I have a confession. Back on Draftmas 2013, I panicked.
When Roger Goodell announced the Jets thirteenth selection of Sheldon Richardson, I had done almost no research on defensive line players because … well? Um, they just drafted two D-linemen in the last two first rounds of the draft!
Surely they wouldn’t go back there again?!?
Offensive linemen, receivers, outside linebackers, running backs, cornerbacks, tight ends … I knew them all. But if the last name wasn’t Lotulelei, you could have counted me out.
And as I usually do, I filmed the moment in Radio City Music Hall for posterity.
As I listened to the howls and boos through the screen of my iPhone, my worry didn’t fade. Fans didn’t seem fond of the selection and I obviously didn’t know what to think. With needs almost everywhere else on the team besides defensive line, the pick of Sheldon Richardson caused me to look for answers from anyone willing to offer them.
I sat back down at my desk on the floor of Radio City Music Hall stunned. I blurted out to the media folks on my row, “someone help me know what to think of this pick.”
“Fantastic college player … he’s an athletic freak,” Galko said evenly. “He was the number one defensive play maker on our board. He’s going to be a great fit for Rex Ryan and that defense.”
I got some more details from Galko (read his full report here) that made me feel more at ease, but I still felt like the Jets might have been wise to use that pick to bolster real areas of deficiency. My concerns began to ebb, but there was still some dubiousness. It was good to hear the enthusiasm about the pick, Eric is a guy who dedicates his time to studying the college game and how that transition to the NFL works. But with a host of unanswered question marks on the team, here’s what I wrote about the Richardson within 24 hours of the selection, leaning immediately to the practical applications:
Will the Jets play more four man fronts with a guy like Richardson? You’d think so. Will he play three downs in year one? Maybe not, but the idea of having a high motor one-gapper who can play all over the line coming off the bench on passing downs — at a minimum in 2013 — is a frightening notion. Defensive lines routinely shuttle players in and out and having a rip-roaring player like Richardson is going to suit them well. Do I still think the Jets should consider an edge rusher? Absolutely, but at the same time grabbing a player like Richardson was a value pick for a team like the Jets. I think there’s a sense of disappointment that the Jets have yet to upgrade their offense, but I see that coming today for the Jets.
Hours later, across the street at the SNY studios, Corey and I were able to interview Richardson for the podcast later that night. Richardson was affable, confident and eager to play for Rex Ryan. With a massive extended family in tow, he was almost impossible to not immediately like. We dubbed the Jets DL the ill-fated moniker of “Truck Series” (which lost by a wide margin to the more zeitgeisty Sons of Anarchy) and as camps picked up Sheldon started to adjust to the NFL by playing in multiple roles for Ryan. He honed two-gapping techniques. As he told us during training camp, he learned lots from Muhammad Wilkerson, Quinton Coples and Coach Dunbar.
Nowadays? Any concerns about Sheldon Richardson have been removed by a dominant rookie performance. The only boos from Jets fans regarding Richardson would be those if he doesn’t win the rookie of the year award.
Erik Manassy did a great job pointing out, on Jets Twit, how much the national perspective on Richardson’s season has changed in just eight months.
Ryan Alfieri wrote on The Sports Daily that Richardson deserves the honor over other players:
There were a handful of quality rookie defenders this season, including Buffalo Bills linebacker Kiko Alonso and Atlanta Falcons cornerback Marcus Trufant. They were impact players for their respective teams and deserve recognition for their play.
Richardson, however, was more than just an “impact” player—he set a new standard for 3-4 defensive end play for rookies. His teammate, Muhammad Wilkerson, is known as one of the best at stopping the run from the 3-4 defensive end position, but Richardson actually outplayed him in that area. What he has been able to do in just one season has not been matched since J.J. Watt in 2011, (who coincidentally plays the same position as Richardson).
Alfieri also includes some excellent Vines that we had to include for their sheer awesomeness.
In this play, he throws first year center Peter Konz (66) of the Falcons out of the way to get into the backfield to help stuff the ballcarrier.
First year player? Big deal! How about against a seasoned veteran who just signed a $48 million deal as a free agent with the Titans, like say Andy Levitre?
Also, here’s a nice one of him from a post we did in September of Sheldon chasing down a Patriots ballcarrier from behind after streaking through the line.
Does Sheldon Richardson deserve the award? Jets fans would say yes, but even independent observers like the NFL.com Around the League crew feel like he was a worthy candidate.
After Richardson said in December he thought he deserved to be re-drafted number one overall, one of the NFL’s toughest critics Doug Farrar wrote a glowing report that backed up the rookie’s claim on SI.com.
… the tape is where Richardson’s outstanding play really comes into focus. And as good as Lotulelei and Floyd may be throughout their careers, I’d argue that in Richardson, the Jets got the league’s best rookie in 2013, regardless of position. He’s currently SI.com’s front-runner for DROY, where he’s been most of the season.
The Jets have a history of DROY winners. Erik McMillan won it back in 1988, Hugh Douglas won it in 1995 and then Jonathan Vilma did it the last time in 2004. Richardson knows the award is out of his hands and in the end it doesn’t really matter because he is the DROY regardless of what a cabal of nebbish reporters place on paper ballots.
Asked if he would tip himself to be named the NFL’s top defensive rookie, Richardson said, “I don’t care, I am that. Even if I don’t win it, I am that. You can’t tell me anything different.”
Winning the award would be a nice feather in the cap of an 8-8 season filled with ups and downs, but the truth is that whether Richardson wins the award, the Jets and Richardson are the winners. The dynamic playmaker is going to be on this team causing chaos for the Jets for at least three more years — and hopefully far beyond that.
So, even if another name surfaces when the award is announced, we instead will take a cue from the Jets rookie. We want to be the first to congratulate Sheldon Richardson on winning the Sheldon Richardson Rookie of the Year award.
It is the only one that we can be sure actually matters.