The New York Jets have used at least one first-round draft pick on a defensive lineman each of the last three seasons. Rex Ryan wants to dominate the line of scrimmage and make life difficult for opposing quarterbacks.
2011 top pick Muhammad Wilkerson has already emerged as one of the best young defensive linemen in the NFL, and the Jets have sky-high expectations for their 2012 top pick, Quinton Coples, as well.
This year, the Jets drafted the young man pictured above, 22-year-old Sheldon Richardson, to form the proverbial third head of the three-headed attack that will likely be the focal point of Ryan’s defense this season.
Nicknamed the “Boss Hogg,” Richardson brings even more versatility to the Jets’ defensive front. If the rookie can quickly develop the way the Jets believe he’s capable of, it’ll allow guys like Coples to roam all over the field.
Richardson knows that it won’t be easy to learn the defensive scheme and contribute right away as a rookie. The Jets know he’s capable of being a force to be reckoned with, and they want to take advantage of his versatility.
“[The coaches] put me at a new position,” Richardson said after his first day of OTAs. “They’re putting me in at a lot more nose [tackle]. They moved me over from the three [technique]. It’s a slow pace for me, but I’m getting it.”
The rookie understands that there’s a lot expected of him. The more he’s able to do, the better chance he has of earning playing time on a deep defensive line unit that includes nose tackles Kenrick Ellis and Antonio Garay.
“It’s a lot more responsibility,” Richardson said of his multiple roles on defense. “I just have to make sure to contain and get outside. There’s a lot of people to work through. For right now, I’m getting kind of good at it.”
He had an excellent showing in rookie mini-camp, and during the first week of OTAs, he was finding some success being disruptive against the first-team offensive line, pressuring the quarterback on a few occasions.
The Jets will live with those growing pains in training camp as long as Sheldon Richardson keeps developing the way Rex Ryan expects him to. His athleticism and pass rush skills made him a perfect draft target for the Jets.
“I don’t label myself as one type of defensive tackle,” he said after draft day. “I’m versatile, and that’s why I think they pulled the trigger on me. They figured that they could find a place for me to play and be productive.”
In his second season, Wilkerson played at an All-Pro caliber level. Coples is expected to take a major leap forward in his second year as well. The Jets would love to see Richardson make a major impact in year one.
That’s up to the Boss Hogg himself. Garay and Ellis will be hungry for playing time, too. The better Richardson performs in training camp, the better his chances are of earning a big role on defense when the games count.
The Jets will give Richardson every opportunity to compete and earn his snaps. If big #91 takes advantage of that, he could be one of the breakout players in training camp. It’s definitely going to be worth keeping an eye on.
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