Sheldon Richardson was the defensive staple of the Missouri Tiger’s Football Program in 2012 and his numbers very definitively show that. Listed at 6’3″ and just shy of 300 lbs, you’d never know that he was that size watching him run down offensive backs on the field, but Richardson is in the conversation for who is the most explosive defensive player in the draft this year.
A versatile lineman, Richardson lined up at the defensive tackle position where he excelled at the 3 technique. Missouri, a team primarily operating out of the 4-3 set, gave Richardson experience at the stand up and 5 technique spots as well, when the team would utilize a 3 man front. Because of his powerful and explosive skill set, he will be a hotly sought after commodity during the draft. Richardson commented during the combine to the press that in his mind, he’s the best at any position they need him to play at.
Explosiveness has been the number one ability of Richardson’s discussed by scouts. His first step is fast, but the second and third steps are even faster. Couple that with his reported 4.7 second 40 yard dash time, his ridiculous ability to change directions, and his seemingly flawless pursuit angle selections, Richardson is nothing short of hazardous for offenses electing to go outside on the ground.
When asked what he does best on the field, Richardson answered the media saying, “Play recognition and hustle. I think I’m the only D-tackle that’s 30-40 yards down the field and guarding receivers and running backs too in routes. It didn’t happen often, but I do a little extra.”
When teams do come inside, Richardson is there again in the trench demanding all the attention that an offensive line can offer. His hands are damaging no matter if he’s rushing QB’s or shedding blocks to run down the backs. It is because of these tremendous abilities that Richardson registered 75 tackles and 4 sacks his senior year. While he has become very familiar with the 4-3 scheme and his history shows that he’s capable of improving quickly, Richardson’s flexibility makes him a very real and deadly option for those speedy 3-4 defenses at the 5 technique.
Among the few questions out there about Richardson is his maturity. Starting the season for the Tigers in 2012, in a brand new conference (the toughest in college football), with a challenge to the Georgia Bulldogs, who were already SEC proven, by firing off some unwelcome, immature, mouthy garbage can’t be an enticing trait in a player for NFL teams looking to excise problems from their own teams. Then again, there are teams out there who may consider his trash talking a positive attribute; labeling it a competitive desire. For the possible destinations of this 300 lb beast monster, the Richardson’s up-side could easily outweigh the minor maturity issues.
Typically a difficult transition, going from college to the NFL, Richardson possesses enough raw physical talent that the move should only challenge him in positive ways. The NFL should sharpen and hone him into something great — maybe prolific one day, especially given his Alma-mater’s success at producing top notch, NFL defensive line talent. Missouri, over the last 13 years, has produced top tier, NFL players in the form of Justin Smith and Alden Smith. These two defensive linemen, who unfortunately ended up playing for the 49er’s instead of the Rams, are a primary, if not the primary source of that dominant 49er’s defense. With Sheldon Richardson making his NFL debut, Missouri looks to become for defensive linemen, what Penn State once was for linebackers.
So how early and where does Richardson go in the 2013 NFL Draft? Projected as a potential first rounder; there are several teams that earned high draft picks after dismal seasons last year, that have Richardson sized holes in their defensive line. With the announcement of Utah’s Star Lotulelei’s heart condition, Richardson’s stock skyrocketed for sure. Richardson himself said he believes he is as good as anyone in his draft class. He told the media that he likes his draft stock better than everyone else’s draft stock. Once Richardson’s skills are put center stage at the combine, it is possible that he could find his way into the top 5 in the class, but will almost certainly be considered for first round.
Richardson would plug in favorably in Charlotte with the Carolina Panthers, given the hole that can be seen for miles in the middle of their defensive line, which has been plagued by health and depth issues. Carolina has to be concerned with grabbing a stud D-lineman amidst their wide receiver and corner back worries, but overall, the team has lots of needs defensively, and very little money to accomplish their goals. If the Panthers are seriously looking at Richardson, they will have to hope that the 13 teams picking before them do not pick him up early on.
The Oakland Raider’s D-line seems like a fitting location for Richardson as well, however Oakland has lots of other needs that some would say precede the DT or NT issues such as running back, with Darren McFadden and his constant sore toe/finger/ear lobe etc, and/or quarterback in the struggling Carson Palmer. Oakland’s challenges last year were numerous and the load will not lighten for the 2013 season. Richardson, however, would be a great fit by design as Oakland operates out of the 4-3 defensive scheme. There isn’t anything indicating that a shift in defensive scheme is coming, however if they did make a switch, Richardson would not have a problem keeping up. With the 3rd pick this year, Oakland has nearly their pick of the field but the question is where are they bleeding the most?
Kansas City has a football team that is immensely talented offensively with a big time receiving group, and a RB that can smoke almost any player on the field. Defensively, the Chiefs are a mess. A huge concern for them has to be finishing the season at 27th in the NFL against the run (2,171 rushing yards allowed – Saints were the worst at 2361 yards). Richardson’s skills would apply whether Andy Reid elects to stay with the 3-4 or bring a little more of Philly to KC in changing the Chiefs over to a 4-3. KC has one more problem in too many options with that number one pick in the 2013 draft, but Richardson would be a great place to start to build the defense of the future around.
Picture being in Jacksonville and ask yourself; do I invest money in my swiss cheese secondary, or mend the massive hole in the interior of the defensive line? At 30th in the league last year, the Jags donated 2,256 rushing yards and 3,832 passing yards; good enough for 22nd in the NFL. Given that the Jags hold the second pick this year, they too will have an internal battle of which option to go with. Under new ownership, Jacksonville has the second pick this year and after dealing with the drama at running back to start last year, the Jags need to be able to build and move forward if they want to make a stamp in the AFC South.
Sheldon Richardson is yet another defensive prodigy produced by a Missouri staff that in recent years, has come close to being a serious contender. A product of the dominant Southeastern Conference draft class of players hoping to find their way to the NFL, Richardson is scheduled to be highly sought after by almost all 30 NFL teams. Follow us at @ArchAuthority on twitter for all your STL news information. For complete information on the NFL combine, go to Fansided’s NFL site and catch all the information on your favorite team.