There's an argument to be made that Alabama's Trent Richardson shouldn't be drafted as early as he'll be drafted next week. And it's a compelling argument. In the past decade, only seven running backs have been picked in the top 10 of the NFL Draft -- and just one of them was worth it: Adrian Peterson, who went No. 7 overall in 2007.
That's the argument against Trent Richardson.
Here's the argument for Trent Richardson: He's better than Adrian Peterson.
That's my position, anyway, and I'm never wrong on this sort of thing. Well, I'm not. In my illustrious career here at CBSSports.com (shaddup), I've weighed in on exactly one top-10 draft pick. It was 2006. The pick was Vince Young. I laughed at it, said he wasn't worthy of the No. 3 pick, said a whole lot of other stuff that angered people in Tennessee and Texas. I was right, of course. I was so right, it's almost embarrassing to brag about it. Vince Young would fail? Well, duh -- who couldn't see that one coming?
Lots of folks, actually. Back in 2006.
Point being, the same sort of fervor will be spoken about Trent Richardson some day, only in the opposite direction, and I want to get out front of that as well. When he's the best running back in the NFL, don't bother saying, "Well, everyone saw that coming." No, everyone didn't. Everyone is saying he's the best running back prospect in 2012, but I'm not seeing a lot of talk that he'll be the best back in the league.
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What I'm seeing is a lot of debate about whether Trent Richardson is worth going as early as he's going to go. I've seen it on NFL.com, and I've seen it here at CBSSports.com, and that's just the start. It's everywhere, and it's a fascinating concept: In today's NFL, have running backs been so devalued by the passing explosion -- and their careers so compromised by the league's violence -- that they're no longer a value pick early in the first round?
It's a great question, but I have an even better answer:
He's worth it when he's as good as Trent Richardson.
Again, we haven't seen a guy like this since Adrian Peterson. Before him? Marshall Faulk. Then Barry Sanders. That's how far back you have to go to find three more promising running backs, pre-draft, than Trent Richardson. Along the way, of course, other guys have overachieved. Emmitt Smith, the all-time rushing leader, went 17th overall in 1990. Curtis Martin, the No. 4 all-time rusher, was a third-round pick in 1995. Chris Johnson, the only back to reach 2,000 yards in the past eight years, went 24th overall in 2008. Scouts miss on guys. It happens.
It isn't happening with Richardson, but still his value is being debated. He looks to be headed to Cleveland with the fourth pick, and if that doesn't happen the Bucs are ready to grab him at No. 5, but the debate rages on: Should he go fourth or fifth?
And I say: No -- he should go third.
Look, this is a quarterback's league, so Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III have to go No. 1 and No. 2. A franchise quarterback trumps a superstar running back every time, even this time. But an offensive tackle? No, an offensive tackle doesn't trump Trent Richardson, but that's who the Vikings -- who have Peterson at running back, of course -- are said to be taking with the third overall pick: Southern California tackle Matt Kalil.
Which would just be an enormous mistake. Whether they draft Richardson and trade Peterson, or (much more likely) trade the pick for a ransom, the Vikings should do something -- anything -- to avoid being known as the team, years from now, that used the No. 3 draft pick on a non-quarterback other than Trent Richardson.
Richardson is special, and not just on the field. He's a special young man, which has nothing to do with his ability to run for 1,500 yards but still has value in a league where public relations are vital. Richardson is unselfish enough to have taken a backseat to Mark Ingram at Alabama even though some people at the time suspected -- and now we know -- that Richardson was the better back.
A franchise would be lucky to make Trent Richardson its public face. This is a guy who lost his father and two aunts to cancer, and whose mother is a cancer survivor, so when he heard about a high school senior in nearby Hueytown, Ala., who had beaten cancer -- but didn't have a date to the prom -- Richardson took her to the prom himself.
On the field he's special in a different way. Richardson is lineman-strong in the weight room, where he benches 475 pounds and squats 600, and he uses that strength to protect the ball -- no lost fumbles in two years -- and break tackles. He's Adrian Peterson, is what he is, only short, squatter, more powerful. But just as fast. And with better hands. And a better blocker, too. Watch the third run on this video, where he's too strong for the opposing SEC defensive front, and too fast for its secondary.
He's a physical freak, is Trent Richardson, but he's a running back -- so the question is, how early should a team draft him?
And the answer is: As early as possible. It has been years since the NFL has seen a guy like this. And it'll be years before it sees another.