First Round: 13th Pick
Once a 5-star recruit forced to go the Junior College route, Sheldon Richardson was finally able to make the impact this season that many envisioned.
Missouri may have stumbled through their first year in the Southeastern Conference, but Richardson elevated his game amidst the rise in competition. Blessed with a rare combination of size and natural athleticism, the sky is the limit.
|+ Extraordinary athlete for his size||- Does not anchor very well, can be washed out vs. the run|
|+ Great motor, plays to the whistle||- Maturity will have to be closely examined|
|+ Versatile, capable of handling several roles||- Inconsistent leverage|
|+ Makes plays all over the field|
When considering the physical freaks in this class, one must pay homage to Sheldon Richardson. Listed at 6’4” and 295 pounds, he is a powerfully built, barrel-chested athlete that would look at home on any NFL defensive line.
If you watched the Tigers this past season, it was not uncommon to see No. 34 chasing the ball 20 or 30 yards downfield. You may have had to check your eyes on a few occasions, but it became very evident that Richardson is a premium athlete. Coaches and scouts alike will undoubtedly be enamored by his combination of speed and power.
Additionally, he changes direction incredibly well for his size. In fact, Missouri used Richardson in a stand-up role at times, occasionally requiring him to drop into coverage. At nearly 300 lbs, he handled this job admirably, displaying surprising fluidity in space.
Sheldon Richardson’s short time in Columbia was not without incident. Suspended in November for violating team rules, he missed a crucial matchup with Syracuse that had major bowl implications. That case apparently stemmed from multiple missed classes.
Earlier in the season in September, he spoke out against upcoming SEC opponent, Georgia. Richardson publicly remarked that the Bulldogs played “old man” football. While this kind of talk can occasionally serve to motivate teammates, it also could have helped fire up one of the nation’s biggest, most physical teams.
If his on-field play is any indicator, however, Richardson is a hard worker with a fairly high football IQ. Interviews will be of tremendous importance for teams in determining his final draft grade.
During his time at Missouri, Sheldon Richardson played a variety of positions in different schemes. In 2012, the Tigers primarily operated out of a base 4-3 where he lined up inside as a 3-Technique. When Missouri shifted to a three-man front, Richardson typically moved out to defensive end.
He was not always asked to disrupt the pocket and actually demonstrated impressive versatility when dropping into coverage.
By simply considering his athletic gifts, one will deduce that Richardson has immense potential as an interior pass rusher. This past season, however, he played a bit tentatively, not always pinning his ears back to rush the passer.
When his goal is to penetrate, Sheldon Richardson uses quickness and explosiveness to beat blockers. Possessing very light feet, good change of direction, impressive closing speed and a relentless motor, he can be a terror in pursuit.
Furthermore, his versatility is an asset. At Missouri he rushed the passer from several positions, even in a stand-up role at times.
Richardson is not quite there yet, but good coaching should be able to help him harness his raw athleticism and power.
Against the Run
Evaluating Sheldon Richardson against the run comes with peaks and troughs.
First, the good: he is unlike any interior defensive lineman I have graded in regards to range. Richardson makes plays all over the field and demonstrates an impressive understanding of pursuit angles. His ability to read and react could make him an asset against the NFL’s growing zone read trend.
However, Richardson often struggles at the point of attack. Lacking true anchoring ability, he is not an overly stout defender. This is especially evident in short yardage and goal line situations. He must improve his use of leverage as he has a tendency to come out of his stance too high.
A reliable tackler that plays snap to whistle, Sheldon Richardson rarely gets lazy on the field. For the season he actually finished tied for second on his Missouri Tigers team with 75 tackles.
One reason for Richardson’s gaudy numbers is his ability to track the football and clean up all over the field. Generally speaking I found very few issues with his tackling form.
Use of Hands
Though there is room for improvement, Sheldon Richardson shows the ability to rip and shed defenders effectively. He often will look a bit tentative as he reads and anticipates, but there are flashes of violent hand usage.
As I touched on above, he needs to be more effectively use his hands to win the leverage battle. Richardson does demonstrate the capability to control blockers, but once he learns to play with better leverage he will be able to win more consistently at the point of attack.
Future Role/Scheme Versatility
Though Sheldon Richardson excelled in a number of roles at Missouri, many analysts are debating where the Tigers standout fits best at the next level.
In college he gained experience on a variety of fronts, playing any and every position over the course of his three-year career.
The most natural NFL fit, considering his quickness and athleticism, would be the 3-Tech position in a four-man front. That said, Richardson appears to be a scheme diverse player who could also fit at defensive end for a 3-4 team.
Draft Projection: Top 15, with a chance of cracking the Top 3