By all current indications, the Cleveland Browns simply are playing it safe with star running back Trent Richardson. But a few members of that organization likely have their fingers crossed right now, hoping that Richardson does not become the lead character in another cautionary tale against drafting running backs early.
The Browns reportedly have decided to hold Richardson out of action until at least August, according to ESPNCleveland's Will Burge, to be "ultra-cautious" in trying to prevent Richardson's lower-leg strain from becoming a stress fracture. That timetable would sideline Richardson for at least part of training camp and possibly a preseason game or two, depending on how long the Browns opt to sideline him.
Richardson, the No. 3 pick in the 2012 draft, certainly laid the groundwork for a productive NFL career by rushing for 950 yards, catching 51 passes and scoring 12 times in his rookie season. He needed minor knee surgery in both February and August of last year, though, and played through broken ribs for most of the season. Burge's report also revealed that Richardson has been taking medication for migraines, and that Richardson has lost weight while battling those headaches.
None of Richardson's injuries, including his ongoing leg ailment, fall into the "serious" category. Yet, the defense many teams play in waiting for a running back during the draft is that the position's shelf life is so short. With 312 touches on offense during his junior year at Alabama and another 318 last year for the Browns, Richardson already has put a lot of wear and tear on his body.
The biggest downside to limiting Richardson right now is that it will cut into the time he has to learn Rob Chudzinski's and offensive coordinator Norv Turner's new offense. Richardson should again be the go-to focal point of Cleveland's attack, but QB Brandon Weeden and company will have at least a couple of weeks head-start on Richardson come camp.
Still, a full season's worth of Richardson would be worth way more to the improving Browns than having him for a few extra practices or a preseason game in August.
Cleveland does have Montario Hardesty and former Eagle Dion Lewis behind Richardson on the depth chart. That duo could be in line for more work during Richardson's absence; also on the roster are Chris Ogbonnaya, Brandon Jackson and intriguing rookie Miguel Maysonet.
Those options are all well and good for Cleveland as it suits up for summer practice. Any chance for success in the near future, however, depends on having a healthy Richardson.
And this is the dilemma that teams face when elite RB prospects present themselves in the NFL draft: Do you use an early pick on an impact skill player, even if he figures to have a shorter career than guys at other positions? The 2013 draft class made the decision a lot easier for front offices. While the position was deep with talent, there were no sure-fire selections -- no running back was taken until Giovani Bernard at 37; Montee Ball, with 113 more carries than Richardson over the past two years, tumbled to Denver at No. 58.
There is much less risk in drafting a back in Round 2 or later than there is in doing what Cleveland did with Richardson in 2012. Of course, the payoff may not be as great, either. Richardson has all the makings of being a Pro Bowl back, especially with Cleveland's offense expected to take a few steps forward. Because of that potential, the Browns are playing it safe with Richardson now ... in hopes that they won't be sorry for using a top-five pick on him later.