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The curious case of Trent Richardson, fantasy mystery

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"I make my own luck." - Harvey Dent, "The Dark Knight"

Harvey Dent aka Two-Face, used a two-headed coin as a ploy to make decisions in the Batman comics (and the Christopher Nolan film mentioned above). What in the world does this quote have to do with fantasy football, you might ask? In a way, running backs, much like Dent, need to make their own luck at times. So much of their success depends on their offensive line opening up holes, but at the same time, it's the great ones (and best fantasy backs) who are able to consistently create something out of nothing. Which brings me to the curious case of Trent Richardson. Richardson seemed to be headed for fantasy superstardom after finishing ninth in fantasy scoring in his rookie year in 2012. However, during his sophomore campaign the wheels didn't just fall off the wagon -- they also rolled into a river, careened off a waterfall and shattered on the rocks below as Richardson averaged three yards per carry and finished 33rd in fantasy scoring among running backs.

The big question this offseason has been what do we make out of Richardson in 2014? Was last year an aberration; the result of changing teams mid-season and struggling to learn the playbook? Or was this the true T-Rich, and we were all just duped by his early career success?

To help settle this debate, I turned to GameRewind and dove into the tape, asking, "Will the real Trent Richardson please stand up?" After reviewing the tape, I'm as sure about who the real Richardson is as I am about the ending of "Lost." I went in hoping to confirm my suspicions that Richardson might be the steal of 2014 fantasy football drafts, but left underwhelmed. Nevertheless, I do think he's a great sleeper to target this season. But, before we get to the good, let's sift through the bad.

The line play was offensive-ly bad

 

Prior to diving into my film study, I read Brett Kollman's excellent breakdown of T-Rich's disastorous 2013 season. I suggest you give it a read as well. Kollman's main argument for why Richardson will have a bounce back year is that bad blocking was the biggest culprit in his mediocrity. Watching Richardson's tape from last year (especially with Indianapolis), it became painfully evident that the offensive line was not up to snuff. Richardson suprisingly had 31 forced missed tackles last season, and I'd estimate roughly 25 of them came behind the line of scrimmage. Kollman's article is loaded with GIFs for proof, so I won't bog down this piece with more. The Colts were hoping to upgrade their interior line with Khaled Holmes and Hugh Thorton, and early signs were positive until Holmes left Thursday's preseason game with an ankle injury. Richardson's first two runs with Holmes in the lineup netted 12 yards. His next three with the first team accounted for one yard total. Holmes is scheduled for an MRI Friday, and if he's able to return in time, the rushing game as a whole could be on the uptick.

Tentative Trent

 

The common refrains among football pundits watching T-Rich last season were that he lacked vision, was too tentative and generally indecisive within the Colts' offense. Richardson and the Colts wanted us to believe that these traits were due to Richardson was struggling to grasp the new scheme on the fly, and those struggles led to a lack of confidence and slower reads. I certainly agree that this is part of the problem, but I also feel that part of Trent's struggles were just bad habits. The vast majority of Richardson's best runs last season came when there was a hole created by his offensive line that you could drive a Mayflower truck through. When the hole wasn't there? Richardson all too often got happy feet as he approached the line. He chops his feet, takes unnecessary cuts, bad angles and more often than not get stopped after just one yard (if that), like in the GIF below.

You can control the playback of the GIF below by hovering over it with your mouse cursor.

 

Now, obviously there isn't much of a hole there, but Richadson's tentativeness prevents him from getting any sort of yardage. Had he hit the hole hard, he could have fought to push the pile forward a bit and and least gain positive yardage. All too often while watching Richardson's tape (even back to his rookie season) he left yards on the field. For a big back, he ends up on his back WAY more than I would have expected. You'd think Richardson would be able to routinely plow through tacklers and fall forward for extra yards, but he rarely does (unless the hole is there). He seems to prefer trying to juke his way through defenders instead of bowling them over. Watching the Colts play the Seattle Seahawks last season, I took a break from Richardson to see if my eyes were deceiving me by taking in a few snaps of Marshawn Lynch. My word, it was like night and day watching Lynch run after hours of Richardson film. Lynch, and other top backs, hit the hole with a vengeance, and make something out of nothing. Richardson's nothing plays all too often stayed as nothing, or worse, became negatives.

Lastly, and this could be more of a product of Richardson not being comfortable in the scheme, but he also missed a fair amount of cutback opportunities and reads, and didn't seem to trust his blocking on power plays. Below is an instance where the cutback is wide open for Richardson to explode through, but he misses it.

 

The most frustrating part about watching all of Richardson's snaps last season is that he has talent. The guy has a surprisingly quick jump cut, great balance, strength and soft hands out of the backfield. It was maddening to watch him look spectacular on one play, and then overwhelmingly mediocre on the next. Unlike Harvey Dent, he failed to make his own luck and instead relied on opportunities to be laid out in front of him. Yet, it's within this paradox that the hope for a rebound in 2014 lies.

The silver lining

 

So, after all of that, you might be wondering why I still believe Richardson can be a sleeper in 2014. It comes down to a couple of things, chief among them opportunity. The Colts lost Vick Ballard to a torn Achilles this year, and recently released Chris Rainey, leaving just Richardson, Ahmad Bradshaw and Dan Herron on the roster. Richardson will get a ton of work, as we saw early in this week's preseason game. Secondly, Richardson has talent. There's a reason he was drafted third overall in 2012. That is evident in plays like the one below, where Richardson tosses aside most of the Baltimore Ravens' defense.

 

For more examples of Richardson's talent, check out Kollman's piece again. Richardson's current ADP in NFL.com mock drafts is Round 9. That's a steal for a guy who should easliy eclipse 200 touches. People are going to be down on Richardson, and justifiably so if they were burned by him last year. However, the talent, opportunity and supporting cast are all in place for Richardson to shock the football world with a rebound campaign in 2014.

Conclusion

 

So after all of that, I still don't know who the real Trent Richardson is. But I do know that he has a real chance to be a fantasy stud again in 2014. Whether or not he takes advantage of his opportunity remains to be seen, but when you're taking a chance on a running back late in fantasy drafts, why not scoop up Richardson? The combination of his opportunity and talent could outweight his frustrating habits and poor line play. All we need him to do is start making his own luck and turning those 0-yard runs into positive gains. The risk is relatively low on Richardson this year, but the reward could be great.

-- Follow Alex on Twitter @AlexGelahr. He might not know who the real Trent Richardson is, but he does know that "Guardians of the Galaxy" was fantastic and you should all see it.

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