deflated by the lack thereof. Richardson’s longest run was 32 yards; his second longest was 26, and both of those went for touchdowns. Those were Richardson’s only two carries of 20+ yards last year, and a 19-yarder against the Ravens was his only other run that cracked 15 yards. Personally, I’m not worried about Richardson’s ability to hit the home run. I suspect Richardson will easily eclipse two 20+ yard runs and three 15+ yard runs in 2013.
What’s more important is consistent success in the running game. One thing I like to look at is 1st and 10 runs. There were 24 players with 100 rush attempts in that situation last year. On average, the group gained at least 4 yards on 46.0% of their carries. Richardson actually eclipsed the average there, picking up 4 yards on 47.3% of his runs.
Richardson played just fine as a rookie. His YPC average was poor, but he played on a bad offense and was banged up for much of the year. A few more big runs, and no one would be talking about his 3.6 average gain. If you liked Richardson last year, I see no reason not to like him this year.