John Idzik was dead-set on adding athleticism and explosiveness to his roster no matter what position he was going to be at.
The Jets have used a first-round pick on a defensive lineman three years in a row, but that did not stop them from taking a defensive tackle with the draft pick they got in return for the Darrelle Revis trade.
The Jets did lose run-stuffer Mike DeVito in free agency, but he and Richardson could not be more different players. With unmatched explosiveness and quickness at the position, Richardson is a one-gap penetrator who gets into the backfield in a hurry. He had 3.5 sacks in his final season at Missouri, which is impressive from the defensive tackle position.
Rex Ryan gets himself another pass-rusher, but not at outside linebacker like most envisioned. Richardson gives the Jets unusual depth along the defensive line and should be able to make an immediate impact, but the Jets are left with almost as many needs as they had before the Revis trade.
What separates Richardson from other prospects is his quickness and athleticism. Not only is he fast off the ball, but he has great change-of-direction that is more resembling of a 250-pound linebacker than a 300-pound defensive tackle, allowing him to dominate slower-footed guards and centers.
The key for getting the most out of Richardson is to get him in a one-gap situation. The Jets run a base 3-4 defense in which the defensive lineman are typically responsible for two gaps. In other words, Richardson would be a bad fit stepping right into DeVito's old spot holding up blocks and blowing up run plays.
Sheldon Richardson: "Everybody wants a piece of Tom Brady." #nyj— Seth Walder (@SethWalderNYDN) April 26, 2013
Despite being listed as a defensive tackle, don't expect Richardson to anchor the middle of the defense as the next Kris Jenkins. He need to have more limited responsibilities and be more concerned about blowing up a comfortable pocket than holding containment in the run game.
How does one get Richardson in such situations? The easiest way is to use more four-man fronts, having Richardson inside as a classic 3-technique in the mold of Warren Sapp—which is exactly what they did with Quinton Coples in obvious passing situations last season.
In his first few weeks, expect to see Sheldon on the field only for passing downs. As he refines his technique in the run game, he will be incorporated fully into the defensive line rotations.
This does not necessarily mean the Jets are going to make the switch to a 4-3. Contrary to popular belief, defense linemen are predicated on gap assignments, not alignments. The Jets can still use their 3-4 front to get Sheldon on the field on earlier downs, but they will have to be a bit more creative in how they assign gaps.
For example, the Jets could use more of a 5-2 front, much like Wade Phillips does in Houston. The scheme looks like a 3-4 to the untrained eye because there are two standing linebackers, but the gap assignments are much different. Rex Ryan should take note of what Wade Phillips has done to get the most out of J.J. Watt, who nearly broke the sack record last year from the same position that Richardson will be playing.
However, Richardson does have his flaws in the run game. He does not play with great leverage, and at just under 300 pounds is a bit undersized for a starting defensive tackle. He needs to understand how to use his weight when anchoring and how to use his hands to get off blocks.
Richardson has rare movement skills and could be a tremendous player down the road, but he is a bit of a project and will be limited in his role early in his career. For a team with two first-round picks (and a third-round pick) starting on the defensive line, the Jets will have no problem taking Richardson's ability as a pass-rusher for the immediate future.
Richardson may not be the most popular pick because of so many other glaring needs to fill. However, if used correctly, Richardson could be a star player and, paired with Quinton Coples, could give the Jets an unmatched duo of interior rushers.