Defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson (6′ 4″, 295 lbs.) is not one of the flashier names that will show up on the board of the 2013 NFL Draft. Richardson, originally from St. Louis, went to College of the Sequoias, and junior college in Visalia, California, after graduating from Gateway Tech High School. Richardson was a dominant defensive lineman and tight end at Gateway Tech. He was the #4 overall player (any position) in the nation according to Rivals.com, and he was the #1 defensive tackle prospect in the country. He was also the #1 overall player in Missouri, and he originally signed with Mizzou as part of the 2009 signing class, before going the junior college route (due to academic issues). Richardson was named as a 2008 EA Sports First Team All-American after a senior season at Gateway Tech which included 88 tackles and 19 sacks, while adding seven fumble recoveries, five forced fumbles and one interception. He scored six defensive touchdowns his senior season, and added 27 receptions for 541 yards and eight touchdowns at TE. At College of the Sequoias, he put up 65 tackles, 17 0f which were for loss during his second season with the Giants.
Here are his stats with the Missouri Tigers: 112 total tackles, 6 sacks, 18.5 tackles for loss, 4 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries, and 4 passes defended in two years (24 games)
Now, I will evaluate him on these criteria: Agility, Bull Rush, Speed Rush, Run Defense, Speed/Burst, Strength, Pass Deflect, Tackle, Read and React, and Health.
Sheldon Richardson is blessed with a very quick first step that helps him penetrate his gap faster than just about anyone in this year’s draft. He wins many of his get-off battles because of that first step. He is also very quick when he slants. This can best be seen in the Alabama video at the 5:00 mark. In this play, Richardson uses his agility and extremely fast first step to get inside of the offensive tackle that is trying to block him. The tackle stands no chance and Richardson quickly gets by and sacks Alabama QB AJ McCarron before he even has a chance to read the coverage. 9.5/10.0
Richardson is very strong and has quick feet, and this helps make his bull rush pretty dang good. Richardson possesses the power to push whatever lineman he is going up against all the way back into the quarterback, which, trust me, is not something a QB wants. This causes the play to break down, the QB to scramble, and hopefully (in Richardson’s eyes, at least) a sack. This also helps him in his run defense. He can push the lineman back and make the running back juke to whatever hole suits Richardson and his defense best. Sometime his bull rush can hurt him, but I’ll get into that later. All things considered, he has a great bull rush. 9.0/10.0
As a defensive tackle, Richardson does not get use a speed rush very often. There are times when he would get the chance, as when Missouri would run what I call an “exit” stunt. (Basically: A defensive end slants inside and the defensive tackle slants outside to replace him). He rarely used that chance, however. So, this grade is based on not much tape, but it is also a very rarely used move for defensive tackles, so I understand why there is very little tape. 7.0/10.0
The main thing that I noticed when it comes to Richardson’s run defense is that it takes him a long time to read the play and realize where the running back is going most of the time. There were times when he would diagnose it in his head right away, but most of the time he would use that first step, lock on to the lineman, lockout his arms, and drive the lineman back, which is good, but he would be trying to read the play while doing that, and sometimes he would completely miss the play. Others, he would diagnose the play right away, but he needs to work on reading runs. He also has a tendency to get turned by linemen and allow them to create a hole and take him wide, which is a cardinal sin, and something that he needs to work on preventing going forward. He also can over pursue at times. 8.0/10.0
As I have said multiple times, Richardson’s burst is amazing! His first step is as quick as they get and he can beat just about any lineman off the line. His speed (4.89 sec. 40 yard dash) is pretty good and it allows him to catch up to quarterbacks who have scrambled out of the pocket on passes and running backs who are scrambling around in the backfield when he gets penetration. I like his speed a lot and I think it will help him going forward. 9.0/10.o
Sheldon Richardson is a strong man. He pushes 300+ offensive lineman back 5+ yards until they run into their own quarterback. And let me tell you, when those guys are trying to drive you down the field, it takes a ton of force and strength to move them at all, and to be able to overpower them and move them back at least 5 yards? That’s amazing. Definitely something I love about him and NFL teams will love it too. 9.5/10.0
He only knocked down four passes in two years at Missouri, so this is definitely not his strongest area. His future coaches will need to work with him on getting his hands up when he can’t get to the quarterback and knocking more passes d0wn. There is nothing better than a DT that loves to knock passes down. It’s a drive killer and a great quality. If he can get better at this, than he can become a great DT (or NT) in the NFL. 7.0/10.0
There were times in his tape that Richardson would look like he had a chance to take down a running back in the backfield only to miss the tackle and allow the RB to get a first down. Sometimes this had to do with the running back (there was one play, and I can’t remember where it is in the video, where Richardson had his hands on Alabama running back Eddie Lacy, only to have Lacy break the tackle and get a first down), and sometimes it had to do with Richardson’s form. Richardson is usually a good tackler, but no one likes to see missed tackles in the backfield. 8.5/10.0
READ AND REACT:
I mentioned this in the “Run Defense” section, and I’m basically reiterating it here. There are times when it takes Richardson too long to diagnose a play. Other times it would be fast, but he does need to improve on this in the run game. In the pass game, he reads and reacts very quickly, which makes me wonder why he is so slow on runs. 8.0/10.0
The only question that lingers about Richardson’s health is the shoulder surgery that he had before the 2012 season. It didn’t look like it really hampered him during the fall but it will be something that NFL teams monitor throughout this process. 9.0/10.0
Overall, Richardson receives a 8.45/10.00 from me. If I can see some improvement in that reading and reacting in the run game, then that number will go way up. I really like Sheldon Richardson. I can see now why he was such a huge prospect coming out of high school and I can’t wait to see him playing on Sundays. I really do believe that he will fix the issues he has and become a perennial Pro Bowl level defensive tackle. Now as to who I think will draft him? The mock drafts I have seen have him going anywhere from #10-#18 overall, and for me the teams with the best chances of picking him are the Dolphins, Steelers, or Cowboys. And, I really think the Cowboys have this one. Both the Dolphins and the Steelers are in need of defensive linemen, but I think the Steelers will focus more on a defensive end, and the Dolphins have so many needs that I just don’t see them picking Richardson, or any other defensive lineman, in the first round. Look for Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys to pick up Sheldon Richardson in the first round on April 25.
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Next, I’ll be previewing Notre Dame TE Tyler Eifert!