Monday, May 28, 2018

Sheldon Richardson can take the Vikings' defense to another level


Daniel House analyzes defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson's skill-set and explains why the signing might pay off the most in 2018. 

Updated: May 28, 2018, 3:44 p.m.

By: Daniel House

When the Vikings signed quarterback Kirk Cousins to a fully guaranteed contract in March, the thought of adding defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson seemed impossible. However, due to contract structuring, the front office managed to add two of the top free agents. The team is hopeful Cousins is the franchise quarterback they have been trying to identify for years. Minnesota’s move to sign Cousins is making headlines, but the signing of Sheldon Richardson might be the biggest move the Vikings made all offseason. In March, he signed a one-year deal worth $8 million, which includes the chance for $3 million via incentives.

Minnesota started four different players in four seasons at three-technique defensive tackle. With the position being a very important aspect of Mike Zimmer’s defense, it was clear signing a player with Richardson’s skill-set was a high priority.

“Obviously, we felt like one of the positions we needed to get better at on defense was our three-technique,’’ said Vikings coach Mike Zimmer during Richardson's introductory press conference. “It is one where those guys can affect the quarterback as much as any position along with our defensive ends.”

Richardson is a disruptive presence inside and checks all the boxes of a dominant three-technique defensive tackle. Since arriving in Minnesota, head coach Mike Zimmer hasn’t had a defensive tackle with Richardson’s ability. If you watch Zimmer’s past defenses with players like Sharrif Floyd and Geno Atkins at three-technique, you see how it adds another dimension to the scheme. A disruptive rusher who can line up outside the guard’s shoulder and get downhill opens up so many opportunities. For Richardson, there’s no better fit than Minnesota’s defense, as Zimmer creates some of the most well-defined roles for his three techniques to be successful.

Sheldon Richardson has the length, size, light feet and quick first step to fit the style Minnesota's coaches are looking for within the interior. Despite posting just one sack last season in Seattle, Richardson was extremely disruptive -- it just didn’t show up in the box score. In the clip below, he swats through and uses his quickness to force a quick throwaway. Richardson’s hand technique has continually improved and he was using it to shed blocks during numerous reps in Seattle last year. When his hands and feet are in sync, he’s such a difficult player to block because of his blend of speed/power.

Not only that, but his quick first step allows him penetrate and finish sacks. The clip below shows him winning with his feet and ability to stay low/shoot the gap.

He was the tenth-ranked pass rushing defensive tackle last season, according to Pro Football Focus. Many people think Richardson wins solely off his athleticism and quickness, but he is excellent at converting speed to power. He creates inside pressure because of his ability to bull rush. In the clip below, Richardson will bull rush and long-arm the offensive lineman to knock him off balance.

This is the type of underrated power Richardson features in his skill-set. When he rushes like this, it either causes a quick throwaway or allows another player to break free from his block and create pressure. He’s disruptive, which sometimes is just as important as being a high sack volume player. The clip below is an example:

The athleticism is what really makes Richardson a different player, though. He finished with a 116” broad jump (96th percentile), a 7.33-second three-cone (83rd percentile), and a 1.69-second 10-yard split (86th percentile) in combine testing. You see all of this athleticism show up when the 300-ponder sprints across the field to make plays. On Jarius Wright’s walk-off touchdown catch in 2014, Richardson is chasing him up the sideline and showing of his speed. Keep in mind, this is 300 pounds moving like this:

There’s more basic ways where he uses that speed to chase plays. In the clip below, he sprints across the formation and lowers a big hit on a Todd Gurley toss play. His pursuit skills stand out for an interior defensive tackle.

That’s the thing about Richardson – he is a formidable run defender, too. On tape, you see him consistently shed blocks and use his quickness to get into the backfield and create tackles for loss. He shoots his hands and explodes outside to make the run stop below.

In the next clip, his first step is so quick, he doesn’t even have to engage to make the play. He throws his hands, explodes and runs down Adrian Peterson in the backfield for a negative play. 

Richardson’s quick feet and pursuit skills help him make stops in the backfield. He is not the type of player to win in the red zone and can get blown off the ball at times. However, this isn’t going to be his role. He is fantastic at pursuing long-developing running plays and can shoot the gap with his quickness and force a run back outside.

In fact, with Richardson’s type of athleticism, past coaches have used him at defensive end and dropped him into coverage. He has run down screens and closed on interceptions because of his speed and recognition skills. This type of versatility is something the defensive coaching staff can use to rush the passer at another level this season.

Richardson can stunt inside or out to create pressure and can be lined up at a variety of different techniques. The game vs. the Vikings in this video sequence is an example.
Richardson will command plenty of attention, causing a dilemma for opposing offenses. Will teams choose to double-team and combination block Linval Joseph, leaving Richardson 1-on-1? Not only that, but the offensive line can provide less "chipping" help on the edge because the interior commands so much attention. This signing places Linval Joseph, Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter within favorable situations. The Vikings now arguably have the best starting interior defensive line in football with Joseph and Richardson together. 

Even with that being said, Richardson still has room to grow technically and defensive line coach Andre Patterson has consistently proven he can take players in their prime to another level. At 27 years old, Richardson has the potential to take his career to new heights. In 2014, he made the Pro Bowl as a key fixture in Rex Ryan’s defensive scheme. Since then, Richardson has never been in a situation with this type of coaching and talent around him. More importantly, the Vikings haven’t had a player with his talent at the three-technique position. If he has a big year, Minnesota may prioritize re-signing him. If that’s the case, the team might elect to let linebacker Anthony Barr test the market. This is pure speculation and projection, especially since Richardson hasn’t taken a snap in purple yet. 

However, it’s worth thinking about as people realize the value a high-level three-technique defensive tackle can provide in Mike Zimmer’s defense. If Richardson lives up to his potential, signing him has the chance to pay off more than any other offseason move. 

1 comment:

  1. Great article. I agree that the Richardson signing has gone largely under the radar because we also signed Cousins. When the best defense signs the best DL free agent, and one who fits perfectly in the Vikings’ scheme, that is a big deal.