Spring time in the NFL is, for the most part, a happy time. It's when a little enterprise like ours is at its busiest, which is good because idle hands and all that. What I dislike most about it is when draft talk takes on a decided cable news tone. Nowhere has the silliness been more pronounced than in the debate over running backs and their relative value.
Jeff Fisher, the St. Louis Rams head coach, has been vilified in the media and the sycophants those particular pundits inspire for his comments about running backs. The problem is people are painting it as though the Rams will draft a running back and lock down all other facets of the game, passing only when they have to pass. Surprisingly enough, it's not true.
Jason Cole out Yahoo talked to Fisher for a Thursday article about the value of running backs in the draft. In it, Fisher explained a little more about his philosophy in the running game.
"You spread people out, try to get the defense out of position, look for a mismatch and then try to hit a crease. We don't line up and run out of I-formation that much anymore. The days when you lined up with the running back deep in the backfield and let him watch the blocking develop, that's done. Maybe once in a while or after you've been lucky enough to build up a lead and you're grinding it out in the second half. But that's situational stuff, not your base offense."
Sorry MartyBall fans, this is not run it up the gut kind of thing. It's more sophisticated than that. It's even more sophisticated than can be explained in 140 characters. Shocking, I know.
Read Cole's entire article. It's clear that running backs, especially talented ones, are still valued in today's NFL, though the days of building around a running game are long gone. New Orleans might be the most notable spread offense in the league, but they were willing to trade into the first round to pick Richardson's former teammate, Mark Ingram last year. Running backs played a big part in their offense, with four players each totaling more than 75 carries.
Key onto one word in Fisher's quote, "mismatch." Greg Cosell noted the other day that today's NFL hinges on matchups. Richardson is a supremely talented player capable of creating mismatches for an offense by virtue of his explosiveness and versatility. He is a more talented football player than any of the receivers likely to be drafted in the first round ... but you can't make running back mismatches work with legitimate receiving threats to help create them, just ask Steven Jackson.