Tuesday December 2nd, 2014

When Ahmad Bradshaw suffered a broken leg that ended his season, the Colts lost their most effective running back and one of their most dangerous offensive weapons. Trent Richardson seemed to be the winner by default. While the Colts would rightly never trust him to be a workhorse running back, logic suggested that he would get somewhere in the neighborhood of 18 touches per game while continuing to hold down the goal-line duties. No one expected him to start breaking 100 yards week after week, but most everyone thought he could volume his way to RB2 production for the rest of the year. In a few short weeks, that conventional wisdom has been proven wrong.

Fact: Trent Richardson’s fantasy value does not exist

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Richardson has been a complete flop during his tenure in Indianapolis. Since coming over from Cleveland for a first-round pick last year, Richardson has 903 yards and six touchdowns on 292 carries. That translates to 3.09 yards per carry, a truly mind-boggling number for a guy who’s getting to touch the ball a significant number of times. Meanwhile, all other Colts running backs in that span have rushed for 1,924 yards on 392 carries, good for 4.91 yards per carry. Richardson is nearly a full two yards worse than his counterparts running behind the same line with the same diversionary weapons. All else being equal, he’s not even two-thirds the running back that Donald Brown, Ahmad Bradshaw, Vick Ballard or Boom Herron are.

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We’ll get to Herron in a second, but for now let’s go even deeper into just how bad Richardson has been as a Colt. Bradshaw suffered his leg injury two weeks ago against the Patriots. Including that game, Richardson has 27 carries for 54 yards since Bradshaw went on the shelf. In two of those three games, he ran for fewer than 15 yards.

Richardson’s fantasy virtue is supposed to be tied to his goal-line duties, but he hasn’t been delivering there, either. It doesn’t help that Andrew Luck leads all quarterbacks in red-zone pass attempts and is tied for third with 16 attempts inside the 5-yard-line this year, but Richardson has nevertheless been ineffective when given a chance in scoring range. He has just three touchdowns on the season, and only one of those has come in the last five weeks. Richardson has seven carries inside the five, and all of his scores have been from no more than five yards out. Ben Tate has turned seven carries inside the five into four touchdowns. Steven Jackson has hit paydirt five times with those same seven carries. Only Richardson has fewer than four with as many as seven carries from close range.

Richardson owners hoped that Herron wouldn’t be a legitimate threat to his touches, but that has quickly gone by the wayside. The Ohio State product didn’t play a significant number of snaps until Bradshaw’s season-ending injury. In the last two weeks, Herron has 153 yards on 20 carries, seven catches for 39 yards and one touchdown. Richardson needed 41 carries this year to get to 153 yards. Herron ran for 88 yards last week, including a 49-yard touchdown. Richardson has never run for 88 yards in a game as a Colt. Herron covered more ground on his touchdown run last week than Richardson has in eight entire games this year.

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Head coach Chuck Pagano refuses to completely relegate Richardson to the bench, so we’re going to have to deal with his presence for the remainder of the season. However, do not talk yourself into using him as a fantasy starter. He has 21 carries and one target in the last two weeks. Herron has 20 and seven in that same timeframe. Richardson is already taking a backseat to Herron, and will only show up for fantasy owners if he manages to convert one of his few goal-line opportunities. In other words, Richardson is a glorified Matt Asiata. That is not a good thing.

Fiction: Tre Mason is a plug-and-play RB2 for the rest of the year

Few people beat the drum for Mason’s Week 13 prospects louder than I did last week. He came through for those who played him, racking up 164 total yards and three touchdowns in the 52-0 win over the Raiders. He’s undoubtedly an explosive back with pass-catching abilities, and I am already sure I will be targeting him in 2015 drafts. Having said all that, I’m not buying into him as a sure-thing fantasy starter for the playoffs the way many people are after his huge performance last week.

Mason may have had his owners dancing last Sunday afternoon, but there are plenty of reasons to believe that was a one-off performance. First and foremost was the opponent. The Raiders entered the game having allowed the third-most fantasy points this season to running backs, better than only the Titans and Falcons. After Mason’s huge game, they are now the most run-friendly defense in the league, from a fantasy perspective. Pro Football Focus grades the Raiders as the league’s eighth-worst run defense. It should take more than a strong showing against the Raiders to make fantasy owners confident in a running back’s future prospects.

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What’s more, Mason didn’t actually run that well when you look at the overall picture. Sure, he looked great on his 89-yard touchdown run, but that was a well blocked and poorly pursued play. He had just 28 yards total on his other 13 carries. Pro Football Focus gave him a grade just above zero as a runner for the game. You can’t take that play away from him, and part of what makes Mason an attractive player is his home-run ability, but if he were truly a bankable RB2, he would have done more on the ground against this defense. As good as Mason was last week, it was just the second time this year that he got double-digit carries and picked up more than four yards on average rush.

The flow of the game, too, had something to do with Mason’s big run. The Rams scored 21 points and ran 17 plays in the first quarter. When they came back out for their first possession of the second quarter, they faced an Oakland defense that was already somewhat gassed from all the action it got in the game’s first 15 minutes. Mason popped that soft defense for his 89-yard touchdown on the first play from scrimmage. He didn’t just take advantage of a bad run defense. He exploited a bad run defense that was also tired after getting worked over in the first quarter.

St. Louis’ next two games are against Washington and Arizona. Those two defenses rank second and fourth, respectively, in terms of fewest fantasy points allowed to running backs this season. Washington has surrendered an impressive 3.8 yards per carry and six rushing touchdowns. Arizona has been even better, allowing just 3.57 yards per tote and five scores on the ground. Those games also figure to be much closer than the drubbing the Rams’ hung on the Raiders last week. I’d call Mason an RB3 for the rest of the season.


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