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Breaking Down How Sheldon Richardson Fits in Rex Ryan's Defense

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Breaking Down How Sheldon Richardson Fits in Rex Ryan's Defense
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It was like any other NFL draft day for the New York Jets.

They had a first-round selection that the fans questioned and rebelled with endless boos.

This time, it was their second selection in the first round, Missouri's Sheldon Richardson, who the Jets took No. 13 overall.

Richardson is a great prospect, but the uproar was over the fact that the team may not necessarily have a clear role for the young player. He's a natural 3-technique in a 4-3 defense and a 5-technique in a 3-4 defense.

According to many, however, both of those alignments are already taken by Jets' defensive tackle Muhammad Wilkerson and defensive end Quinton Coples.

So what does it mean for Richardson? Is he essentially a redundant, or perhaps even wasteful, selection?

No.

Although Wilkerson has played the 3-technique in the past, he's not a pure player there and doesn't generate enough pass rush consistently. That's where Richardson comes into play.

One of his greatest attributes is his athleticism. He moves very well for his size, which enables him to be a threat from the 3-technique, and he's also very explosive. In combination, those traits allow his coaches to use him all over the line of scrimmage, even in coverage. He's that athletic.

Richerdson's versatility will be a big asset this season for Jets head coach Rex Ryan, who will be calling the shots on the defensive side of the ball following the departure of former defensive coordinator Mike Pettine.

Ryan will be able to move him around along with Wilkerson and Coples too. Coples is likely to primarily play the 5-technique but Wilkerson has the ability to play the 1-technique well, which creates room for Richardson at the three.

At the 3-technique, Richardson can use his explosiveness, athleticism and quickness to beat guards. He has an underrated arm-over (swim) pass rush move that he uses very well, but not frequently enough.

I've written about it before, detailing how dangerous it was against South Carolina.

If Richardson continues to develop, he could potentially become a dominant pass-rusher at the position, which is something that the Jets sorely lack at the moment. The quicker he develops, the more opportunities he'll have to contribute in other areas of the defense. Consequently, the more areas where Richardson contributes, the more dynamic the Jets' defense becomes.

It's precisely why the pick was so good.

Richardson has immense upside at the 3-technique, while also having the versatility to expand Ryan's pressure packages. With the way the league and Ryan use zone pressures, it's vital to have a player like Richardson who can drop into coverage or rush the passer.

One example of Richardson in coverage came last season against Tennessee. He was originally lined up at the 3-technique, his natural spot, but when the play began, he dropped back as part of the Tigers' eight-man coverage.

His responsibility on the play was essentially to spy on quarterback Tyler Bray while playing zone coverage in the middle of the field. Wherever Bray moved, Richardson followed.

When the running back released out of the backfield and ran a short route to Richardson's right, he picked the route up while also reading the eyes of Bray.

The play resulted in an incomplete pass downfield, but also showed Richardson's athleticism. There's simply not many 294-pound defensive linemen who can drop into coverage, let alone with the fluidity that he shows.

If Ryan is going to get his defense back to the league's best, he'll have to utilize the full talent of Richardson. That means dropping him into coverage occasionally as well as having him rush the passer. He is good at both and has the potential to become great at the latter.

The key for Ryan will be how he gets Richardson on the field alongside Wilkerson and Coples and have each rush the passer simultaneously. That seems to be the conundrum for Jets' fans right now and it's likely one that is for the coaches too.

The best way to do that is to play him at the 3-technique, Coples at the 5- and Wilkerson at the 1-technique. Many take issue with that lineup because Wilkerson is not a natural 1-technique, but he can play it well enough

The reason is because he is strong at the point of attack and plays with very good footwork. If that continues, he'll be able to play the position and give Ryan the freedom to use Richardson at the 3-techinque.

Before any exotic packages are installed that take full advantage of Richardson's talents, there has to be a situational package for him to start with on the field.

Was Richardson a good pick for the Jets?

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Despite his great talent, Richardson is still raw and developing. He needs to improve his footwork, hand use and pad level. All three are glaringly raw on tape, which is why he should be brought along only as quickly as he can improve in those areas.

Once he does, Ryan will have the opportunity to use Richardson in multiple ways, including pressure packages that instruct the defensive tackle to drop into coverage as well as using him on the same field with Wilkerson and Coples.

The key, regardless, is to get the most out of Richardson and put him in position to succeed, which is what he would be doing if he primarily played the 3-technique.

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