Entering the offseason, the Dallas Cowboys had a major need on the defensive line. With Jay Ratliff's recent arrest, I believe that the need for a defensive tackle has become a major priority for the Cowboys. I don't know what will happen with Ratliff, but his contract extension continues to look like a big mistake. Even though the Cowboys have some serious need for offensive lineman, the quality at defensive tackle could be too good to pass up.
Moving on with our scouting reports, we shift our focus to Missouri defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson. If Richardson does fall to the Cowboys at 18 (or they decide to move up for him), then he would be a great fit for Dallas. Richardson reminds me a lot of Ratliff, but his game is very reminiscent of Fletcher Cox.
Positives: After reviewing more game tape, Richardson has moved past Johnathan Hankins into the second overall defensive tackle on my board. The reasoning behind the move is that Richardson is by far one of the most athletic defensive tackles that I have come across in the past few years. Richardson possesses a non-stop motor and is just relentless.
He's lightning quick with great closing speed and shows a great burst off of the line. Richardson will wow scouts with tremendous footwork and balance for a defensive tackle of his size (6-4, 295). Richardson will time the snap, flying towards the backfield and make a play on the football. He is fast enough to blow by offensive lineman who attempt to extend and reach out, but Richardson is also strong enough to plow through double teams.
Richardson is also a disruptive force because he knows how to use his hands. He's always demonstrating violent use with his hands, and that's impressive for young defensive lineman. Imagine how good he can become once he begins to receive professional coaching.
We've seen J.J. Watt become a tremendous advantage for the Houston Texans because of his ability to be a strong pass rusher that throws his hands in the air when he can't get after the quarterback. Richardson may not be as good as Watt yet, but he does possess similar qualities.
His vision and awareness are top notch. Richardson can diagnose the play and flow to where the ball is going. While he is a force as a pass rusher, he is still very good against the run. He's a physical tackler who will punish you once he gets his hands on you. Not only does Richardson make great tackles, he is always looking to strip the ball away.
One of Richardson's selling points is his versatility. He's a great pass rusher, run defender and he can drop into coverage. Richardson is at his best playing defensive tackle where he can attack and disrupt, but because of his size and pass rushing ability he can also line up at defensive end.
Playing in the SEC really did a lot for Richardson's development as a football player. Playing against some of the best competition in the country brought out his best football. By playing some better competition, Richardson actually helped improve as a football player and his draft stock.
Negatives: Richardson is basically a defensive lineman who can do it all. He comes with very few flaws to his game, but I have to nitpick on some things. He needs to develop more strength in his upper body. His long frame needs to fill out and add more weight to it. With better strength up top, Richardson will be able to use more power moves.
Richardson plays with good leverage most of the time, but his pad level can get too high. He also needs to develop more stamina and not gas himself out too early. Richardson's motor is fantastic, but there are times where he looks like he is out of the play because he is tired.
Some question Richardson's motive and passion. Richardson had issues qualifying for the NCAA and went to a junior college before moving on to Missouri. While at Missouri, Richardson really only had one truly dominant statistical season, and that was in 2012.
As far as character concerns go, Richardson did have some trouble academically in college and he was suspended one game this season for "unspecified reasons", but a ESPN report suggested that it was due to missing class.
Richardson appears to hate the state of Texas, and he called out the Georgia football program for playing "boring" football. He will need to tone it down once he gets into the NFL, because that type of behavior will probably not be tolerated by NFL coaches.
Conclusion: Richardson is very similar to Fletcher Cox and Henry Melton. He's a disruptive defensive tackle that probably won't be asked to anchor the defensive line. His best fit in our new defense would probably be as a three-technique defensive tackle who can attack. There are some character concerns with Richardson, but nothing too serious that should prevent us from drafting him.
Cox went 12th overall last year after the Philadelphia Eagles moved up to get him. If the Cowboys want to absolutely make sure they get Richardson, they might have to make a trade to move up for him. Right now, this is the guy I want the Cowboys to draft. Physically he's an elite talent that is only going to get better, and he could thrive in our scheme instantly.
Back in 2010, Richardson wanted to play for Monte Kiffin and USC. He later backed out and changed his mind, deciding that it was a better decision to play close to home at Missouri. Maybe Kiffin and Richardson will get another opportunity to work with each other, this time in the NFL.
Sheldon Richardson 2012 Highlights ᴴᴰ (via ThatHighlightChannel)