Before we start, please throw the outdated rankings list you have been using out the window. If you’re reading in the car, crank down your window and toss it at the car next to you (safely). Congratulations if you have power windows; just adjust my suggestion accordingly. If you’re sitting in your house, open the nearest window and aim for the closest visible trash can. We do not condone littering here at FakePigskin.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, forget all those early off-season running back rankings. For the most part, if you aren’t following me on Twitter, then you probably noticed a scarcity of nice things to say about Ram’s second year running back Daryl Richardson. People, including the experts, fell in love with the fact that Isaiah Pead was drafted higher (2nd round) in the same 2012 draft that Richardson (7th round) was taken. This year, the Rams again went and drafted a running back, Zac Stacy, later in the same draft (5th round). Some analysts looked at this in a lazy fashion and said, “Hey Richardson was drafted in the latest round of the three of these backs. By default, that means he has to be the least valuable to the team, right?” Wrong. Things don’t work like that in the National Football League. Solely for the “where he was drafted” argument, Richardson slipped in earlier fantasy drafts. I cautioned people against it. Low and behold, Richardson ran away with the job in camp and was named the starter. He looked great doing it too. His ADP has risen in the last few weeks but I think it still has a ways to go. In my eyes, Daryl Richardson is a legitimate RB2 candidate in all 12 team leagues.
If you watched the St. Louis Rams last season, you saw there was something special in Daryl Richardson. Even though Steven Jackson played in all 16 games, you may recall he played through at least a handful of them hurt. Jeff Fisher didn’t want to give an injured Jackson a full workload on a weekly basis. You could see he did not have the burst of old though he averaged a decent 4.1 YPC (yards per carry). After a few carries, Jackson would come off the field something would evolve with the run game. Jackson, a power back, gave the team very unexciting short gains. Richardson would come in and flash through a hole leaving you saying “wow.” Don’t believe me? The evidence is in the numbers: Richardson averaged 4.8 YPC (over a half yard more than the starter Jackson). Unlike Jackson’s running style, Richardson brought speed to the table and could break a big one on any given carry. He tied for 21st in the NFL in carries of 20+ yards with four, and tied for 6th in the NFL in carries of 40+ yards with two. The element he brought to the offense could not be ignored.
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For the purposes of projecting stats for this upcoming season, I think it is misguided to look back at Jackson’s numbers last year and label them as Richardson’s “upside.” Richardson is not the same kind of back as Jackson. Jackson also didn’t have the luxury of running behind Jake Long at left tackle. Why would we be comparing Richardson to Jackson anyways? Look at the last few starting backs that Jeff Fisher has coached. Of course there was Jackson, the power back, and there was Chris Johnson the speed back. Whose game does Richardson’s more resemble? In Johnson’s three years under Fisher, here were his final numbers:
2008: 294 touches (43 receptions), 1488 total yards and 10 total TD (finished #7 overall RB in PPR formats)
2009: 408 touches (50 receptions), 2509 total yards and 16 total TD (finished #1 overall RB in PPR formats)
2010: 360 touches (44 receptions), 1609 total yards and 12 total TD (finished #6 overall RB in PPR formats)
So when you ask me what Richardson’s upside is I would advise you to look at those three seasons. Do I think Richardson is going for 2509 total yards? Absolutely not but I think he has top ten running back potential. Fisher already began using him in a fantasy friendly way last season. Of all NFL RBs in 2012, Richardson finished 11th in percentage of team red zone carries. Sure, he scored zero touchdowns, but he only touched the ball 122 times as a change of pace back. In fact, that’s what makes the red zone percentage stat so amazing. Despite touching the ball in a limited fashion, he still received six out of every ten red zone carries the Rams had to offer. Just because he didn’t score any touchdowns last season doesn’t mean there’s not solid touchdown potential. If he could control the team’s red zone carries with proven power back Steven Jackson in town, why wouldn’t he hold off Isaiah Pead and Zac Stacy? Although it is hard to project catches, Fisher running backs are pretty consistently in the same range. Between Chris Johnson 2008-2010 and Jackson 2011-2012, they had between 38 and 50 receptions every season. Let’s call it even at 44 receptions as a safe projection and that is a solid PPR back. Combine that with the fact that neither of those backs ever averaged under 4.1 YPC under Fisher and you have yourself a solid idea of a floor. We definitely have something here: a fantasy asset.
Daryl Richardson is as safe of a bet at running back as any back after the second round but people just don’t know it yet. They will soon enough. Don’t let him slip simply because you know he is ranked too low on your opponent’s cheat sheets. One of them may have the same idea and you want to beat them to the punch. I rank Daryl Richardson as RB19 in PPR formats just below Chris Johnson and just above Shane Vereen. Your outdated cheat sheets probably listed him as either the backup or in a RBBC. Now you know just how wrong that sheet was, doesn’t it feel better that you threw it out at the beginning of this article? You can thank me later.