It may have raised a few eyebrows in NFL circles when the New York Jets selected Missouri defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft, but Rex Ryan is certainly happy to have him.
In their pre-draft evaluations, the Jets fell in love with the athleticism that the 22-year-old Richardson possesses, and the big man showed off that athleticism this past weekend at the Jets’ three-day rookie mini-camp.
Richardson, who is 6’3 and aiming for a playing weight of 284 lbs by the end of training camp, has impressed Ryan and defensive line coach Karl Dunbar so far, especially in regards to his fellow rookie teammates.
Even so, after putting on his new jersey for the first time, Richardson wasn’t getting too caught up in the moment.
“It’s way faster,” Richardson said after his first official NFL practice on Friday. “Way faster, less reps, you have to get it in and make sure your reps are perfect. So I’ve got to get my technique down.”
Richardson primarily played snaps at nose tackle and at the 3-technique in rookie mini-camp, and if all goes as planned, the rookie defensive lineman should end up earning his fair share of snaps all over the field.
“We [can] move him around,” Ryan indicated. “Some guys, depending on our call, you can have him at nose, you can have him at 3, you can have him at 5, there’s several different things you can do.”
After selecting Richardson 13th overall this year, the Jets have now spent first-round picks in three consecutive years on defensive lineman, after Muhammad Wilkerson and Quinton Coples in 2011 and 2012, respectively.
The Jets’ secondary was the primary focal point of the defense over the last few years, but now with their best defensive back gone, the trio of Wilkerson, Coples and Richardson will be asked to shoulder much of the load.
All three of them will be 23 years old or younger at the start of the season, yet Ryan and Dunbar are confident that they’ll be able to handle the pressure of being the main pieces of a revamped, younger defense in 2013.
What Wilkerson, Coples and Richardson all have in common is incredible athleticism for players of their size, which is what will enable the Jets to use them in unpredictable (and hopefully highly productive) ways.
Sometimes, Richardson and Wilkerson may line up inside and take on offensive guards, with Coples rushing off the edge. Other times, Coples will be inside and Wilkerson will be outside. There’s no shortage of possibilities.
No matter what Ryan’s got in store for Sheldon Richardson and the rest of the new-look Jets defense, it could be shaping up to be something special. One thing is for certain. It’s definitely going to be fun to watch.