A name that’s continually made positive and negative waves in the media this season, from his “old-man football” statements about Georgia’s style of play to an end of the year suspension that held him out of Missouri’s game at Syracuse, Sheldon Richardson has decided to move on to the next level and declare for the NFL Draft. Despite being a top rated defensive recruit in the 2009 class, Richardson was unable to finish enrollment at Missouri for his freshman season due to academic ineligibility, which resulted in a two-year stint at the junior college level. Still highly regarded after his 2010 season at the College of the Sequoias, Richardson was pursued heavily by USC and Missouri, before following through with his 2007 oral commitment to Missouri.
After a so-so 2011 campaign that featured dashes of flash here and there from the talented redshirt junior, Sheldon Richardson turned into a monster in 2012 with a season to remember. While stats are only a fraction of the scouting process, the fact that Richardson nearly led his team in tackles with 75, while leading his team in TFL’s and sacks is downright remarkable. Coming into his own as an NFL prospect, Richardson combined his plus physical tools with improved technique and tremendous effort on a per-snap basis. Standing 6034, with long arms and a naturally powerful frame, Richardson more than looks the part of a 3-technique or RDE for some 4-3 teams. The Missouri DT dedicated himself before the season to taking care of his body, and in a story written by Terez Paylor from The Kansas City Star, dropped down from a 2011 playing weight of 315 pounds to a muscular 295 pounds. In Paylor’s article, Richardson claimed to have improved his bench press from 350 pounds to 400 pounds, in addition to being able to run a 4.7 40 yard dash. And while those numbers may have seemed out of proportion prior to this season, the tape of Richardson in 2012 versus SEC opponents has done nothing but further evidence this type of elite physical tools. Looking in at the football, Richardson does a great job of timing the snap count, firing off the line with low pad level and extended arms to immediately combat the opposing blocker’s hand usage. Instinctive and reactionary with his hands, Richardson combines his plus foot speed and agility with a developed repertoire of swim moves, rip moves, punch-and-pull moves, and fluid spin moves. Moreover, Richardson is able to anchor against the run, squeeze through double teams, or chase down ball carriers to the sideline, as a well-rounded defensive lineman that can be an every down impact player. The outstanding quickness and overall speed with which Richardson gets off the line of scrimmage, may even be best suited outside at a defensive end position along a 4-man front. Considering his improving body type, physical numbers, developed repertoire of rush moves and instinctually aggressive nature, Richardson’s ability to provide a threat inside or outside will ultimately place him high on many NFL draft boards. Questions regarding Sheldon Richardson’s draft stock will center on academic issues that have dogged him throughout his career at Missouri, College of the Sequoias and maybe further back into his high school days. As long as he answers those concerns through the interviewing process, I’m confident that this defensive lineman will skyrocket up draft boards come April and be one of the more productive defensive players to come out of the 2013 NFL Draft.