This is the last in a seven-part series previewing the NFL draft. Today's installment: running backs.
University of Alabama running back Trent Richardson never will be confused with any diva receivers. Richardson revels in his reputation as a tough guy who delivers blows on the football field.
"It's a mind-set thing with me I love contact," Richardson said at the NFL Scouting Combine. "I think when it comes down to it, are you going to hit me or am I going to hit you? Nine times out of 10, I'm going to hit you."
That hard-nosed attitude is going to make Richardson the highest-drafted running back in the NFL in four years, since Oakland took Darren McFadden fourth overall in 2008. The 5-foot-9, 228-pound Richardson is expected to go somewhere in the top six picks.
Richardson, who helped the Crimson Tide to the national title last season, is probably the only first-round back in the draft, but the RB class is deep into the middle rounds.
Richardson came to Alabama as one of the top recruits in the country, but he spent his freshman and sophomore years backing up Mark Ingram, the 2009 Heisman Trophy winner. But Richardson is a better NFL prospect than Ingram, who was drafted 28th last year.
After rushing for 751 yards as a freshman and 700 as a sophomore in a backup role, Richardson carried the 'Bama offense last season. He rushed for 1,679 yards and 21 touchdowns and averaged 5.9 yards a carry.
"He has lateral agility like very few guys in the 230-pound range," said ESPN analyst Todd McShay. "You give him a crease, and he can take it. He can go. He also is catching the ball I think naturally. He can make double moves in the open field and make things happen as a receiver after the catch. He's improved in pass protection."
"I think he can come in and become a huge difference-maker in a league right now that is trending away from the running back position," McShay said.
Richardson says his tough-guy attitude was a perfect fit for the atmosphere created by 'Bama coach Nick Saban.
"If you come in without mental toughness, Coach Saban will make sure you have it," he said. "When it comes down to it, you have to have a mental toughness just to play at Alabama. If you're weak-minded, I don't think you'll last out there."
The next three backs in the draft all are close and are likely second-round picks. Virginia Tech's David Wilson and Miami's Lamar Miller have more speed than Boise State's Doug Martin, who has great versatility.
Oregon's LaMichael James was dominant as the change-of-pace threat in the Ducks' wide-open offense. He produced 5,082 yards and 52 touchdowns in three years. He's too small (5-8, 194) to carry a full-time load but some team will envision him in a home-run-hitter role. Cincinnati's Isaiah Pead and San Diego State's Ronnie Hillman also are change-of-pace, speedier backs.
End of series