Browns make over backfield in NFL Draft
BEREA, Ohio — The Cleveland Browns weren’t going to let anyone block them from Trent Richardson.
Desperate for a playmaker to ignite a sputtering offense, the Browns traded three later picks to the Minnesota Vikings and moved up one spot to select Richardson, Alabama’s explosive running back, with the No. 3 overall pick in the NFL Draft on Thursday night.
The dynamic Richardson should make an immediate impact on a Cleveland offense that scored just 218 points last season and had just four rushing touchdowns. The 5-foot-9, 228-pound Richardson scored 21 for the national champion Crimson Tide.
“He’s passionate. He’s productive. He’s durable and he’s the kind of runner we feel is going to help us get our offense together to score the points that we need to win the games that we’re going to win,” said Browns coach Pat Shurmur, who went 4-12 in a tumultuous first season. “He’s a terrific runner.”
With their second selection in the first round, the Browns took Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden, a pick that could signal the end of Colt McCoy’s days as a starter. The 28-year-old Weeden will likely compete for the starting job with McCoy, who has had two inconsistent seasons for the Browns.
Shurmur said the Browns were convinced a team would leapfrog them to select Richardson.
“We knew that as we went through the process that he was our guy,” Shurmur said. “We did what we had to do to secure it. We knew teams behind us wanted him as well. We’re thrilled.”
Richardson was stunned to be taken by the Browns.
“I didn’t expect to go this high,” he said after donning a Browns No. 1 jersey and baseball cap on the stage of New York’s Radio City Music Hall.
Richardson seemed destined in most mock drafts to be going to the Browns at No. 4, but about an hour before the draft, Cleveland general manager Tom Heckert pulled off his trade with Minnesota. Heckert sent the Vikings picks in the fourth (No. 118), fifth (139) and seventh (211) rounds to move up and select Richardson, who rushed for 1,679 yards last season.
It was a bold move by Heckert, who entered the draft with 13 selections and planned to use some of them to move if he really liked a player. Last year, Heckert passed up taking Alabama wide receiver Julio Jones at No. 6 and acquired extra picks from the Falcons. He used one of those — No. 118 — in the package for Richardson.
During the offseason, the Browns fell short in their pursuit for quarterback Robert Griffin III. Cleveland was outbid by Washington, which selected the Heisman Trophy winner second overall.
They weren’t about to lose out on getting the best runner.
“He’s a terrific player and he’s going to be a really fine addition,” Shurmur said. “He’s going to be one of those players who are fans will be able to watch run the ball for a lot of years.”
The Browns also have the No. 22 pick in the first round.
In New York, Richardson was joined on stage by his two young daughters.
“To them, this means they never have to go through what their daddy went through,” said Richardson, recalling his mother worked “two and three jobs” while battling cancer as she raised him.
Richardson is viewed as the most complete back in this year’s draft and perhaps the best since Adrian Peterson in 2007.
He can run inside the tackles for tough yards and bust outside for long gains. Richardson made a strong impression on the Browns during his pro day at Alabama when he flattened Cleveland running backs coach Gary Brown during a blocking drill.
“I’m pretty sure I got their attention when I knocked him down,” Richardson said in a conference call.
Shurmur said he was certain Richardson should be the pick long before the 21-year-old’s workout.
Earlier in the day, Browns Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown, who has been at odds with the organization for several years, called Richardson “ordinary.” However, Brown’s former team felt differently and selected a player whom they believe can help them close the gap on Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Cincinnati in the AFC North.
Richardson said he wasn’t bothered by Brown’s comment.
“I have a lot to play for,” he said. “I’ve got a lot to prove. I’m an ordinary human, but as a back, I’ll be a special guy.”
Cleveland’s rushing game was inconsistent last season, ranking 28th overall. Peyton Hillis, who rushed for nearly 1,200 yards in 2010, was unreliable and injured. Montario Hardesty struggled with injuries for the second year in a row, and third-down specialist Brandon Jackson missed the whole season with a foot injury.
When Hillis, who missed one game with strep throat and had other off-field issues, left as a free agent, it left a gaping hole in Cleveland’s ground game.
Shurmur feels Richardson will plug it.
“Dependability in a player is very important,” Shurmur said. “The other guys on the team, the coaches, our fans, they need to know that our players are going to show up. I’ve seen this in this player.”