Missouri Football: Sheldon Richardson Declares for the NFL Draft

Ryan Bothmann@tripleCfanSenior Analyst IIDecember 1, 2012

COLUMBIA , MO - SEPTEMBER 8: Sheldon Richardson #34 of the Missouri Tigers leads his team onto the field before their game against the Georgia Bulldogs at Memorial Stadium on September 8, 2012 in Columbia, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Many people have speculated that Missouri junior Sheldon Richardson would forgo his senior year and head to the NFL. On Friday, those speculations were confirmed as Richardson officially declared for the NFL draft.

In a statement released on Friday, Richardson said, "This has been my dream ever since I was a little kid. It’s still not easy leaving Mizzou like this, but I know I’m ready. I really appreciate all of the support I got here at Mizzou, and I know that they will help me and my family with this next step. I’ll always be a Tiger."

Richardson led the SEC in defensive tackles this season with 75 and also recorded 10.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, three forced fumbles and a blocked field goal.

Richardson is a projected mid-first-round pick and is the No. 2 defensive tackle in the draft, behind only Star Lotulelei of Utah.

Over the past few seasons during the Gary Pinkel era at Missouri, many Tigers have had success in the NFL, especially on the defensive side of the football.

The biggest Missouri success story has been San Francisco 49ers defensive lineman Aldon Smith, who currently leads the NFL with 16.5 sacks on the season. Other Missouri defensive players who have been very good in the NFL include safety William Moore and linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, who are both playing for the Atlanta Falcons, and defensive tackle Ziggy Hood, who is playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers. 

Richardson was frequently a focal point at Missouri this season, although most of the time it was for his over-the-top comments to the media. Richardson said at the beginning of the year that he thought Georgia's football team played "old-man football."

He also made it known that he thought Missouri was the best team in the SEC, saying, "If we execute, nobody in this league can touch us. Period."

Richardson missed the team's final home game of the season against Syracuse because of missing classes and refusing to do the punishment for missing those classes.

Although Richardson was controversial at times in his Missouri career, he produced on the field, turning more and more heads by the end of the season.

On Tuesday, before Richardson's decision was announced, head coach Gary Pinkel said, "If I was a betting man, I would suggest he's going to go. I think he'll be projected as a first-round pick. Generally, I always treat those players as my kids. If he's projected to be a first-round pick, I encourage him to go if they think they're ready. It's irresponsible for me not to do that."

Richardson may have had a little too much to say off the field at Missouri, but his performance on the field will certainly be missed next season. He brought an intense and physical nature to the game that the Tigers needed to compete in the SEC.

Sheldon Richardson proved that he was one of the top players in the nation this season and will hopefully have a long and successful NFL career.