Trent Richardson to the Colts: Wait, What?

Is Trent Richardson a better fantasy asset now that he's in Indianapolis?

I don’t know if you've heard, but Trent Richardson is a Colt.

Jim Irsay teased the Twitter world all day, with Iron Sheik-type tweets like, “This day of MONSTER TRADE,The Tidal Wave Of Deal making...Shocks the system of "..Didn't see THIS ONE COMING!!!!!!" Grig's Rollin' Dice!”

It’s amazing that someone who writes like that can be so rich.

The move was a surprise, of course, and changes the fantasy football landscape completely. Ahmad Bradshaw, the Colts starter after Vick Ballard’s season-ending injury, will play the backup role once T-Rich gets settled. As for Cleveland? Well, it looks like Willis McGahee is heading there for a physical, and I’m sure Chris Ogbonnaya will see a lot more action, too. (For the record, his last name is going to be really annoying to spell throughout articles this season.)

But let’s dig deeper than just the obvious. What do the numbers say?

Trent Richardson’s Rookie Season

Last season with Richardson, the Browns ranked 16th in adjusted rushing net expected points per play. This tells us how many points the team was adding to their output on a rushing play basis. Clearly, the Browns were as average as they come.

They were led by Trent Richardson (duh), who finished the season 19th out of the 23 200-plus attempt running backs in rushing net expected points. This number, like the one above, shows us how many real points a player was adding for his team on the ground. It’s much more difficult for this number to be significant for a high-volume runner like Richardson, but compared to competition with similar usage, it’s clear that he wasn’t the best runner in the world last year.

Now, keep in mind that T-Rich was a first-year player running with half of his ribs, and it’s not as though the Browns supported him with a lot of help. He still ran more effectively than plodders Michael Turner and Mikel Leshoure last season, and Darren McFadden and Chris Johnson also finished with a worse efficiency score.

The key takeaway with Richardson is that he’s a capable high-volume runner with immense upside. Many will point to his lackluster 3.6 yards per carry average last season as a reason to stay away, but again, he was limited for a lot of reasons.

The Richardson-less Browns in 2013

As noted, the Browns ranked directly in the middle amongst NFL teams in terms of rushing effectiveness a season ago. After two games in 2013, they’ve dipped to the 23 spot. Many might have expected them to be ranked lower, but Cleveland simply hasn’t had enough opportunity to establish a running game, so their numbers are essentially a product of not screwing up.

That’s going to be the issue with any of the running backs that take the field during a game for Cleveland. Trent Richardson – one of the more talented up-and-coming backs in the league – hasn’t been all that fantasy relevant this year. Replace him with a 31-year-old back and one who’s unknown to the majority of NFL fans, and you’ve got yourself a whole lot of Bam Morris.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t hit the wire for one of these runners though. Just last year, Willis McGahee finished 15th out of 42 backs who had 100 or more attempts in rushing NEP. And he was better than teammate Knowshon Moreno, who sat in a similar situation in Denver. Clearly Willis was fortunate to be playing with Peyton Manning in a potent offense, but it’s not as though he was a dreadful runner.

As for Ogbonnaya, well, his story isn’t a very happy one. He’s only received more than 10 carries in a season once, and that was in 2011 when he rushed 76 times. That year, just only 34.21 percent of his runs were successful. In other words, just a little over one-third of his attempts resulted in positive net expected point plays. Most of the time, Ogbonnaya was hurting the Browns compared to a replacement-level runner. To put that kind of success rate into perspective, that type of percentage would rank him in the bottom 10 among 50-plus attempt runners most years.

That’s important to note, too. Net expected points data generally correlates nicely to fantasy success, as long as volume is understood. Clearly for Ogbonnaya, if he gets the same type of usage as he did in 2011, it could mean he won’t be much of an asset on the ground.

The passing game is a different story, though. The Browns back could be an interesting PPR tool, as he’s caught 51 balls over his career, including 24 last season. With an increased role, perhaps Ogbonnaya sees 40 catches. Perhaps.

Of course, keep an eye on the running back split as the season progresses. Willis McGahee (if he does indeed sign) could slow down as his body slowly turns 93 years old, and that could open up opportunity for someone like Bobby Rainey, who signed with Cleveland after being cut by the Ravens. For now though, McGahee is the guy to target off the wire given his history, and don’t overlook Ogbonnaya in PPR leagues. Rainey is simply a player to watch in the coming weeks.

Trent Richardson and the Colts

Now we get to the fun part. Like I’ve shown, Richardson wasn’t an incredibly effective runner during his rookie season with the Browns thanks to a plethora of factors. A less banged up Richardson could do a lot more damage in Indianapolis.

So far this season (and yes, I’m aware it’s only been two weeks), the Colts rank – wait for it - first in the league in adjusted rushing net expected points per play. With each carry, they’re doing more with the ball than any other NFL team. Again, like the Browns, this may be blowing your mind. But go ahead and take a look at even their raw numbers and you may be surprised. Vick Ballard, before his injury, had a nice 4.8 yards per carry average against the Raiders. Bradshaw ran effectively last week, bringing his season average to 4.1 yards per carry. Even Donald Brown has touched the ball seven times for 30 yards, people.

The Colts have a quarterback that can run with the ball in his hands, too, which helps. But really, this effectiveness shouldn’t be all that eye-opening. Last year under Bruce Arians’ direction, the Colts ranked 14th in efficiency. The reason we didn’t see more fantasy production from their running backs was because there was a committee for parts of the season, and the backs just didn’t get into the end zone.

Trent Richardson, who scored 12 times during his rookie year, will have something to say about that.

Pep Hamilton’s offense is much more balanced than Arians'. Not from a pass-to-run ratio perspective, but from the standpoint that there aren’t as many vertical passes, and the running game matters a little more. Despite valuable, talented receivers and one of the best young quarterbacks in the league, the Colts will run the ball. And Trent Richardson will see better averages because of it.

Bringing it Together

Add McGahee, take a look at Ogbonnaya in PPR leagues, watch out for Bobby Rainey and, of course, keep Trent Richardson. He may not have the most value this week given he’s new to the system and the Colts are facing the 49ers, but because of the balanced offense he’s entering, T-Rich could end up being an incredibly valuable fantasy asset this season. It’ll certainly be interesting to watch.