With the first two picks of the NFL Draft all but set in stone, and the third pick likely to be either an offensive tackle, cornerback, or traded, the Cleveland Browns find themselves in the rare enviable position of having the first shot at either the best running back or the best wide receiver in Thursday’s first round. Assuming that they don’t trade down (which is something that should never be assumed with this organization) the Browns will likely use that pick on either Alabama running back Trent Richardson or Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon.
Most draft analysts have the Browns using the pick on Richardson, and with good reason. He’s a physical freak who’s been dominant for three years on college football’s best team, even when playing behind Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram. Behind quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, Richardson is probably the third best player in the draft, only he won’t go third overall to the Minnesota Vikings since they already have Adrian Peterson in their backfield. Considering that the Browns’ current backfield consists of … *Googles Browns roster* … Montario Hardesty and Chris Ogbonnaya, Richardson and Cleveland seem like a match made in heaven.
But Richardson is also a running back. And in the NFL, running backs are a dime-a-dozen. Just how insignificant is having a go-to guy at running back? Look no further than the Vikings, who with Peterson have arguably the best runner in the league, yet are one of the three teams selecting higher than the Browns. Similarly, the St. Louis Rams possess an All-Pro running back in Steven Jackson, yet have earned a top-2 pick in four of the past five seasons. Having a good or even great running back far from guarantees that a team will be picking any lower in the draft a year from now.
Which brings us to Blackmon. As Calvin Johnson and even A.J. Green have shown us, having one dominant receiver can be a complete game-changer for any offense, and that’s precisely what the Browns need. Cleveland hasn’t had anything that remotely resembles such a playmaker since Braylon Edwards in 2007, which non-coincidentally was also the same year that the team posted its best record since returning to the league in 1999. Blackmon’s been college football’s best receiver for the past two seasons and while this is one of the deeper receiver drafts in recent memory, there’s a good chance that Blackmon would’ve gone No. 2 overall had the Rams not traded the pick.
So using that logic- that in today’s NFL, receivers are significantly more important that running backs- it seems pretty clear cut that the Browns should select Blackmon over Richardson, right? Wrong. The fact of the matter is, at this point and time, the Browns just need players who can play football. Despite having more than 50 players on their roster, very few Cleveland Browns can do just that. I like Blackmon a lot, and I like the logic behind picking him, but I also think he’s more likely to be a bust than Richardson, who very well could be a top-5 NFL running back by the end of 2012.
If this were any normal football team, I’d strongly suggesting opting for the top wideout over the top running back each and every time. But the Browns are far from a normal football team at this point, and they just need players who can play. And Richardson’s just that.