Don't Sleep on Ahmad Bradshaw in 2014

Trent Richardson has been a massive disappointment, and Ahmad Bradshaw may be able to take advantage of that in 2014.

The 2013 Indianapolis Colts won the AFC South by four games in what was one of the least competitive divisions in the NFL. They coasted to a 6-0 division record, were one of three teams to beat the eventual Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks, and overcame a 28-point deficit to win the first playoff game in Colts history without Peyton Manning in 18 years.

The season, however, will forever be linked to the controversial trade for running back Trent Richardson, who very quickly went from former first-round stud to bust candidate in a span of weeks.

Indianapolis lost running back Vick Ballard to a torn ACL in practice after a Week 1 victory over the Oakland Raiders. When the team struck a deal with Cleveland, they had already brought Ahmad Bradshaw in via free agency to split the workload with Ballard, and they had former first-round pick Donald Brown. Owner Jim Irsay obviously felt that the Colts needed depth at the position after losing Ballard, and he ended up being correct, as Bradshaw went down for the season as well.

Bradshaw, who turned 27 prior to the 2013 season, had proven to be a great offseason pickup prior the injury, rushing for 186 yards (4.5 yards per carry) and two scores in three games prior to getting hurt.

Richardson was expected to be a huge focal point of the Colts offense upon joining the team prior to their third game, and he paid immediate dividends, rushing for 95 yards and two touchdowns in his first two contests. His 2.7 yards per carry average against the 49ers was forgivable, as the 49ers were a lethal rush defense, but after putting up just 3.0 yards per tote against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the fantasy community started to recognize that T-Rich was more volume dependent than originally thought.

Richardson would go on to not score another rushing touchdown over the next 11 games, finally reaching pay dirt in a meaningless Week 17 clash against the Jags. In 14 regular season games with the Colts, he failed to eclipse more than 64 yards rushing in any contest, gained a minuscule 2.92 yards per carry, and wasn't a huge factor in the explosive Colts passing game, managing 28 catches for 265 yards.

Entering 2014, fantasy owners appear to be more optimistic about owning Richardson, as he is going in the early sixth round as the 28th running back in 12-team mock drafts, ahead of more efficient options like Fred Jackson, more talented options like Steven Jackson, and higher-upside options like Jeremy Hill.

Bradshaw, Indianapolis' 2014 backup, is going in the late 11th round as the 49th back. But he could end up being the better Colts' back to own in 2014.

Richardson and Bradshaw By the Numbers

Using our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, which looks at the number of points a player adds for his team, we see that Bradshaw was been the better rusher, and has contributed more to his team’s overall success than Richardson.

YearPlayerRushesRushing NEPPer RushSuccess Rate
2012Ahmad Bradshaw2216.430.0347.96%
2012Trent Richardson267-17.80-0.0740.45%
2013Ahmad Bradshaw414.840.1248.78%
2013Trent Richardson188-27.14-0.1436.70%

Bradshaw, labelled an “aging” rusher in his sixth season, netted a positive Rushing NEP in 2012 with a much higher Success Rate than Richardson. In essence, he not only was adding a lot more points than Richardson was, but each of his rushes were contributing positively for his team at a much higher rate. Though Richardson was a rookie, his -17.80 Rushing NEP ranked fifth-worst out of the 23 200-plus attempt runners that year. Bradshaw ranked ninth.

And that's not out of the norm for the veteran Bradshaw. In seven NFL seasons, Bradshaw's failed to reach a per rush Net Expected Points score above zero just once. That's an impressive feat considering rushing is far less efficient than passing - only 24 of the 67 running backs with 50 or more carries last year finished with a positive Rushing NEP score. Bradshaw's done that in six of seven seasons.

This is a big reason to be optimistic about the veteran, not the young guy who's shown little in his two years as a pro. If Bradshaw can stay healthy, there's reason to believe he'll be far more efficient than Richardson, similar to what we saw with Donald Brown a season ago. While Trent Richardson was a bottom-five running back last season according to our metrics, Donald Brown was the sixth-best. This isn't an offensive line problem. This is a Trent Richardson problem.

Don't sleep on Ahmad Bradshaw this year.