Following in the footsteps of a teammate who played on a national championship team and won the Heisman Trophy isn't a bad path to the NFL.
Trent Richardson, whose star ascended last season after sharing time with Mark Ingram for two seasons at Alabama, has taken the high road to a prime spot in next week's draft.
Richardson is the top-rated running back and one of a handful of blue-chip prospects in the draft. The speed, power and blocking ability he showed in his career at Alabama makes him a certain top 10 pick
Richardson could go as high as fourth overall to the Browns, who need a runner to take pressure off quarterback Colt McCoy, whose development has been slower than expected.
In that regard, he'll beat out Ingram, his former backfield partner at Alabama. Ingram won the Heisman Trophy in 2010, returned to school in 2011 and was drafted 28th overall last year by the New Orleans Saints.
Richardson isn't shy about predicting what impact he will have on a team.
"When it comes down to it, I'll be the dude that's on the field and getting the ball on 3rd-and-3 or 4th-and-1," he said at the NFL Scouting Combine earlier this year.
"I love to block. Everybody knows I can run the ball. I've never been caught from behind, so if anyone wants to question my speed, just look at the tape.
"When it comes to playing football, any game you want to just look at it and try to find a negative."
Richardson is the only legitimate first-round prospect in this year's running back class. Doug Martin of Boise State and David Wilson of Virginia Tech are mentioned most often as the leaders of the next group.
After the top three – Richardson, Martin and Wilson – opinions are divided on the order in a group that includes Lamar Miller of Miami (Fla.), LaMichael James of Oregon, Chris Polk of Washington and Isaiah Pead of Cincinnati.
No player gives an offense an instant upgrade faster and more dramatically than a running back.
Quarterbacks make teams winners over the long haul, but a great runner provides an instant upgrade, as Lions fans have seen firsthand.
Billy Sims did it in 1980 as the first-overall pick. The Lions were 2-14 in 1979 and improved to 9-7 in Sims' rookie season.
In 1989, Barry Sanders fell into the Lions' laps with the third pick when the Packers stupidly used the second pick to take offensive tackle Tony Mandarich of Michigan State.
Sanders was a player for the ages. He played 10 seasons with the Lions before retiring on the eve of training camp in 1999.
From 1991-97, the Lions won two division titles, had three seasons with double-digit win totals and made the playoffs five times despite the lack of a front-line quality quarterback.
Richardson and Ingram alternated at Alabama, but even in Ingram's Heisman season of 2009 there were scouts who thought Richardson was the better pro prospect.
Richardson got his share of work -- 145 times for 751 yards and had eight rushing touchdowns in 2009, and 700 yards rushing and six TDs in 2010.
With Ingram gone to the pros last year, the Crimson Tide put the ball in Richardson's hands and he responded -- carrying 263 times for 1,583 yards and 20 TDs.
There is a perception that running backs have been devalued by the NFL's trend toward pass-oriented offenses. There is some evidence to support that in the draft and in recent performances in the NFL.
Ingram was the only running back drafted in the first round last season, but three were drafted in the first round in 2010 and '09 and five were taken in the first round in '08.
Last year's rushing champion was Maurice Jones-Drew, a second-round pick by Jacksonville in 2006.
Arian Foster, the 2010 rushing champ, made the Texans' roster in 2009 as an undrafted free agent.
But Chris Johnson of the Titans (2009) and Adrian Peterson of the Vikings (2008) are rushing champions who were first-round picks.
Richardson doesn't like hearing that running backs have been devalued.
"It bothers me a lot because we're getting pounded on every down," he said. "Even in practice they get to hit on us, and we can't cut 'em or they come at full speed and it just takes a toll on us.
"When it comes down to it, everyone needs a running back, and they've got to use that running back. So I'd say the value of a running back is not the same, and it's crazy to us."