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Rookie Review: Jets' Sheldon Richardson

12/9/2013
AP Photo/John Bazemore

Heading into Week 15, the New York Jets are currently ranked 11th overall in total defense but hold the 29th ranking in total offense ahead of Dallas, Tampa Bay and Jacksonville (and Dallas plays the Bears on "Monday Night Football"). It’s not hard to figure out the disparity between the two units.

First, head coach Rex Ryan holds a defensive background leading from his days as the defensive coordinator in Baltimore. Looking back at the Jets' drafts since Ryan took the reins in January 2009, New York has used five of its six total first-round picks, including five straight, on the defensive side of the ball. QB Mark Sanchez has been the lone offensive player drafted by the Jets in the first round since Ryan's first draft in 2009.

Recently, the Jets have had a heavy focus on the defensive front line. In fact, they have used a first-round pick on a defensive lineman in three consecutive drafts. In 2011, they selected DT Muhammad Wilkerson (Temple) with the 30th overall pick while also selecting DT Kenrick Ellis (Hampton) in the third round. A year later, the Jets selected Quinton Coples (North Carolina) with the 16th overall pick.

This past April, Ryan and first-year general manager John Idzik -- who replaced Mike Tannenbaum after seven seasons -- elected to continue to address defense with both of their first-round picks. With the ninth spot they selected Alabama CB Dee Milliner while using the second first-round pick (from Tampa Bay in the Darrelle Revis trade) on Missouri DT Sheldon Richardson with the 13th overall pick.

Milliner has had his share of ups and downs this year. This shouldn’t be a huge surprise as the cornerback position is one of the toughest transitions to make from the collegiate level with the rules in the NFL tilted heavily in the offense's favor.

On the flip side, Richardson has brought a strong return. He has appeared in 13 games with 12 starts and has 66 tackles, 3.5 sacks and one forced fumble.

Coming out of Missouri, Richardson was one of one the most disruptive one-gap defensive tackles in the 2013 class. At 6-foot-3, 294 pounds, he possessed above-average quickness both with his hands and feet, and flashed exceptional lateral agility and overall range on tape. He was at his best on the move, where he used his athleticism and ability to redirect in space to disrupt.

While Richardson was highly disruptive with his quickness, he lacked an elite anchor and had some issues in a phone booth or anchoring against double-teams. For this reason, some questioned Richardson’s fit with New York’s base 3-4 front. However, Ryan’s scheme is more of a hybrid front switching between three and four down linemen looks and Richardson has quickly developed into a versatile piece of the puzzle.

As a run defender, while Richardson can get caught with too high of pad level and driven off the line of scrimmage, he also has flashed the ability to create penetration and disrupt in the opponent's backfield. Where he has been able to provide his biggest impact is as a pass-rusher. Richardson is using his quickness well and has been an effective counterpuncher once initially engaged. He also shows a quick closing burst to get home to the quarterback.

Richardson looks to have a bright future and, combined with Wilkerson, who is playing at a dominant level right now, the Jets have to be excited about the talented young defensive tackle duo for the future. Moving forward, Ryan and Idzik will likely look to address the offensive side of the ball, where they have plenty of needs to address -- including upgrading their skill positions to provide their young rookie QB Geno Smith with more weapons.