We are almost at the end of our rankings of the New York Jets’ top 25 players, and Sheldon Richardson is the next player to make our list. Richardson provided the type of instant impact as a rookie that general managers dream about, winning the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Award. Not too shabby for the guy John Idzik selected with the pick he received in the Darrelle Revis trade.
Richardson recorded 78 tackles, 3.5 sacks and 1 forced fumble as a rookie, and he even chipped in two rushing touchdowns at the end of the season. However, there were quite a few misguided critics who pointed to his traditional stats and argued that Richardson wasn’t worthy of the DROY award, arguing instead for Buffalo Bills linebacker Kiko Alonso (that’s not to say Alonso wasn’t deserving of the award, he obviously was. However, the idea that Richardson wasn’t a worthy winner is absurd).
Traditional stats like tackles and sacks don’t accurately measure Richardson’s impact, particularly against the run. Richardson was an exceptionally disruptive presence for the NFL’s third ranked rush defense, made all the more impressive by his adjustment to a 3-4 scheme after playing in a 4-3 in college. According to Football Outsiders, the Jets finished first in the league in defending power run plays, first in second level yards, and third in stuff percentage. Richardson’s presence was a huge part of that dominant run defense.
The area where Richardson certainly needs to improve is as a pass rusher. The Jets frequently left him on the field in passing situations, and 3.5 sacks simply isn’t good enough for a defensive lineman who played 80% of the team’s snaps. Richardson showed flashes of the ability to be a productive pass rusher, but the consistency wasn’t there. He has the athleticism, but needs to refine his technique and develop more effective pass rush moves to take advantage of his quickness and strength.
Expectations are sky high for Richardson as he enters his second season, and he should only get better. If he can round out his game and become a complete lineman, he and Muhammad Wilkerson could be the most dominant pair of defensive linemen in the NFL. For now, his performance last season proved that he is already a high level player, and he has certainly done enough to warrant such a high ranking.
Previously: No. 25 Bilal Powell, No. 24 Kenrick Ellis, No. 23 Geno Smith, No. 22 Dawan Landry, No. 21 Jeff Cumberland, No. 20 Antonio Allen, No. 19 Quinton Coples, No. 18 Calvin Pryor, No. 17 Michael Vick, No. 16 Willie Colon, No. 15 Dee Milliner, No. 14 Calvin Pace, No. 13 Breno Giacomini, No. 12 Nick Folk, No. 11 Demario Davis, No. 10 Jeremy Kerley, No. 9 Chris Johnson, No. 8 Chris Ivory, No. 7 David Harris, No. 6 D’Brickashaw Ferguson, No. 5 Eric Decker,No. 4 Damon Harrison, No. 3 Nick Mangold