There's a little game played at the NFL Scouting Combine every year when the assembled prospects take a break from their running and testing to meet with the press.
It's a game of unreasonable expectations, and it begins with this tried-and-true question from the gallery: "Which current NFL [player at your position] would you compare yourself to?"
The questioner might tweak it to say "model your game after" or "share your style of play with," but the effect is the same: an endless line of 21-year-old (admittedly superb) athletes comparing themselves to Calvin Johnson or Ray Lewis or Darrelle Revis.
None of which is to demean these young NFL hopefuls. Most of them are extraordinarily talented, and there's nothing wrong with aspiring to be the best. Every receiver at the Combine should want to be the next Calvin Johnson. But if every player who thought he was the next Warren Sapp really was the next Warren Sapp, the NFL game would be taken to a whole new level.
And then you hear Trent Richardson explain why he wants to channel Adrian Peterson, and you start to understand.
In Richardson's case, it's a matter of desire. It's a burning will to make a difference on every single snap, like it seems Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings does when he's in the zone, and Richardson just might be able to back it up.
Five years ago, Oklahoma's Adrian Peterson was the consensus top running back in the draft, and a player many believed to be a special talent. He went seventh overall and might have gone higher if his amazing freshman season at OU hadn't been followed by two injury-plagued campaigns. He has since established himself as perhaps the most consistently productive running back in the NFL, and one of those rare players whose will to dominate seems to palpably surpass even his impressive talents.
Richardson is the consensus top talent at the running back position this year, and a player who has shown up in mock drafts as high as the fifth overall pick. That happens to be where the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are selecting, and some NFL pundits believe the team won't be able to pass up a potential talent like Richardson, even with the equally intriguing LeGarrette Blount also on hand.
The Bucs' actual draft strategy, of course, will remain close to the vest for decision-makers such as General Manager Mark Dominik and Head Coach Greg Schiano. Richardson said he has met with the Buccaneers since arriving in Indianapolis, but he also estimated that he has sat down with all but about five of the 32 teams. The former Alabama star may or may not end up in Tampa, but he believes whatever team drafts him is going to get an impact player.
And in his mind, the perfect model for that type of player is the Vikings' Peterson. Richardson also pointed to such backs as Ricky Williams, DeAngelo Williams and Ray Rice as the type of player he tries to emulate.
"Guys like that are complete backs," said Richardson. "Adrian Peterson's not coming off the field when it's third down or when it's fourth-and-one. They're giving him the ball, and he's got a nose for that ball. Those guys have a nose for the end zone. They've got a hunger for it. You can tell it's in them."
Richardson says he works on his game every single day, whether it's on the field or in the classroom. Scouts say he is an impressive combination of size (5-11, 225), balance, speed and that second-level burst that produces big plays. The Pensacola native thinks his Peterson-like desire will put him over the top in the NFL.
"It's the quality and the effort I'm going to bring to the game," he said. "When it comes down to it, I want to be the dude that's on the field on third-and-three, that's getting the ball on third-and-three or fourth-and-one. I'm a whole complete back, not to be cocky or anything. I work on my game every day, even if it's not doing physical stuff. I work in the classroom, learning plays, learning formations, learning the defensive line, learning what the linebackers are doing, trying to see what the safety is doing, if I can pick up my blitzes. I love to block, everybody knows I can run the ball, I've never been caught from behind. People that want to question my speed – look at the tape."
At the Combine, Richardson said he would dig up tape of his youth football tape to prove he'd never been caught from behind. The scouting report gives him credit for good-but-not-elite speed, until one considers that this is a 225-pounder with ridiculous weight-room numbers blasting down the field. As relentlessly as Richardson pounds the opposing line, he drives home the notion that he is a complete football player.
"Playing football, I can just say, 'Look at each game, any game you want to, and really just try to find a negative,'" he said. "A lot of people are trying to find a negative in your game, and there aren't too many negatives I have out there. I don't fumble. The fastest thing that can ever get you on the bench is fumbling the ball and that's one thing I do not do."
The iconic image of Peterson's first six years in the NFL is that open-field run in which he finds a defender upon him and violently shoves him away before re-accelerating into the open field. That's the sort of desire Richardson feels he shares with the established pro star. Peterson's nickname is "A.D.," rather than the expected "A.P.," and it stands for "All Day." In other words, he's bringing it on every play, and he doesn't care if you're in the way. That's how Richardson wants to play on the next level.
"I love contact. I love running the ball. I love having the ball in my hand. I love putting the team on my back when we can't throw the ball, or if it's a rainy day or something like that. I just love that pressure. You've just got to love the game to do what we do.
"That's why I'm number-one coming off the board. They say I can do everything. Catching the ball, running, blocking, breaking down defenses…when it comes down to it, at this level in this game today, you've got to be a running back that can do everything to go in the first round."