+Lots of potential
+Plays to the end of the whistle
-Could add strength
-No strength in the lower body
-Needs to clean up hands usage
-Doesn’t get great leverage
-I don’t think I’ve ever seen a form tackle from him
-Doesn’t relish physical play
-Some stamina problems
Missouri’s Sheldon Richardson probably has the highest ceiling of any defensive tackle in this draft class. But he also has among the lowest floors, with lots of holes in his game and mediocre feel overall. But I’d still use a first round pick on him.
Richardson has incredible measurables. He has solid height at 6’3, mediocre bulk at 294lbs, and above average speed with a 5.02 40 yard dash (he’s faster on film). What really stands out is his incredible length. His arms were measured at 34 1/2 at the combine, good for fifth among interior defensive linemen, and, despite that length, he did an impressive 30 bench reps at the combine. That’s pretty incredible, because guys with long arms have to lift that bar up even further, but it didn’t matter for Richardson.
Richardson has good stats. In 2013, he had 75 tackles, 10.5 TFL’s, and 4 sacks in 11 games. 75 tackles in 11 games is ridiculous for a defensive tackle, but it’s a bit misleading in Richardson’s case, because he gets a fair amount of garbage tackles (more on that later). Still, his stats are impressive.
Richardson is a net average against the run, but he has the potential to be very good. The most maddening aspect of his game against the run is that he seems to hate form tackles, usually opting to dive at a guys legs rather than using his long arms to wrap up and bring down the ball carrier. As a result, he yields tons of yards after contact and misses tackles. On the bright side, he’s probably the rangiest 3 technique I’ve ever seen, and he knows how to sniff out screens. His instincts are very inconsistent but overall he has decent on field awareness. He has a lot of work to do from a technique perspective. He doesn’t have a variety of ways to create penetration against the run, and his strength isn’t always apparent on film. He plays very high with his feet in a position where his cleats create almost no friction between his feet and the ground to the point it looks like he is on roller skates. He doesn’t get good leverage and he doesn’t know how to use his hands against the run. If he cleaned up his fundamentals from a hand usage perspective, he’d have the potential to dominate given his length advantage over everyone who blocks him. What’s really troubling, though, is that he doesn’t have much strength on film. However, he really knows how to disengage from blocks and has awesome athleticism in pursuit, which gives him some value, but he’s never been much of a TFL guy.
Richardson is solid against the pass, and his potential is unlimited here. His quickness off the ball is off the charts, and, given his length, whenever he uses a pass rush move, some amazing things happen. What’s frustrating is that he doesn’t try to use pass rush moves such as the swim move often enough. His arms are incredibly long and he knows how to use them to keep linemen from really even touching him. That being said, he doesn’t do a good job of using his length to control the arms of offensive linemen and get them off balance, or at least he doesn’t do it consistently enough, not that he doesn’t flash the ability to do so (see: his sack against South Carolina. Why doesn’t he do that more?). However, he flashes unlimited quickness gives him the potential to be the next Geno Atkins, at least if he got better leverage (see: pressure Connor Shaw in the first quarter of that game). He could get better leverage, and he’s very inconsistent in this area.
Character isn’t something easy to evaluate from my perspective, since I’ve never actually met Richardson, but I can give some information. If you watch his film, in most games, he consistently plays to the end of the whistle. He gets more tackles downfield on wide receivers who have made catches past the line of scrimmage than any other lineman I have ever seen simply because his speed is ridiculous and he never stops running. That being said, many of these tackles aren’t that useful. Often, a receiver may make a catch on a crossing route or some other short route, and the receiver will be surrounded by defenders, but, in the time it takes the receiver to create some yards after the catch, Richardson arrives and makes some sort of nearly meaningless assisted tackle, even though his teammates are more than capable without him. Normally, you love the effort, but the problem is that Richardson, like basically all interior linemen, doesn’t have the stamina to play like that all the time. He doesn’t pace himself. As a result, he’ll be all over the field for one drive and disappear the next. By his own fault, he gets pretty winded. This sometimes makes him a remarkably inconsistent player. Also regarding his character, although he always plays to the end of the whistle, he doesn’t really relish physical play. He himself has compared the SEC to “old man football.” I would expect those comments from a wide receiver, but, as a defensive tackle, you need to love physical play. You can’t be a finesse player in the trenches. But Richardson tries to be, relying on quickness as opposed to strength and avoiding contact when making tackles. I swear, he never even attempts form tackles. It’s pretty frustrating.
Richardson is an interesting prospect. He’s got lots of tools, but his inconsistency is frustrating and it’s hard to accept his lack of strength on film. Still, his quickness is tantalizing and you’ve got to love the potential.
NFL Comparison: Henry Melton. Melton had a strange career path, coming out of college as a 270lbs defensive end but then bulking up and moving to defensive tackle, where he has been solid. Given his size, length, quickness, and his tendency to disappear, there is a lot of resemblance here.
Grade: 93 (worthy of a late to mid first round pick)
Projection: 95 (will be a mid first round pick)