When Ryan Grigson initially traded the Colts first round pick in 2014 for Browns running back Trent Richardson prior to week three of the 2013 season, many fans had doubts about it, but at the same time there were even more fans that loved the move.
Now, everybody has doubts about the move. In 2013, there is no way around the fact that Trent Richardson was bad for the Colts. Like, really bad. In 14 regular season games with the team, Richardson carried the ball 157 times but only gained 458 yards (2.9 yards per carry) and scored only 3 touchdowns. By comparison, 46 players in the NFL had more rushing yards in 2013 than Richardson did with the Colts (and 35 players had more than Richardson did combined between the Colts and the Browns). Furthermore, Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (on 94 less carries than Richardson with the Colts) ran for 377 yards (just 81 more yards than Richardson with the Colts) and 4 touchdowns (1 more than Richardson with the Colts). 42 players in the NFL rushed for more touchdowns in 2013 than Trent Richardson, and 15 other players tied with Richardson with 3 touchdowns. Only 7 players in the entire league had more than 30 carries yet averaged 3.0 yards or less, with Richardson being one of them. On the season (between his time with both the Colts and the Browns), Richardson averaged 3.0 yards per carry. Only two other players had more than 62 carries and average 3.0 yards or less, and Richardson's 188 total carries on the season was a good 36 carries more than the next highest total amongst those players. In other words, Richardson's 2013 was bad. Really bad, considering he was the Colts' starter for 8 games and played in 14 - plus, he started both games he played with the Browns last year as well. In the playoffs, Richardson played in two games but got only 4 carries and gained just 1 yard total, along with fumbling away the ball once.
The 3rd overall pick in the same 2012 draft that produced Andrew Luck, Richardson has talent. He was a tremendous back in college at Alabama and even in his rookie year with the Browns he gained 950 yards and scored 11 touchdowns on the ground. He added another 51 catches for 367 yards and another touchdown in the receiving game. He has talent - he just needs to play up to it.
Several have attempted to analyze what went wrong in Richardson's disastrous 2013 season, and I looked at the issue as well, which you can read here. He looked like his confidence was shaken - no surprise, considering that the Browns traded him away in a stunning move and then the fact that he never fully grasped the playbook in Indy and was playing behind a poor offensive line. That said, we can't absolve Richardson of all blame, because he's talented enough to average more than 2.9 yards per carry behind a line like the Colts had, and he looked slow and indecisive when he carried the ball that cost him many yards and many opportunities. He lacked the initial burst needed to hit a hole when it opened.
The pressure is clearly on Trent Richardson entering the 2014 season. The Colts fully expect him to be their starting running back, and that will be important with the run emphasis that the Colts like to employ. I don't expect it to be as heavy in the run emphasis this year as it was last year, but regardless the Colts clearly still want to run the ball and therefore it's very important that Richardson improve. And, as if that wasn't enough, if Richardson struggles again this year then the heat will really be on Ryan Grigson, as the Richardson trade was easily the biggest and boldest move he has made as general manager of the Colts and if that continues to go very poorly, it won't look good at all for Grigson. Without question, the pressure is on Trent Richardson in 2014 to improve and contribute.
I personally believe that he can. I think he'll improve and he even said this offseason that he learned more about the Colts offense in one week of offseason work than he did all of last season with the Colts. His knowledge of the playbook and the system should be greatly improved, as should his confidence (hopefully). The offensive line should be better (not great, but better) and that should help as well.
If Richardson struggles, the Colts have other backs who can step in and play well. Ahmad Bradshaw is a very talented back who, if he stays healthy, could easily step in for Richardson and provide help even if Richardson plays well. Vick Ballard has starting experience as well and has produced, and he could step in if need be also. But the bottom line is that if Trent Richardson doesn't improve in 2014 the running back position will struggle and the Colts offense won't be as good as they could be. Furthermore, if Trent Richardson doesn't improve in 2014 Ryan Grigson will look bad and, perhaps most importantly, the Colts will be severely hurt because of it.
I think that Trent Richardson will be improved this season, and the Colts absolutely need him to be. Clearly, the pressure is on.
For more on the state of the Colts running back position, read Josh Wilson's running back position preview here.