There are two reasons why I think Sheldon Richardson could end up being Seattle’s ideal 2013 draft pick. Firstly, the team needs to find a way to create more pressure using its base defense. The second reason was all down to something Pete Carroll said in one of his press conferences last week.
Red Bryant was a major doubt for the Chicago Bears game due to injury. When asked who would replace Bryant at defensive end, Carroll answered Alan Branch. Greg Scruggs would fill in at three technique.
Bryant is 323lbs and Branch is listed at 325lbs. I found it pretty fascinating that Carroll was so determined to keep size at that position. He could’ve started Scruggs or Jason Jones at defensive end – with both seemingly capable of acting as a more orthodox five-technique. Instead he wanted to move an interior lineman to the outside at the expense of giving up 50lbs at tackle.
The role of Bryant has become pretty integral to this team. While some fans have questioned his impact this year, especially in light of the inconsistent pressure up front, there’s no doubt that Carroll intends to stick with this plan. He wants Bryant outside for a reason (we’ll come on to that in a moment). As a result, he’s also prepared to have a pretty unbalanced pass rush when using the base defense.
We discussed last week how important it was for Seattle to find more pressure within this scheme. Carroll and Gus Bradley are only rushing four most of the time. They aren’t blitzing all that much. It seems to me that they want to max out the potential for turnovers by playing tight against the run on early downs and putting teams into 3rd and long situations. And when they’re in third and long, they turn to speed. Bruce Irvin and Jason Jones join Chris Clemons for the ‘money down’. You can play nickel, you can create a situation where the chances of a turnover are increased. Quick pressure, force the mistake and have enough people in coverage to capitalise. It makes a lot of sense.
However – when teams are prepared to pass on early downs, quarterbacks are having a lot of time in the pocket. In the base defense, the line consists of Bryant, Branch, Clemons and Brandon Mebane. That’s a lot of size, but also a total reliance on Clemons for pressure. If you’re keeping Bryant in the line-up – and Pete Carroll is keeping Bryant in the line-up – the only place you can upgrade to create more pressure is defensive tackle.
The 4-3 under defense that Carroll is using lends a lot of weight to the philosophy created by Monte Kiffin. You shift the tackles away from the heart and strength of the offensive line, thus making it very difficult to double team the three-technique tackle. The nose tackle (Brandon Mebane) plays off the shoulder of the center. That, theoretically, creates a situation where the three technique and the LEO (Chris Clemons) are in 1vs1 situations with the left guard and left tackle. And that’s where the team is going to have success.
It does leave you light on one side of the line, which is why I think they like Red Bryant so much. He’s a space eater, he draws attention. And with the rest of the line favouring one side, there’s always the possibility you become easy to run against. Bryant takes away that advantage with his size. So while we can sit here and complain about a lack of pass-rush, Bryant is actually doing his job by simply stopping this team getting gashed consistently. He makes everything else tick. And his role will increase in importance the moment Seattle actually has a three technique who creates pressure.
Alan Branch isn’t a terrible defensive tackle. He’s just not a pass rusher. He’s playing 20-30lbs heavier than a prototypical three-technique and he doesn’t get a lot of penetration. Seattle should try and retain Branch as a useful rotational piece and a potential backup if Bryant or Mebane goes down. But really, he has to be upgraded on the base defense for this unit to maximise its potential. The Seahawks need a 290-300lbs three technique who won’t give up the run advantage they get with Branch, but can also take advantage of the scheme. As soon as you get someone collapsing the pocket inside, that’s when you’ll see the best of this defense.
Missouri’s Sheldon Richardson fits the bill to a tee.
I’ve seen him listed between 6-2 and 6-4 and anywhere between 290-295lbs. He has quite a solid, compact frame and ticks all of the boxes you’d look for from an interior rusher. He’s not a one trick pony and will mix up his speed and bull rushes. He has an explosive first step and he’s the most competitive defensive tackle I’ve seen since Ndamukong Suh. How many defensive tackles go for an interior pass rush, see the ball thrown to the sideline and then go after the receiver to try and make a play? Richardson is a tremendous athlete with an unmatched motor. He’s sparky, he wants to win and he gets in your face. That’ll rub some coaches and GM’s up the wrong way, but that’s exactly how you need to be to play this position.
Given the long list of positives, how is there any chance he falls anywhere close to Seattle’s pick? There are some perceived ‘downsides’. He’s pretty outspoken. He labelled Georgia’s style of play as ‘old man football’ in a press conference before the season opener. Georgia won handsomely. He talked trash about Alabama too, before Missouri were well beaten by the dominating Crimson Tide. Some GM’s won’t like that. It’s worth noting, Richardson backed up his words on both occasions. He played very well in both games. Perhaps he just needs a supporting cast good enough to back up his chatter?
There are other issues. He was suspended for a game this year for ‘unspecified reasons’, although Edward Aschoff at ESPN reported the following:
Sources close to the program told ESPN.com that Richardson was suspended because he missed a class multiple times and refused to go through the punishment given to him for missing the class.
He’s a former JUCO transfer and also missed spring practice and some of summer camp in 2011 while dealing with the NCAA on eligibility issues. Scouts INC also wrote the following in their report on Richardson: “Mental capacity and maturity level are being closely investigated by NFL scouts.”
Basically, Tim Ruskell probably wouldn’t draft this guy. Other active GM’s in this league might share that opinion. Richardson has the talent to be a top-ten pick, but could he drift into the teens or even the early 20’s due to character red flags? The depth at defensive tackle won’t work in his favor if concerns linger. Any team looking at the position in the top-20 will have multiple options. Even so, it’ll still be a big win for the Seahawks if he does make it to their pick, which appears likely to be in the second half of round one given the current 7-5 record.
And if you’re wondering just how well he fits a defense heavily influenced by Monte Kiffin, consider that he originally committed to USC in 2010. He failed to qualify at Missouri academically and spent two summers at the College of Sequoias in California. It’s during that time he decided to play for the Trojans. The reason? According to reports, he believed Kiffin’s guidance and the system at Southern Cal would best prepare him for the NFL. Eventually he reneged on that decision and chose Missouri. However, having played JUCO football in the state Pete Carroll coached and as a former 5-star recruit, he’s probably a player Seattle’s Head Coach has the inside track on. And if Carroll wants any further advice, I’m sure he’ll be on the phone to Monte Kiffin – who many are touting for a role with the Seahawks following his resignation at USC.
I’ve posted tape of Richardson versus Florida at the top of this piece. For three other games, click on this article and scroll to the bottom.
Check out the explosion off the snap at 2:10 in the video above. That’s elite anticipation and the kind of speed and burst the Seahawks are lacking at tackle. He’s into the backfield before his blocker – Chaz Green – has got out of his stance. Green, if you’re wondering, is a player considered by many to have future first round potential as an offensive tackle. Richardson hits the running back for a huge loss.
At the 2:50 mark, he blocks a field goal – getting a great push off the snap and sticking out an arm to deflect the kick. You can see a good example of his closing speed at 3:23, when he loops back around then initiates contact with a lineman and appears to be stopped. However, he disengages and still manages to hit the quarterback on a diving tackle to force an incomplete pass. Wondering how difficult Florida found it to stop Richardson in this game? Check out the ‘tackle’ by the interior lineman at 5:55 that drew a holding call. And if you want evidence of his work rate and willingness to look for the ball carrier, check his hussle at 6:53 to get the ball carrier down after two Missouri missed tackles.
Getting a player like Richardson in the line-up would enable the Seahawks to create more pressure on early downs, it’d help the LEO become more effective and the increased pass rush would likely increase the number of sacks and turnovers. This is by far the teams biggest need going into the off-season this year. Get a player like Richardson, and this team takes the next step on defense.
Of course, there are always alternatives. This is a deep class for defensive tackles as I mentioned. Plus I just have a hunch the Seahawks will monitor Randy Starks’ situation in Miami. The Dolphins might have to use the franchise tag on Jake Long, making it harder to keep Starks on the roster. He wouldn’t be cheap, but I can’t think of a more precious free agent signing for this team if he hits the market. Addressing this need pre-draft would allow the Seahawks to potentially concentrate on other areas such as linebacker, cornerback, wide receiver, tight end or the offensive line.