Tennessee LT Antonio Richardson is the best offensive lineman on one of the best offensive lines in the country. He’s been graded unanimously as a first-round talent despite this being one of the deepest OT classes the NFL Draft has ever seen. And through a disappointing five games for UT, Richardson has been one of the few bright spots on an otherwise mediocre offense.
Richardson can’t rest, however, because the toughest test of the season is coming to Knoxville this weekend: the Georgia Bulldogs. This will be a crucial game for Richardson, and will obviously either help or hurt his draft stock.
The Bulldogs’ defense, despite giving up more than 32.5 points per game, still has a lot of bite especially in its pass rush, and no one should ever doubt the level of talent they have due to years of superb recruiting. DE Ray Drew, OLB Jordan Jenkins and NT Garrison Smith headline a swift and violent 3-4 front, and all will be doing battle with the Volunteers along the line of scrimmage.
Richardson will get a taste of all three of the main Bulldogs defenders, as defensive coordinator Todd Grantham likes to move guys around and keep giving fresh looks. As the all-important blindside protector, Richardson will be responsible from keeping Jenkins and co. off QB Justin Worley‘s back.
Going against Drew, Richardson will face one of the more talented and versatile defensive ends in the conference. At 6-foot 5, 285 pounds, Drew has been an intriguing option against the pass with a sack and four QB hurries, but he’s looking for his breakout game.
Drew is equally dangerous stuffing the run, and has the scheme-friendly skills Grantham craves. He’s big enough to move inside on pure passing downs and fast enough to set the edge. Drew can be a nightmare to game plan for.
Unfortunately for Richardson, Drew is just one of the guys he needs to prep for. Jenkins is the best pure pass rusher on the Bulldogs’ defense, and now has five TFLs, a sack and seven QB hurries on the season. Jenkins has also been disappointed by his low sack total through four games, but no one will deny his ability to get to the quarterback.
Richardson will more than likely face Smith at some point, but mainly he’ll be faced with Jenkins and Drew.
What’s really going to be interesting is not how Richardson fares against each player one-on-one. Sure, that will be intriguing to watch and very informative, but that’s not going to help Richardson’s draft stock that much, either good or bad. Where Richardson is going to affect his draft stock is with his awareness.
Let me provide an example. Imagine this: Richardson lined up at left tackle, Drew lined up in the five with Jenkins at a seven showing signs of a blitz, and the Vols are in a five-wide with man blocking scheme.
Now what is Richardson going to do? Should the QB see this and audible the protection scheme? Of course. But remember, Worley is in his first season starting and has played a grand total of one SEC game. Richardson is the grizzled All-American veteran protecting his blindside. He probably won’t be able to rely on Worley making the right audibles and adjustments, so Richardson will have to play a key role.
These are the kinds of situations that don’t jump out on film to the casual fan, but it’s the kind of situation personnel men go over with a fine-toothed comb. These will be the situations to keep an eye out for this weekend, and how Richardson reacts to situations like these will either help or hurt his draft stock.