It’s no secret: the quickest way to a quarterback is through the middle of the field.
That means a team should prioritize finding dominant, playmaking athletes in that specific area of the field. The athletes can vary in position, such as defensive tackle, middle linebacker or safety. The most important of those three is a defensive tackle, particularly a three technique.
A dominant three technique is the quickest way to disrupt a quarterback’s comfort level in the pocket and the rhythm of an offense. The position is more important than any of the edge-rushers, which is commonly cited as the one of the NFL’s premier defensive positions, and both DEs and OLBs have become a significant factor with the further expansion of zone blitzes. A defensive tackle who can shoot a gap or even drop into short coverage is a great asset to have, and NFL teams will get the chance to add that kind of player later this month when Missouri defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson is on the board.
If you’re unfamiliar with Richardson’s talent, I’m sorry to hear that you’ve missed out on a lot. Richardson is a wonderful prospect who meets the criteria for a modern day three technique. He moves exceptionally, has an extremely explosive first step, and a rare blend of quickness and athleticism.
He’s still learning how to play his position, however. He doesn’t often play with proper footwork or leverage, but that can be taught at the next level, as St. Louis defensive line coach Mike Waufle said last year when the team faced criticism for drafting former LSU defensive tackle Michael Brockers.
“They say he’s not much of a pass rusher, but we’ll teach him to pass rush. Tommy Kelly wasn’t either, at one time, and we taught him how to power rush. The last two years he’s had more sacks [14 ½] than any defensive tackle in the league, and this kid will do the same,” Waufle told Yahoo!’s Mike Silver.
Richardson has the kind of talent that D-line coaches like Waufle actively seek to mold, which is why he’ll likely be a top 20 selection. One thing coaches can build on is his hand quickness, and he has a nasty arm-over (“swim”) move that has the potential to take the league by storm like the Texans’ J.J. Watt’s has.
Richardson’s arm-over is startling because of just how quick and unexpected it is. He does it to slice double teams in half and makes solo blockers look equally silly, leaving them hanging their head and bending at the waist. Against South Carolina, he displayed it beautifully after initially locking up with the offensive guard.
Once Richardson got off the line of scrimmage, he engaged with the blocker one arm at a time. His left was placed on the blocker’s chest while his right was clutched with the opponent’s left hand. Simultaneously, his knees were bent in an effort to lower his pad level. All of this helped Richardson prepare to make a move to gain leverage and keep a distance from the blocker.
While he tied hands with the blocker, he continued to move into the backfield, showing off his non-stop motor — another impressive trait of his. He then slapped the blocker’s left hand away and extended with his right, further pushing the blocker back while his left arm was now free. This helped set up the forthcoming arm-over.
With his right arm extended, Richardson took a quick step back and stood for a split-second. The hands were no longer locked. He just stood, as if he patiently waiting to see what the blocker would do next. The blocker, who’d been taught all his football life to be aggressive and “finish” blocks, looked to bury Richardson by attacking him.
That was a bad idea. When the blocker moved up, Richardson went down and executed the arm-over. The blocker walked right into it and in a tenth of a second, he was left looking at the ground. Richardson charged his way into the pocket and if not for a throwaway pass, he would have brought the quarterback down for a sack.
Richardson has the potential to be a very good player at one of the most important (and, magically, still underrated) positions in the NFL. He has an uncommon blend of quickness, athleticism, and explosiveness, and a non-stop motor that teams will certainly covet. As the league continues to use more shotgun and pistol sets and implements more zone-read packages, pressure through the A and B-gaps becomes more and more important.
A quick and explosive three technique can dismantle an offense, which is what Sheldon Richardson could do in the pros when he gets more coaching.