Trent Richardson Trent Richardson

For Colts, Is it Boom (Herron) or Bust?

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Oct 19, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indianapolis Colts running back Trent Richardson (34) runs with the ball against the Cincinnati Bengals at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

When the Indianapolis Colts Trent Richardson returns to Cleveland this Sunday, his new team likely wishes it was under better circumstances. The 3rd-year running back has largely struggled in his past 2 seasons with the Colts, failing to live up to the expectations that were placed upon him after Indianapolis surrendered their 2014 first round pick to acquire him in a September of 2013 trade.

Afterall, Richardson was the 3rd overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns, taken just two picks behind QB Andrew Luck at #1 overall. He was a Two-Time BCS National Champion, Two-Time First-Team All SEC, and SEC Offensive Player of the Year while playing collegiately with the University of Alabama. He had drawn comparisons to Hall of Fame running back O.J. Simpson as a young running back coming up the ranks.

If any other player coming out of the 2012 NFL draft class was a sure thing besides Luck, it was unanimously regarded as Richardson. In fact, former Colts’ GM Bill Polian went as far as to call him one of the “three sure-thing” players along with Luck and Robert Griffin III, who was taken 2nd overall between both Luck and Richardson by the Washington Redskins respectively.

The struggles for Richardson have been well-documented, as he has 135 carries for 445 rushing yards, resulting in a sub-par 3.3 average ypc on the season. The frustrations have about reached a boiling point after Richardson rushed 8 times for 12 total rushing yards (1.5) ypc in this past Sunday’s win. After a full offseason and now 25 career games with the Colts, it can no longer be blamed on a lack of familiarity with the playbook and offensive scheme.

With other Colts’ running backs having had more success, including most recently 3rd-string running back Dan “Boom” Herron, it can no longer be blamed on the offensive line’s poor run blocking:

Out of all the Colts’ running backs of the past 3 seasons, Richardson has the lowest average yards per carry at 3.09. Every other running back, from former first round picks (Brown) to late round draft picks (Ballard and Herron) have had more success than Richardson in the Colts’ ground game.

Nov 23, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indianapolis Colts running back Dan Herron (36) runs the ball during the fourth quarter against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Lucas Oil Stadium. The Colts defeated the Jaguars 23-3. Mandatory Credit: Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

It’s time to come to terms with the fact that the Trent Richardson trade hasn’t quite worked out as planned. It doesn’t mean that Richardson can’t be a useful running back for the Colts, as a 3rd down back and in short-yardage situations, but it’s time to hand over the bulk of carries to Herron.

Last weekend, Richardson had 27 snaps to Herron’s 25 with the offense. They both had the same amount of rushing attempts with 8, although Herron did much more with his carries, as he had 8 carries for 88 total rushing yards (11.0 ypc), including a 49-yard long run for a touchdown.

Herron has continued to show explosion and burst, while Richardson has simply looked a step behind. As indicated by his two fumbles in the past two weeks, Herron doesn’t appear quite ready to be a workhorse back for the offense, nor should he be for fatigue purposes. However, what’s about a 50-50 split between the two Colts’ running backs now, should at least be more like 60-40 in Herron’s favor.

It doesn’t mean the Colts should give up entirely on Richardson, who’s had some quality runs for the team this season and is a willing blocker/receiver in the passing game. It doesn’t appear they will either, as indicated by head coach Chuck Pagano’s comments earlier this week:

"“We’re not there,” Pagano said. “You guys might be, but I’m not. He’s a professional, he understands. None of us can ever get away from working at our craft regardless of the circumstance, regardless of adversity, just keep grinding, just keep working, just keep swinging the ax. If he keeps swinging the ax, the tree will fall. If you put the ax down, the tree is never coming down. Just keep chopping wood and good things will happen.”"

Maybe the Colts will finally be yelling, “Timber!“, (hello Ke$ha) this weekend at Cleveland. However, the odds are currently pointing against it. At a certain point, Pagano and the Colts’ brass have to come to the realization that Richardson isn’t the Colts’ best option at running back right now and just hasn’t been throughout his 1st 2 seasons with the team.

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Herron has rushed the ball more effectively in his limited opportunities, and quite frankly, he’s the better option of the two right now. That doesn’t mean Richardson shouldn’t see any snaps, as Herron hasn’t shown he can be a workhorse back for the offense and handle the entire workload.

In truth, Richardson may be better in 3rd down situations with his blocking and receiving, as indicated by his +2.5 grade in pass blocking according to ProFootballFocus. The highest mark on the Colts among running backs.

However, it would be nice to see Herron get the bulk of the rushing carries going forward. If this past Sunday was any indication, he gives the offense far more big-play ability.

Nov 30, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indianapolis Colts running back Daniel Herron (36) runs with the ball against the Washington Redskins at Lucas Oil Stadium. Indianapolis defeated Washington 49-27. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports