Below is FRG’s current ranking of the top defensive tackle prospects in the 2013 NFL Draft:
1) Sheldon Richardson, Missouri
2) Star Lotulelei, Utah
3) Sylvester Williams, UNC
4) Sharrif Floyd, Florida
If you’ve been following the 2012 college football season, and the emerging prospects for the 2013 NFL Draft, then you know that the defensive side of the ball is going to produce a lot of high draft picks. NFL teams in need of immediate pass rushing help will find it early in round 1, as several DEs and OLBs are likely to be selected in the top-15. But the elite defensive prospects aren’t limited to sack artists. Several defensive tackles won’t have to wait long to hear their names called, with Star Lotulelei (Utah) and Johnathan Hankins (Ohio State) being the most well-known players at the position. And while Lotulelei and Hankins both offer top-tier skill-sets that project favorably for their chances to be immediate impact players in the NFL, Sheldon Richardson (DT, Missouri) could end up being the best pro of the three.
Sheldon Richardson isn’t a new name for talent evaluators. He was one of the top high school recruits in the nation (ranked 4th overall by Rivals.com) but was forced to play two years of JUCO ball before transferring to the University of Missouri. Richardson was rated the 3rd best JUCO prospect prior to transferring to Missouri, and his play for the Tigers has confirmed all the positive scouting reports written about the 6’3, 295 lb player.
FRG took a long look at Richardson’s tape, and the following is our outlook for this promising 3-technique prospect.
Sheldon Richardson presents as a somewhat undersized DT, but it’s not a negative in his report. At an estimated 6’3, 295lbs, he isn’t the biggest prospect for the position. Richardson hits the minimum measurables that an NFL team will want from a 3-technique DT, as the general range of prospects for the position can be anywhere from 295lbs-320lbs. Obviously, the lighter the player, the quicker and more athletic you’d like him to be. And as noted below, Richardson is off the charts in that department.
Schematically, Richardson projects as an ideal 3-technique in a 43. He will not be a prospect for teams that run the 34, as he isn’t big or strong enough to fit the requirements of the bigger, stronger defensive tackles in that front. And while that will limit the potential landing spots for Richardson, I don’t think it will hurt his Draft stock all that much.
Richardson doesn’t present as a sloppy 295lb player. He carries his weight well, and his conditioning is solid. He’s a little light in the butt, which raises a red flag as to whether he will consistently be able to anchor down against bigger, stronger NFL linemen. That said, there’s nothing on the tape that suggests he can’t.
STRENGTH and LEVERAGE
Sheldon Richardson is plenty strong enough. He’s not an elite player in this category (like, say, Star Lotulelei), but he presents as a player that will be able to compete and battle on a down-to-down basis. Richardson fires off the ball with good leverage, and combined with his plus athleticism and adequate strength, he’s able to gain the power position on opposing linemen and drive the bus. That’s not to say that Richardson isn’t without warts in this department. If he doesn’t beat the opposing lineman off the snap, he can get tied up a bit and has been on the wrong end of some pancake blocks a few times. Richardson may struggle early in his NFL career because of how much faster (and stronger) NFL linemen are; he’s likely to get tied up a bit more often than he did in his collegiate career.
ABILITY TO DISENGAGE and MAKE PLAYS
Sheldon Richardson presents as a player that uses his hands well to fend off opposing linemen. He’s quick and violent, and can slide down the line of scrimmage and make a play in pursuit. He sheds blockers well, but his real plus trait is his ability to get small and not give opposing linemen a clean, clear target to get their hands on. He dips his shoulder well at the point of attack, and uses plus leverage and momentum to push and pull blockers off of him. As stated in the STRENGTH and LEVERAGE section, there are times when he can get tied up a bit. If a lineman can get a clean shot on him or get in the power position on his chest plate, Richardson will struggle. But he has a great arsenal of moves to prevent linemen from gaining that power stronghold.
Richardson is the best playmaker from the DT position for the 2013 NFL Draft. Once he frees himself from the opposing lineman, he pursues the ball carrier well and/or puts relentless pressure on the QB. He runs like a LB at times and consistently finds himself around the ball. Time after time, Richardson’s film flashes his elite play-making potential as a 3-technique in the NFL.
Richardson displays as a player that can get through trash and has good lateral agility to slide down the LOS and make a play. He keeps his balance well, shows good reaction time, and has plus change of direction ability.
COLLAPSE THE POCKET
Sheldon Richardson is an absolute terror in the backfield. He is lightning quick off the snap, and as a result, he is consistently disrupting a play’s natural
design. His first-step and athleticism for a man his size is hard to find. He forces RBs to cut away from the play’s running lane vs. the rush, and he collapses the pocket into the QB’s face vs. the pass. The quickest of NFL OGs will struggle to keep up with Richardson’s first step. At times, Richardson lined up in the 2 pt stance and blitzed like you’d expect a LB to; he looked the part. He’s going to be a playmaker in the NFL.
While Richardson has consistently shown the ability to collapse the pocket and disrupt an offense with a fury of speed and quickness, at times he can get out of control and fails to make the play as a result. Richardson tries to make an impact play on an almost down-to-down basis. He will launch himself at the ball-carrier in an attempt to jar the ball loose, or rather than wrapping up and making a sure tackle, he will get sloppy and try to strip the ball. And while I like defensive players that have an instinct to generate turnovers, Richardson can get a bit too sloppy in this department. This is correctable, and he’ll be coached to make the tackle first in the NFL.
SHORT AREA QUICKNESS and BURST
Richardson has few peers in this Draft class regarding the short area quickness and burst that you’d like to see from a DT prospect. He reminds me a lot of current Chicago Bear and Pro Bowler, Henry Melton. Melton is a converted RB now playing DT at a very high level, and his best attribute his his quickness and burst into the backfield and in pursuit. Richardson is a very close comp. His ability to close on the QB will keep him on the field on 3rd down; he will be an asset vs. the Pass.
Strengths: Quickness, Burst, Athletic Ability, Change of Direction, Lateral Agility, Hand usage, leverage/explosion off snap, makes himself “small”
Weaknesses: Can get overpowered at times, sloppy tackler, size
Bottom Line: Sheldon Richardson displays an impressive combination of quickness and athletic ability for a 295lb DT. He showcases the ability to win at the point of attack through a combination of hand-usage, push and pull threat, and a shoulder dip. Plays with good leverage and body control while relentlessly pursuing the ball carrier. Richardson may have to get a little stronger, but as a 3-technique in a 43 front that can play all 3 downs, Richardson projects as a top-10 selection in April’s NFL Draft.
Johnathan Hankins (DT, OSU) and Star Lotulelei (DT, Utah) have dominated the top of the DT prospect rankings much like they have dominated opposing offensive linemen all year long. Heading into the 2012 college football season, Hankins and Lotulelei were each considered top-5 Draft prospects, and neither has disappointed thus far. But it should be made very clear that they are not the only two first-round talents at the DT position. In fact, DT is one of the stronger positions for the upcoming Draft, with potentially as many as FIVE players going in the first-round.
The one name that is consistently mentioned after Hankins and Lotulelei as the “next” DT likely to come off the board is John Jenkins , DT, UGA. After analyzing Johnathan Hankins in our last installment of the Scouting Series, I thought it would be a good time to see how big, if any, the drop off is to the third best DT in the Draft.
In preparation for this analysis, I scouted Jenkins in his games against Missouri and South Carolina. And like any scout trying to get a feel for a defensive tackle, I focused on the following things: 1) Scheme – What scheme does the player project best to in the NFL? By first identifying his schematic fit, you can focus more on his skillset FOR that system. 34 DTs require very different attributes than 43 DTs. 2) Physical appearance – Is the player big or fat? There’s a difference between the two that scouts have to lookout for. Fat guys underachieve. Big guys become integral parts of a successful D-Line. 3) Strength and Leverage – How does the player hold up against double teams? Can he disrupt the flow of a running play simply by being an immovable object? 4) Ability to Disengage – Does the player shed opposing linemen on a consistent basis? Are they able to free themselves and get in on the action? 5) Collapse the Pocket – Does the player disrupt the integrity of the pocket? Does he force the QB to rollout into DEs, OLBs, or make a bad throw? 6) Short Area Quickness – Is he a dancing bear? Will he be able to close in on a running back or scrambling QB?
Jenkins is a fun player to watch with these scouting points in mind. Let’s take a look at how he measures up.
At 6’3, 358lbs, Jenkins is as much of a prototype 34 NT as you’ll find. Typically, 34 teams look for a NT that is anywhere between 6’2-6’4 ranging from 320-340lbs. Jenkins would be on the “big” side of one of the “biggest” positions in the NFL. That’s not a bad thing. The ideal 34 NT has to show good bend and be tough to move as well as be a guy who is quick off the snap, has the instincts to find the ball quickly, get penetration, and be a disruptive force. It’s also critical that a 34 NT be a good two-gap player.
I think Jenkins fits this role well, and will be appealing to teams that use the 34. He displays a very strong base that’s complimented by a quicker than expected reaction off the snap. His natural get-off burst and power allows him to routinely push the pocket into the QB; something that 34 teams will covet. Jenkins also has the wide body/wide base and natural strength to eat up blocks and anchor inside as a two-gap force.
Jenkins is a big, big man. There’s no denying that he’s every bit of 350+ lbs. However, he has the kind of body that coaching staffs in the NFL are going to have to monitor closely. He’s a chubby guy, to put it nicely. That said, he’s not all belly. He has a very thick base and his weight is distributed well throughout. His gut is flabby; I’d be concerned about Jenkins being a guy that reports to camp at 370lbs after an off-season of sweets.
The NFL Combine will be a great opportunity to see exactly what Jenkins looks like. He’ll be bare-chested in front of just about every single decision maker in the NFL. If he’s fat and flabby, he won’t be able to hide it. And teams will make note of it. Jenkins would be best served dropping into the mid-low 340’s to enhance his Draft stock. It will prove that he has a work ethic and that he won’t require extra time and resources to make sure he doesn’t eat himself out of the League.
Strength and Leverage
Jenkins isn’t on the level of Johnathan Hankins or Star Lotulelei in the strength department, but he is such a big man that, naturally, it’s hard to move him around. He’s a good athlete, too, which poses an extra challenge for offensive linemen. A coordinated big man actually plays stronger than they might naturally be because they become a hard target to square up and block.
Jenkins wins most one-on-one battles that he engages in, and when he’s double teamed, he does a nice job anchoring down and not giving up too much distance. He creates a good jolt on contact, and projects well as a guy that will win for you inside on first and second down. Jenkins keeps his base low, and while he’s far from perfect technique-wise, he displays a very nice set of space-eating skills.
Ability to Disengage
Not many players will be able to compare to Johnanthan Hankins in this department, and while Jenkins is good, he’s not “great”. Jenkins DOES flash the ability to shed a blocker and pursue the ball carrier with some successful results. But the reality is that Jenkins is a space eater whose impact won’t always come up on a box score. Jenkins plugs holes. He disrupts a play’s natural design. And at times, yes, he will shed his blocker and make a thundering hit or get to the QB. Jenkins was consistently able to overpower the South Carolina offensive linemen, but on the occasions where the linemen got into Jenkins’s chest plate, he simply ate up the space. Jenkins did manage to tally a career-high eight tackles against the Gamecocks.
Collapse the Pocket
I liked what I saw out of Jenkins and his instincts as a pass rusher. You’d assume that Jenkins was simply a bull rusher, but I was pleasantly surprised by his hand usage and somewhat developed set of pass rush moves. Jenkins displays impressive body control when he’s rushing the passer, and I think there’s a shot that he can play, in a rotational role, on 3rd downs in the NFL.
Don’t get me wrong: Jenkins is not going to be a sack artist in the NFL. But he’s a player that will make opposing QBs really uncomfortable.
Short Area Quickness
When you’re scouting a guy that is 358lbs, it’s hard to come away saying that he was “quick”. But in the case of Jenkins, I was extremely impressed by how light he is on his feet. He is the essence of a “dancing bear” in that he has the size and mass to gobble up multiple offensive linemen on every play as well as the quickness to pursue a ball carrier down the line of scrimmage and unleash a 358lb blow. He keeps his feet chopping when engaged, and displays solid balance and athleticism for such a mammoth of a man.
John Jenkins is every bit a first-round DT. Guys as big and athletic as Jenkins don’t grow on trees. In addition, Jenkins flashes on film and showcases the ability to be an integral cog in an NFL defense. Jenkins displays an impressive combination of power and grace. He does a good job getting his hands inside and constantly fights toward the football. His lower body strength and overall mass is top-tier, and manages to play with pretty good pad level despite his soft mid-section. Jenkins will have to show that he can handle NFL double teams, as there were a few instances in the tape that I reviewed where he was completely neutralized by a double. While it didn’t happen a lot, it’s still a concern. In addition, Jenkins will have to watch his weight. He’s teetering on TOO big. If he doesn’t tighten up his mid-section, teams could worry that he’s a player that will fade, fast, in the NFL due to lack of physical maintenance.
Jenkins is a clear first-round pick, likely to hear his name called starting somewhere around pick 16. Jenkins grades higher than Dontari Poe (KC Chiefs) who was selected at the 11th overall pick in 2012. He has a similar grade to Fletcher Cox (Phi Eagles), last year’s 12th overall pick, and is clearly better than Michael Brockers (Stl Rams), the 14th pick last April. With Hankins and Lotulelei likely to each be off the board within the top 5-7 selections, the market for Jenkins will spike as teams will not want to miss the chance to grab a clear starting-caliber NT. It wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility to see a team move up in the round, somewhere in or just outside the top 10, and call Jenkins’s name.