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CBSSports.com Senior NFL Columnist

Richardson will be a star, but no back is worth a top-five pick in today's NFL


During a recent conversation with a scout, I asked him about Alabama running back Trent Richardson.

"He just might be the best player in this draft," the scout said. "He will be a star."

That's the dilemma of Richardson: He is a star who plays a position that is being de-valued in the NFL, a position with a short shelf life and an abundance of players who can do the job -- even if it's not at his level.

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That, to me, makes him the toughest evaluation of any player in this draft. You can talk about Dontari Poe and his wonderful athletic ability and lack of plays made or any of the other tough evaluations, but my pick for the toughest is Richardson.

I hear all the talk leading up to the draft of how Richardson should be a high first-round pick -- even from Gregg Doyel here at CBSSports.com -- how his ability to break tackles, run with power, even show some breakaway speed, is the reason a back-needy team has to take him early in the draft.

Runners like him, they say, don't come around all that often, so he has to be a top-10 pick, right?

I beg to differ.

As far as running back rankings go, Richardson is a special player. Even though he isn't big (5-foot-9, 215 pounds) and isn't a burner (4.5 seconds in the 40), he does have that ability to break long runs, even if most of his big ones came against bad teams at Alabama.

As a player, I like him. A lot.

What I don't like is his position.

Here's why: When was the last running back to dominate and take his team to the Super Bowl? Denver's Terrell Davis in 1998? He and Emmitt Smith are the only two runners to lead the league in rushing while playing for a Super Bowl winner.

In case anybody's wondering, the NFL is entering its 15th season since 1998. The game has changed. The back's value has plummeted.

All of the top-five teams in the NFL in passing in 2011 made the playoffs. Only two of the top rushing teams did, and one of those was Denver with Tim Tebow's read-option offense that they ran out of necessity.

Maurice Jones-Drew led the NFL in rushing yards last season. The Jacksonville Jaguars were 5-11. The top five passers in yards were all in the playoffs, two of them (Eli Manning and Tom Brady) played in the Super Bowl and Manning won it.

Here's another cautionary name when talking about Richardson high: Adrian Peterson.

When Peterson came out of Oklahoma, he was considered a can't-miss runner. And he's been that and more. But now he's coming off a torn ACL. While he's a diligent worker and dedicated player, there is no guarantee he will be the same runner he was before the injury.

Richardson isn't as big as Peterson, but he possesses the same type of ability to move the chains. He will be a success.

The question is for how long? And what does it mean?

The New York Giants won a Super Bowl with the 32nd-ranked rushing attack. Three teams in the past five years (the 2008 Cardinals and the 2009 Colts were the others) have finished last in the NFL in rushing and played in the Super Bowl.

Kansas City's Jamaal Charles is another exhibit as to why you don't take Richardson. He was another back considered among the NFL's elite runners heading into 2011. Like Peterson, he tore up a knee.

I expect Richardson to step in and put up big numbers right away for the team that drafts him. He will run over, around, and through tacklers. He will be fun to watch.

But he won't be the reason a team wins a title.

It's just not that way anymore.

That's why he's this draft's dilemma.

That's why I wouldn't take him at the top of the first round, no matter how special a player he might be.

Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. He hosted his own radio show for seven years, and is the self-anointed star of CBS Sports' show, Eye on Football. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an Arizona State national title in football.

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