"...I think he is an ordinary individual. He has great work ethic and all-around ability. But that special ability that I look for, when I see a Gale Sayers? I don’t see that."
If the Browns are getting an ordinary running back with the third overall pick of the draft in Trent Richardson, then a lot of fans are going to be disappointed. Everyone has a right to their opinion, but when a legend like Jim Brown speaks, his words carry weight with the media. Some things are better left unsaid, though. If you are the top running back in the draft class, do you really want to hear an alumni (of elite status, no less) from the team you're about to play for call you "ordinary?" I don't think so.
Richardson is the team's prime investment in 2012, but he's the only fresh face at the running back position. Returning this season are third-year man Montario Hardesty and veteran Brandon Jackson. As part of our continuing training camp preview coverage, let's take a look at the Browns' primary running backs, starting with Richardson.
Side note: On Tuesday, we looked at the team's transition away from last year's starter Peyton Hillis.
1. TRENT RICHARDSON - STARTING RUNNING BACK
Good hands? Check.
High character? Check.
Not only is Trent Richardson competent in all of the categories you could ask for, he is supposed to have the potential to be elite in many of them, contrary to what Brown has to say about him.
There are high expectations for Richardson, who is being billed as the best running back prospect since Adrian Peterson. Richardson immediately becomes the focal point of Cleveland's offense, putting an end to the revolving door the team had at the position a year ago. We might not see Richardson come off the field very often, which would be a significant contrast to how Pat Shurmur operated during the 2011 season. Richardson plays with a chip on his shoulder and will be looking to initiate contact on any defender that stands in his way, something that will be interesting to see when he takes on division rivals like the Steelers and the Ravens. In terms of weaknesses, I guess you could say that Richardson probably does not have breakaway speed, and that he relies more on power than shifty moves when trying to gain more yards.
Another thing that you have to like about Richardson is the fact that he has not suffered any significant injuries. He is saying and doing all of the right things in terms of public relations, so I doubt we have another William Green on our hands. I don't know whether Richardson will become an elite back one day, but at the very least, Cleveland has a lead running back who should challenge Ray Rice as the division's top running back for many years to come.
Job Security: A
Final Roster Odds: 100%
2. MONTARIO HARDESTY - BACKUP RUNNING BACK
Hardesty will be entering his third season as a member of the Browns, and he could be running out of time to impress the coaching staff. Consider this: Hardesty, a former second-round pick, is no longer Tom Heckert's most recently drafted back. Richardson would by far be the favored back over Hardesty, who isn't exactly a change-of-pace back to contrast Richardson. The guys behind him, Brandon Jackson and Chris Ogbonnaya, are either more favored (in my opinion) or have produced more.
Hardesty had an ACL injury two years ago after already being banged up in college. Last year, he missed some time with a moderate tear in his calf. When he was healthy, Hardesty was not very impressive, averaging just 3.0 yards per carry in 10 games. He also had a stretch during the season where he dropped more passes than you could count on your fingers. More importantly, it never looked as though Hardesty brought anything special to the table. He might not have been as bad as Mike Bell, but he was getting pretty close.
There are still plenty of reasons to keep Hardesty, though. If we're being optimistic, maybe it's taken him two full years to get back to full strength after his ACL injury. As much as we'd like to label Richardson as the team's workhorse, if he needs a breather, Hardesty would be a nice, comparable substitute to insert into the game in a short-yardage situation to pound away. Also, he's only scheduled to make less than $500,000 this year as part of his original rookie deal. The team would not be breaking the bank by keeping him, even if it ended up being as a fourth-string running back. My current prediction is that Hardesty makes the roster, and on gameday, will see 2-3 carries each game.
Job Security: C
Player Quality: D
Final Roster Odds: 80%
3. BRANDON JACKSON - THIRD-DOWN RUNNING BACK
Even though Richardson can take on the role as "third-down running back," I will stick by what I saw in last year's training camp: the coaching staff can't wait to make Jackson a part of this offense as well. Jackson is a guy who the team can split wide when they want to empty the backfield on third downs too, and he gives the Browns a good receiving option in those situations.
Jackson has a lot more experience than a guy like Hardesty; in fact, he has more experience than all of the running backs on the roster. That's one of the reasons why I think Jackson's roster spot is much safer than Hardesty's. Jackson lacked big-play potential when he was carrying the football back during his Packer days, but I would consider him above average when it comes to catching the ball or blocking in the backfield. If the coaching staff is confident that Jackson can do comparable things to Richardson on third-down (in terms of blocking and receiving), I think they'll take advantage of the opportunities to keep Richardson fresh. I listed Jackson as the No. 3 running back here, but on gameday, I anticipate him being on the field more often than Hardesty.
Job Security: B+
Player Quality: B-
Final Roster Odds: 95%
That is all for the running backs today. On Thursday, we will take a look at the other two running backs on the roster, Chris Ogbonnaya and Adonis Thomas, as well as the surplus of players the team has at the fullback position.
For today's poll, if the team could only keep one player between Hardesty and Jackson, who should it be?