Disrespected by a legend in the morning, then drafted a spot ahead of projections at night, the always-smiling former Alabama running back lived his dream.
The Cleveland Browns traded up a spot to take Richardson third in Thursday night’s NFL Draft in Radio City Music Hall. Speculated maneuvering led the Browns to trade up from fourth to third, making Richardson the highest drafted running back since Reggie Bush went second in 2006.
He was one of four Alabama players drafted in the first round. Linebacker Courtney Upshaw was invited to New York but never heard his name called in the Radio City green room.
Richardson was “very surprised” Cleveland made the preemptive trade to keep others from snatching him up.
“When they did that, I was like, they really want me,” Richardson said. “They weren’t letting me slip out of their hands.”
Browns coach Pat Shurmur will likely need his top pick right away. Cleveland had the fifth-worst rushing offense in the NFL last season with a 4-12 record.
“He’s passionate. He’s productive. He’s durable and he’s the kind of runner we feel is going to help us get our offense together to score the points that we need to win the games that we’re going to win,” Shurmur said. “He’s a terrific runner.”
Alabama teammate Mark Barron also went in the top 10. Tampa Bay made the somewhat surprising move selecting the safety seventh before cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick was chosen 17th by Cincinnati.
But the headlines belonged to Richardson. Only they weren’t all positive.
At least one former Cleveland alum didn’t love the Pensacola product. Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown took a shot at Richardson on ESPN radio’s Scott Van Pelt Show. He called Richardson’s size, speed and moves “ordinary.”
Richardson heard all about the comments.
“Motivation,” he called it. “If he says I’m an ordinary running back, I’ve got a lot to prove. If he’s saying that, that’s big shoes to fill.”
Alabama coach Nick Saban attended the draft with the five Tide players invited to the first round. He wasn’t surprised Cleveland took the initiative to grab Richardson early.
“I think the rumor was Tampa Bay was trying to move up to three and they were really interested in him,” said Saban, who was an assistant with the Browns for four seasons in the 1990s.
Before the cameras went live, Richardson walked the red carpet outside Radio City Music Hall. He described his emotion as “anxious” 90 minutes before the first pick.
“I’m not nervous, there’s just a lot of energy,” Richardson said. “Being with coach Saban, he makes you stay focused the whole time.”
Another Hall of Fame running back walked the red carpet just ahead of Richardson. Barry Sanders sees big things for the Doak Walker Award winner.
“What I see is another guy who carries his weight very well,” Sanders said. “He’s not very tall, but put together extremely well. He runs fast. I see a guy who kinda reminds me of Maurice Jones Drew. He runs, for a guy who might be considered smaller, he runs extremely well inside the tackles. He breaks tackles, built very low to the ground.”
I see him definitely fitting in well to someone’s running game.”
Alabama’s now produced 11 first-round picks in the last four drafts — eight in the past two. Only once before had the Tide sent first-rounders to four straight years, 1978-81 when a total of six were selected.
Richardson also followed the trend of those who left school early for the NFL. All six juniors who made that call, including Kirkpatrick, in the past four years went in the first round.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.