Trent Richardson for the Rams?

2012-04-12T03:00:00Z 2012-04-24T10:51:41Z Trent Richardson for the Rams?BY JIM THOMAS • jthomas@post-dispatch.com > 314-340-8197 stltoday.com

Don't waste your breath talking to Jeff Fisher about the decline of the running back as the NFL evolves into more and more of a passing league. It will fall on deaf ears.

"I haven't devalued the running back position," Fisher said. "You're talking to the wrong person. I want as many of them on the roster as you can get."

So don't be shocked — or even surprised — if the Rams take Alabama running back Trent Richardson if he's available at No. 6 in the draft, on April 26.

"I think he's a very, very talented player," Fisher said. "He doesn't have a lot of wear-and-tear because it's been a one-year deal for him (as a feature back). But he's got great explosion and quickness in the hole and change of direction with the jump cut, and power, and ball security."

The Rams' coach is well aware of the argument against taking Richardson: with needs almost everywhere on the depth chart why take another running back when you have three-time Pro Bowler Steven Jackson?

"One could make the case that it may be one of those positions that you could consider passing up because of Steven's presence on roster," Fisher said.

But he also adds: "I don't think we can pass on any position at that pick because of our need." (Or lack of need.)

Although a lot of mock drafts have Richardson going to Cleveland at No. 4, it would not be that far-fetched to see him there at No.6 if the Browns take wide receiver Justin Blackmon. That's because Pat Shurmur is a pass-first coach and Mike Holmgren is a pass-first team president. Plus the Browns sent a delegation of eight on a private jet to check out Blackmon (and quarterback Brandon Weeden) at Oklahoma State's pro day.

Jackson, who has logged seven straight 1,000-yard rushing seasons, is entering his ninth NFL campaign and has two years left on his contract. Fisher said he learned years ago in evaluating Eddie George late in his career that there's a difference between a back getting tackled and getting hit. When you start absorbing hits that you shouldn't — it means you're starting to lose it.

And George lost it quickly with the Tennessee Titans.

From tape study, Fisher says Jackson's not at that stage.

"Steven's still getting tackled," Fisher said. "He's not just getting hit. And that's a difference. You lose a step, you lose the ability to avoid, and then all of a sudden the vision changes and then you start getting hit. Steven is still a very aggressive runner."

Even though Fisher later had great success running the football with 191-pound Chris Johnson, he says, "I'm kind of fond of big backs over the years. So I'm kind of excited to watch Steven practice and play in person."

Although Richardson isn't quite Jackson-sized, he definitely fits the big-back mold at 228 pounds. He didn't run at the NFL scouting combine because of minor knee surgery, but ran an impressive 4.48 in the 40 two weeks ago at his pro day.

Tough and durable, he put up big numbers last year as a feature back, and many consider him the best running back prospect since Adrian Peterson came out in 2007.

"I don't see a huge difference between he and Adrian Peterson," ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said. "Their running style is different — I don't mean it that way. But in terms of what they can provide, they have a similar grade when I went back and looked at how I graded Peterson compared to Richardson.

"(Richardson) has lateral agility like very few guys in the 230-pound range. 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.

"So there is no part of his game that I look at and don't like. 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 and more towards the passing attack and having these big wide receivers."

Even if Richardson goes in the top 5, the Rams still need a No. 2 back. They have shown at least some interest in tough-minded Doug Martin (Boise State) and scatback Isaiah Pead (Cincinnati). Speed merchants Lamar Miller (Miami, Fla.) and LaMichael James (Oregon) also could be on their radar.

If they don't take Richardson in Round 1, they might wait until Rounds 3 or 4 to address the position. If that's the case, Martin and perhaps Miller could be gone.

By then you're getting into the range of perhaps Pead, James, Bernard Pierce (Temple), or Robert Turbin (Utah State). All were highly productive last season, with James leading the nation in rushing average (150.4 yards per game), and gaining 1,805 yards.

Turbin was Western Athletic Conference player of the year with 1,517 yards rushing and a school-record 23 touchdowns. Pierce gained 1,481 yards for Temple, setting school records with 27 rushing TDs and nine 100-yard rushing games. Pead was Big East offensive player of the year after rushing for a league-leading 1,259 yards.

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