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There were 253 players selected in the 2012 NFL Draft and the 252nd player drafted, running back Daryl Richardson, has been one of the positive surprises halfway through the NFL season.
Last April's draft marked a new beginning for the St. Louis Rams.
With a plethora of draft picks, first-year head coach Jeff Fisher and the front office came away with several building blocks for the future, including a lockdown cornerback (Janoris Jenkins), a wideout averaging 25.6 yards per catch (Chris Givens), even a stud kicker (Greg Zuerlein) with a studly nickname, Greg the Leg.
But it's Richardson, the next-to-last player drafted who continues to stand out. So how did Richardson, the 21st running back taken in April, fall to the bottom of the seventh round?
"I can tell you there were more than a few groans around here when the Rams drafted him," one NFC personnel executive said. "Daryl was on our short list of potential free agents that we targeted and we had him on speed dial, but it wasn't meant to be."
Which prompted the next question: if you liked him so much, why didn't you draft him?
"I wish we would have," he responded.
At 5-10 and 192 pounds, Richardson didn't impress NFL teams with his size or minimal strength, creating doubt that he would be able to hold up at the next level – one of the reasons why he was drafted so late on draft weekend. And while workload is still a concern moving forward, Richardson's production has been steady through the first half of the season.
Eight weeks into the 2012 NFL season, four rookie running backs rank among the top 25 rushers in the league. Sixth-round pick Alfred Morris (173rd overall, Redskins) is third in the league in rushing and flourishing in Mike Shanahan's offense.
First-round picks Trent Richardson (third overall, Browns) and Doug Martin (31st overall, Buccaneers) quickly earned starting jobs and look like future Pro Bowlers.
Richardson is that fourth running back with 335 rushing yards on just 62 carries, averaging 5.4 yards per rush. He is one of only three NFL running backs with at least 50 rush attempts averaging 5.4 yards per carry or better. How good is Richardson's company right now? Frank Gore and C.J. Spiller the other two at or above the 5.4-yard average.
Richardson has only half as many carries as St. Louis starting running back Steven Jackson, but the rookie is just 68 yards behind the three-time Pro Bowler for the team lead in rushing yards.
Richardson also ranks fourth on the team in receiving: 14 catches for 99 yards. Only Trent Richardson and Martin have more receptions among rookie running backs.
The irony of Daryl Richardson's early success is that he is filling the role that many thought rookie Isaiah Pead would have for the Rams. St. Louis selected the running back out of Cincinnati in the second round and as an explosive, change-of-pace weapon, some believe Pead to be the heir apparent to Jackson. Pead was drafted 50th overall and 202 picks before Daryl Richardson. He was the Rams' fourth draft pick and the fourth overall running back selected. But through eight games, he ranks just fourth on the team in rushing with only four rush attempts.
Richardson surpassed Pead on the depth chart during the preseason and hasn't looked back, continuing to put pressure on the coaching staff to get him on the field. Perhaps the most flattering indication of Richardson's success are the rumors that St. Louis could attempt to trade Jackson, although Fisher and the Rams have denied that they are shopping the nine-year veteran.
Richardson, who was given a sixth- to seventh-round draft grade by NFLDraftScout.com, is an explosive athlete with the speed and acceleration to create with the ball in his hands. Although a sketchy background and lack of size gave NFL teams a cause for concern.
"He tested well and was productive in college," said a different NFC scout. "But I think his 190-pound frame and lack of body strength scared people away."
Richardson also battled numerous injuries in college, including a knee issue in 2010.
A native of Jacksonville, Fla., and the younger sibling of Cincinnati Bengals backup running back Bernard Scott, Daryl Richardson took a similar path to the NFL. Struggling with academics and other issues out of high school, Richardson enrolled at Cisco Junior College (Texas) before transferring to Division II Abilene Christian, replacing Scott as the Wildcats' starting running back. He finished his three-year career at ACU with 2,303 rushing yards and 38 total touchdowns.
Although he has yet to find the end zone yet as a professional, Richardson is showing promising ability with more rushing yards than other high-profile rookie runners David Wilson, LaMichael James and Lamar Miller combined.