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2014 NFL Draft

Failures of Trent Richardson, David Wilson Have Scared Teams From Drafting RBs in the First Round

Recent busts like Trent Richardson and David Wilson have caused teams to look to later rounds for running back prospects.

Trent Richardson
Trent Richardson

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

You’ll notice that most mock drafts, including the XN Sports Mock Draft 2.0, do not have any team in the top 32 selecting a running back.

There’s a number of different reasons as to why running backs are becoming less likely to be taken in the first round. There’s the multiple-back backfields, putting a less importance on those workhorse-type backs that used to be top-10 picks. Teams are favoring spread offenses, making quarterbacks and wide receivers the focal point of the offense.

But above all, I blame 2012 first-round busts such as Trent Richardson and David Wilson for the running backs losing value in the draft.

Richardson, who drew comparisons to workhorses like Adrian Peterson in the weeks leading up to the draft, went third overall to the miserable Cleveland Browns. Even former Indianapolis Colts Vice President Bill Polian called Richardson “a sure thing.

That sure thing was dynamic in his rookie campaign, racking 950 yards and a franchise-record 11 touchdowns. But he would play only two more games in a Browns uniform.

Two games into the 2013 season, Richardson was sent packing to Indianapolis in exchange for a first-round pick. Thinking that Richardson would thrive in an offense that featured the top pick in the 2012 draft, Andrew Luck, as well a perennial Pro Bowler Reggie Wayne and up-and-coming speedster T.Y. Hilton, the Colts inserted Richardson into the mix only to see him falter.

Richardson started eight games, but eventually fell out of favor to longtime backup Donald Brown, who proved to be the team’s best backfield option. He finished the season with 458 yards, and the icing on the cake: he fumbled on the first carry of the playoffs, sending him right back to the bench.

Now there’s questions whether Richardson, a 23-year-old former first-round pick, can revive his career.

Onto Wilson, sending fantasy owners cringing at the sound of his name being said out loud.

If Richardson was the thunder of the 2012 running back class, then Wilson was the lightning. The electric back put on a show at the NFL Scouting Combine, finishing as the best performer in the vertical and broad jumps, as well as the shuttle run. His skill-set was so compelling the New York Giants, a team that doesn’t traditionally take running backs in the first round, scooped him up with the 32nd overall pick.

A fumble on his first NFL kick return immediately put Wilson in coach Tom Coughlin’s doghouse. But down the stretch of the 2012 season, with injuries riddling top two backs Ahmad Bradshaw and Andre Brown, Wilson stepped up to show a glimpse of what he could offer as a featured back. Wilson added a spark as a runner and pass-catcher, accumulating 713 all-purpose yards in the final four games and finishing as the first player in NFL history with 200 kick return yards and 100 rushing yards in a single game.

Expected to be the lead dog in 2013, Wilson was unable to kickstart a usually steady Giants rushing game. By Week 5, a neck injury cost him the rest of the season, and because of the nature of the injury there’s a question whether Wilson can suit up again.

Between Richardson and Wilson, there’s disappointment and failure to meet expectation, injuries and ineffectiveness, high draft picks wasted and being outproduced by backups. It begs the question of why teams should spend their most valuable draft pick on players that lately have not panned out.

In 2014, a back might not come off the board until sometime in Round 2. In free agency, the top back did not earn more than $4 million. The uncertainty of what teams are getting with running backs, in tandem with the emergence of spread offenses and multiplayer backfields, just lowers the value of the position.

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