For the Carolina Panthers, selecting the correct prospect is an absolute must. They have been hamstrung throughout free agency due to limited cap space, and they only have five picks in the 2013 NFL Draft. With a hungry fan-base, and a rising star at quarterback, the Panthers know they cannot miss. This is why they select defensive tackle out of Missouri, Sheldon Richardson.
Richardson solves a problem that has haunted them for the last several years. He fills in the center of their defensive line, but Richardson brings more to the NFL than just interior presence. He is as much a threat to the quarterback as any of the pass rushing defensive ends in this year’s draft. He is a complete package.
Weighing just shy of 300 pounds, Richardson stands a shade over 6-2 and is quick for his size. He ran a 5.02 at the NFL Combine, but shaved it down to a 4.72 (the best of his runs). He is extremely athletic and he tries to exploit this against stronger offensive lineman. He is skilled at slimming himself and sliding between linemen to get into the backfield where he causes all sorts of chaos, or can chase a play down from behind.
Against the run, Richardson has great awareness and is sharp when it comes to run recognition. He gets off of his blocks quickly and does not give up on plays, often making tackles at the sidelines, or turning up-field and making tackles at the second level. A testament to this persistence is the fact that he led the Tigers defense in tackles last season, a feat almost unbelievable considering he played from the interior of the defensive line.
Possible complaints about Richardson would include his height. It is a small thing, but as an interior lineman he will be facing much larger opponents on a regular basis. Another issue, this one more severe, is his tendency to give up his leverage when he does not beat his opponent with his initial burst. In those situations he stands up tall, allowing the offensive lineman to gain leverage and control. Still, he is often able to break free of those battles to make tackles as the play continues up the field.
Having played in the SEC, Richardson played against the most NFL-like team in college football. The game was a route for the Alabama Crimson Tide, but Richardson could hold his head high when it ended. He played sideline to sideline and was the one bright spot on a defense that was on the field way too often. The way he played in this game gives scouts an idea of what he could accomplish in the NFL, and Carolina’s defense will take on a completely new feel with him attacking from the middle.
By adding Richardson to their roster, the Panthers solidify a front seven that had only one glaring weakness. Bringing in Richardson to address that issue gives Carolina one of the most athletic and versatile fronts in the league. If they are able to select a starting corner (or two) in later rounds, the Panthers could have one of the best defenses in the entire NFL.