Over the past few years, the National Football League has completely evolved into an aerial driven ball game. This transformation has elevated the significance of players who can disrupt the opposing signal callers to brand new heights. In the case of 6’2, 294 pound Sheldon Richardson, this revelation holds completely true, as his ability to disrupt the quarterback has left NFL scouts drooling all over their notepads.
Richardson made his initial splash on the radar of national scouts in his career at Gateway Tech High School in Missouri. He spent extended time at tight end, snatching an astonishing eight touchdowns in his senior year, before fully discovering his ability at defensive tackle. Sheldon Richardson stole the show in Missouri, as scouts had not seen this kind of athletic specimen emerge from the ranks of high school in quite some time. Before taking off on his career with the Missouri Tigers, Sheldon spent two years competing at the junior college level. After successfully undergoing off-season shoulder surgery in 2011, he was finally able to embark on his journey with Mizzou.
From a physical standpoint, you are extremely hard pressed to find a more natural athlete at the defensive tackle position in the entire collegiate ranks. Richardson possesses an abundance of untouchable traits, which allowed him to dominate the competition in the hotly contested Southeastern Conference. The most undeniable aspect of his entire game is his persistent motor. The St. Louis native exhibited a true sideline to sideline game, which demonstrated him frequently hunting down running backs, and flying to the receiver to interfere with screen passes. On top of his nonstop motor, Sheldon Richardson has a dynamite first step, allowing him to have the upper hand against the offensive linemen from the inception of the play. Recently at the Missouri pro day, a highly regarded scout compared his lateral movement, and change of direction to “a running back.” Hands down, Richardson contains dynamic ability that thrusts him in the conversation as one of the most gifted athletes in the entire draft, period.
Sheldon Richardson demonstrates an uncanny level of aggression in the defending the run. From the snap off the ball, Sheldon explodes up into the line of scrimmage, and actively fights to disengage from the block. He works extremely hard to get up field, thus he has been known to be caught out of position on occasion, and teams love to set up middle screens to counteract his destructive style of game. Richardson is a phenomenal tackler, as he absolutely punishes the ball carrier on contact, and uses his long wingspan to force fumbles at timely phases in the game. One of the glaring weaknesses in Richardson’s game is the erratic level of his pads. In numerous situations on the field, Sheldon displayed a tendency to explode up high into the offensive lineman, leaving him vulnerable to be driven back and controlled throughout the duration of the play. He has an occasional habit of dipping his shoulder into the opposition, instead of using his hands to dictate the direction of the play. When Richardson uses his hands effectively, he causes all sorts of problem for the offensive line, as his unbelievable tools allow him to take over the field.
One of the most jaw-dropping aspects of Richardson’s game is his ability to disrupt the passer. He possesses a core of natural moves, including a bull-rush, and a lethal swim maneuver. Sheldon uses his first step to wreak havoc on the lineman, and seamlessly disengages from them with his elite quickness. He has the very unique quality of being able to collapse the pocket, forcing the quarterback to restart his feet, and often roll-out to be able to deliver the ball down the field. Upon reaching the signal caller, there is not a sign of hesitation displayed, as he very willingly will lay a massive hit to set the tone. On a very erratic defense, Richardson was easily the most consistent player, and his ability to rush the passer was completely unmatched by his teammates. Although he doesn’t have the sack numbers to attest to this notion, Sheldon spent an enormous amount of time in the backfield, where he caused all sorts of headaches for offensive coordinators.
Due to the unmatched physical tools of Sheldon Richardson, scouts have hotly debated the best fit for the Missouri product transitioning to play in the National Football League. The film unfortunately does not make this assessment any easier, as defensive coordinator Dave Steckel implemented a vast number of schemes that highlighted Richardson all over the field. Sheldon may be rushing from the traditional three technique spot on one play, and on the next, he may be hovering behind the defensive line and dropping effortlessly into space. In reality, with proper coaching, Sheldon Richardson will be able to have a fantastic career regardless of being utilized as the three or five technique. In order to best suit his skill-set immediately, he should be operating as the three technique in the traditional 43 defense. His natural athleticism will continue to cause massive trouble for opposing guards, and will allow him to sift past them with his arsenal of pass-rushing moves. Until Richardson demonstrates better control of his pad-level and anchor ability, it simply doesn’t make sense to remove him from his natural ability to penetrate in the three-technique role.
PROJECTED DRAFT POSITION
Tennessee Titans (1.10)
Carolina Panthers (1.14)
St. Louis Rams (1.16)
Dallas Cowboys (1.18)
Scouting report by Kristian D’Ignazio of Pro Football Central | @kdignazio |