Trent Richardson Is Bad, But He's Not the Worst Running Back Ever

Ryan Clark thinks Trent Richardson is the worst running back of all time. But math shows us that's really not the case.

On ESPN's First Take today, Ryan Clark spit hot fire when he said that Trent Richardson was the worst running back of all time. Hyperbole? I hope so. But even still, the Trent Richardson hate has probably gone too far.

Don't get me wrong, the Cleveland Brown turned Indianapolis Colt turned Oakland Raider turned really rich free agent has been dreadful on the gridiron, especially when you consider his draft cost and the hype that came with him as he entered the NFL. But worst ever? We've got plenty of numbers to show why that's not really close to the case.

The Numbers Don't Lie

Let's be honest -- saying anything in sports with "all time" context really just means "recent history". It's very difficult to compare a player during one era to one in another. It's the entire problem with the Jordan versus LeBron debate.

So instead of going back forever, for purposes of seeing just how bad Trent Richardson has been, we'll go back to 2000, giving us a 15-year running back sample.

Over these 15 seasons, over 690 running backs have carried the football at least once. And 274 of them carried the ball 100 or more times.

To grade just how well these running backs performed, we'll turn to numberFire's own Net Expected Points (NEP) metric. For those of you who have never heard of NEP, it's a way of showing how many points a player adds for his team versus expectation. Essentially, we know that yardage totals and traditional statistics won't tell the entire story -- a 10-yard gain on 3rd-and-15 isn't nearly as impactful as the same gain on 3rd-and-9. One results in a first down, while the other puts the team in an undesirable situation. Net Expected Points allows us to dig a little deeper, and truly see the impact a player is having on the football field.

You can read more about NEP in our  glossary.

It's not abnormal for running backs to have Rushing NEP -- points added on the ground only -- lower than zero. Passing is inherently more efficient than rushing, so an average high-volume running back may have a per-touch Rushing NEP average of -0.02 or -0.03. Keep that in mind.

Back to the study: there's no need to look at players like Dion Lewis or Jed Collins in trying to find out whether or not Trent Richardson is nearly as bad as Ryan Clark thinks. A sample size of 20 or 30 carries isn't going to do us much good.

So, instead, let's start taking a look at the 10 worst 100-plus attempt running backs in terms of Rushing NEP per rush since 2000. Before you take a look at the table, keep in mind that T-Rich's career Rushing NEP total is -58.88, while his Rushing NEP per rush sits at -0.10.

Attempts Rushing NEP Per Rush
Chris Perry 175 -36.20 -0.21
J.J. Arrington 183 -36.23 -0.20
Maurice Smith 256 -49.26 -0.19
James Mungro 134 -25.21 -0.19
Dee Brown 119 -21.56 -0.18
David Wilson 115 -20.09 -0.17
Jermaine Fazande 119 -20.61 -0.17
Robert Holcombe 161 -27.43 -0.17
Jonathan Wells 374 -63.62 -0.17
Darnell Autry 112 -17.78 -0.16

Whew, boy. Remember Chris Perry? Bengal fans probably don't want to. The Michigan standout was terrible at the NFL level, and was more than twice as inefficient as Trent Richardson has been as a pro. What's interesting, too, is that Perry was a first-round selection. He didn't go as high as Richardson, no, but being selected 26th overall and putting together a -0.21 Rushing NEP per rush average is nothing to write home about, either. Not even a little bit.

For those wondering, Richardson ranks 221st among this group of 274. He's certainly not the worst.

If we raise the standard a bit and look only at higher-volume backs -- say, ones with 500 or more career attempts during and after the year 2000 (120) -- things do get a little more depressing for Richardson.

AttemptsRushing NEPPer Rush
William Green569-82.68-0.15
Marcel Shipp605-87.26-0.14
James Allen580-74.82-0.13
Lamar Smith843-105.17-0.12
Amos Zereoue535-56.21-0.11
Eddie George1507-157.41-0.10
DeShaun Foster926-96.51-0.10
Cedric Benson1602-159.94-0.10
Emmitt Smith1165-115.26-0.10
Trent Richardson615-58.89-0.10

Before you curse out your computer as you see Eddie George and Emmitt Smith on this list, remember that this doesn't include seasons prior to 2000. If you look at George's numbers -- even the raw statistics -- you may get a migraine. It was bad. I mean, in 2001, George ran the ball 315 times and didn't even reach 1,000 rushing yards. Meanwhile, at that point in his career, Smith wasn't the same guy he was when he was winning Super Bowls with the Cowboys. He was an Arizona Cardinal for part of it, and it was a time for many Smith fans to forget.

William Green is the worst running back. His Madden rating should've been like a 48 back in the day. On 569 attempts, he effectively lost almost 83 points for the Cleveland Browns. Ball protection played a role in that, but so did a low yards per carry average and a lack of touchdowns. He just wasn't very good.

But Trent Richardson does make this list, as he ranks in the 9th percentile among running backs with 500 or more carries over the last 15 years. That's not great, Bob, but it's certainly not the worst.