St. Louis Rams May Roll with Tide's Trent Richardson

TUSCALOOSA, AL - SEPTEMBER 24: Trent Richardson #3 of the Alabama Crimson Tide rushes upfield against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Bryant-Denny Stadium on September 24, 2011 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

For the second time in as many years, the St. Louis Rams will not be selecting in the top five of the NFL Draft. For that, thank nothing other than the ever-increasing demand for franchise quarterbacks and their integral role in what is now known as a "passing league." Unfortunately, trading back to number six overall brings much less certainty. Yet there seems to be opportunity for the Rams as they prepare for the NFL Draft clock to start ticking.

There is no consensus preference amongst eager fans who merely wish for a team capable of scoring points. However, one thing remains constant: No follower of the team from St. Louis will contend that Jeff Fisher and company have yet allocated their own franchise centerpiece, Sam Bradford, with an even satisfactory supporting cast. In fact, that may be too forgiving for a team seemingly devoid of quality talent on the offensive side of the ball. That must change by the first of May.

Some believe that Oklahoma State University wide out Justin Blackmon is the ideal suitor to dawn the Rams horns; solely because he would bring the vertical threat the team has lacked for so long, and instantly giving Bradford - a former collegiate rival - his new best friend. However, this post follows a different school of thought...

Join me on a trip to the not-so-long-ago – when grinding out yards, chewing up defenses and eating up the clock was desirable. Times may have changed in regards to NFL game plans, but the fundamentals and purposes have not. I still strongly believe that a quarterback’s best friend is neither a safety blanket tight end nor a heroic, play-making wide receiver. It is a stout, reliable run game paired with opportunistic play-action passing.

Enter Trent Richardson, the most highly touted workhorse since Adrian Peterson. Many will argue that taking a running back at the #6 overall selection is the wrong way to go; especially considering the Rams' laundry list of needs which stretches to the floor. However, I'd ask you to keep an open mind and remember that Richardson is no typical ball carrier.

Following in the footsteps of former Heisman winner Mark Ingram, Richardson knew he had big shoes to fill, yet he did so with flying colors, falling just shy of winning his own "Greatness" trophy. In short, the guy is a stud, much better than his Tide rollin' predecessor. I could spend days telling you the ins and outs, characteristics and peculiarities of "The Hulk in the Hoody," but NFLsoup.com does a much better job of that for me. And you just may get a kick out of what you'll find.

Strengths

When you watch Richardson run the football you can't help but walk away extremely impressed. He's a workout warrior that has a chiseled figure and dedication to his football program.

Richardson has an excellent combination of power and speed. His 228 pound frame is deceiving as he will still run right past you. He excels on kick returns and catching out of the backfield, using his speed in the open field.

Richardson also isn't afraid to lower his shoulder and take a hit. It generally takes multiple tacklers to bring him to the ground. He has good quickness and agility to go along with exceptional vision to follow his blockers.

His vision really helps him make the initial cut to get up field and his burst off of the cut is tremendous. Pass protection is a big positive for Richardson who often saw a lot of playing time over Mark Ingram on third downs for that purpose.

Weaknesses

Richardson's speed and power is an excellent mix, but too often he hesitates to hit the hole in the backfield, sometimes getting him in a jam.

Lateral speed is just mediocre for Richardson who has really made a name for himself as a downhill style and goal line back. Sometimes Richardson tries to hit the corner relying on his pure speed to make a play, which he won't get away with in the NFL.

Isn't extremely fast, but does have elite top end speed and ability. At times he seems to run a bit more upright than desired, and doesn't seem to carry his weight well, being a little more top heavy.

Overall

Richardson is an elite running back, and I've been saying for the last two years that he was the better runner and player than Mark Ingram, who is also a very respectable athlete and runner.

A first round draft choice is likely for the speedy workout warrior. He is arguably the best running back in college football, and unquestionably the best running back eligible for the 2012 NFL Draft. - NFLsoup.com

Have you recently heard or made a similar evaluation? Well, the Soup's professional player comparison for Richardson is none other than Rams all-time leading rusher, Steven Jackson. While only 5'9", Trent doesn't have the same "Beast" frame, but weighing in at a staggering 228 lbs, he does run with comparable terrorizing force. Say what you will about Jackson, but whether you love him or hate him, there is no denying his productivity on the field, nor his rare capabilities.

I believe former Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo described SJ best when he said...

Steven Jackson is ... a dying breed that you can hand him the ball off on first and second down, and you can leave him in there on third down to protect or go out there and become a pass receiver. He's an all-around back and he's an every down back. There aren't as many of those in this league anymore, and I think that makes him special.

That seems to be a fair assessment, no? Now imagine for a moment the Rams backfield featuring the combination of two such players. It's enough to make defensive coordinators cringe with fear. Fans have long awaited the arrival of an accomplished runner to both spell and complement Jackson, as well as a youthful backup for whom Jackson to mentor. Who better than a player that best replicates him?

I don't need to remind you that the Rams are now operated by rushing attack advocate Jeff Fisher, who oversaw an offense which went for over 2,000 yards on the ground in 2008. I will, however, point out that his Tennessee Titans went on to best Peyton Manning's Colts with a 13-3 record that same year, winning the AFC South. While you ponder that over, you may enjoy envisioning these highlights in a blue and gold uniform.

To reiterate what was stated before, Trent Richardson has an exceptional blend of both size and speed, much faster on the field than his 4.5 second forty time would have you believe. Like Steven Jackson, one of the first (and few) criticisms which you have of him is his indecisiveness in making his first read and attacking the hole, sometimes putting him in a bind, though not so much in the video above. He changes that by simply moving defenders out of his way, one way or another. Again like Jackson, he has a surprising ability to make the first defender miss and/or shake off would-be tacklers, putting defenders on the ground.

It comes with the territory of being a "gym rat" and "workout freak."

If you can keep up with Trent in the weight room, I want your autograph as well.

Here is more of Richardson from ESPN's Sports Science. Take note of his quick and deceptive footwork.

The days of stud, workhorse running backs are far from over. Demand may have diminished, yet the supply will always be there for the taking, waiting for whichever team still highly values the basics of competition. For as long as football is a game of scoring points, as long as receivers will streak down field, there will be an emphasis of pounding the rock to set up the pass.

To potentially combat the significance of these claims, some argue that no team with a star back has reached or even won it all - the Super Bowl - since Jerome Bettis and the Steelers, or even Marshall Faulk and the "Greatest Show on Turf". I challenge that this is all merely out of circumstance. After all, only one team will ever hoist a Lombardi Trophy in any given year, and no Pro Bowl running back has ever cost his team the playoffs without turning the ball over. That burden falls elsewhere. Was Jackson to blame for the Rams shortcomings in 2006 and 2010? No way. How about LaDainian Tomlinson in San Diego or Adrian Peterson in the 2009 NFC Championship? Of course not.

Running backs may now be considered "a dime a dozen" by some, but I fear the Rams may soon learn that great running backs are as difficult to find as great wide receivers. You can have an average RB by-committee approach just as you can have a stable of mediocre wide outs running rampant - they may get the job done for awhile, but never to the degree or worth of one all-around superstar.

This is where the Richardson v. Blackmon debate reaches its turning point. Blackmon is a player surrounded by question marks regarding his character, speed, ball security and consistency. All of which lead to the most important question of all: Is Justin Blackmon a number one WR? . While there are some immediate concerns about Richardson's vision, I think that there is little doubt in anyone’s mind that the Alabama prospect is a "blue chip," bona fide franchise running back. Some could point to his Pro Day performance as being a flag? But how can it be anything but great, when a player hits the field - at 70% of his capability as he recovers from a minor knee surgery - and he still runs in the 4.46 to 4.54 range in the 40 yard dash?

Come April 26th, whomever Trent Richardson is picked by, he will quickly become both a fan, and locker room favorite. He will assume whatever role is given to him, sprint onto the practice field and hit the playbook as hard as any player chosen before him.

The Rams will ultimately select the highest rated player on the board who happens to fall to them. They seem to be in a "best player available"-type of situation, unfazed by the pre-draft hoopla of rising and falling accolades. Whether that BPA be Richardson, Blackmon or anyone else they may deem as worthy is as much guesswork as the draft itself. As always, we will tentatively tune in for what is one of the most stressful three days of fandom that the NFL has to offer.

Happy drafting!

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