Jeff Blake-US PRESSWIRE
In the first mock draft following the Super Bowl, Matthew Fairburn has the Panthers treading familiar ground.
The Super Bowl is over. One Harbaugh has a ring, the other left to wipe away the residue from an over abundance of mouth-foam, and some new lines caused by a season of scowling. Ray Lewis won a second Lombardi trophy (because God hates Chris Culliver), and all is right in the universe. Meanwhile in Charlotte, Dave Gettleman is assembling his Justice League of Hurney appointees, and trying to guide the Carolina Panthers' first draft. The front-office's season begins today. Over on Mocking the Draft, they have the first mock draft with the final draft order set, and it has the Panthers going a well-trodden route -- picking a defensive tackle.
Two stellar defensive ends, and the best young linebacker in the NFL (accept it Buccaneers and Seahawks fans): The Panthers have a lot to work with on defense, but they've been without a defensive tackle since before Kris Jenkins left -- that was 2007. The never-ending quest to find diamonds in the rough consistently turned up pebbles, and it's still hard to know how Carolina's defense played as well as it did in 2012 given the glaring weaknesses.
In 2011 it was Nick Fairley, in 2012 it was Fletcher Cox, now it looks like Missouri defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson is the next in line to be pegged to become the Panthers' penetrating under-tackle. As Fairburn writes:
"The Panthers can't continue to ignore the hole in the middle of their defensive line, right? Sheldon Richardson is sure to blow up at the combine given his athleticism. He had a huge junior season and would actually be a value pick at this spot."
Up to this point Richardson has been flying under the radar of the consciousness of most fans. This will likely get him dubbed a 'workout warrior' if the lights up the combine as Fairburn predicts, but it's not really fair. This isn't a player who will come out of nowhere, but rather one who had 39 tackles (10.5 for a loss), and 4.0 sacks in the SEC. He's got a chip on his shoulder, and tends to use his mouth a little too much -- calling Georgia football "boring" in an interview. This likely wont win him a fan in Ron Rivera, who prefers players who speak softly and carry a big stick (in a fanny pack), but his versatility will definitely appeal to the third-year coach.
"Richardson also displays violent hands both when rushing the passer and shedding blocks in run defense. This skill set would make him an ideal under tackle in a 4-3 or a 5-technique defensive end in a 3-4.
3-4 and 4-3 teams alike will be able to find a spot for him, and Richardson could become an impact player in either defense."
Sean McDermott has talked about how the Panthers will experiment with more 3-4 looks, and in order to do this they'll need a versatile defensive tackle to can play multiple techs. There's a downside though, and that's his ability against the run. As it stands there's a good chance he could lose at the point of attack to NFL centers and guards.
"As a defensive tackle, Richardson could stand to improve a bit at anchoring against the run. That's not necessarily the role he filled at Mizzou, but he was outmuscled a bit by bigger guards like Kentucky's Larry Warford and Alabama's Barrett Jones. Richardson's game is predicated on his athleticism, but adding some strength wouldn't hurt."
Mocking the Draft rounds out their scouting report comparing him to Henry Melton of the Chicago Bears, and saying that Richardson could make an immediate impact. If it's anything like what Melton has done in Chicago (13 sacks in two years as a starter), then it could be just what the doctor ordered for the Panthers.