Even with the re-signing of Dwan Edwards, the Panthers under-tackle depth is precarious. Behind Edwards, Nate Chandler is the only backup. Not that Chandler is a horrible option, but the Panthers could stand to add some depth, in addition to finding a longterm answer at under tackle.
Per most draft analysts, Missouri product Sheldon Richardson (6'4" 294 lbs.) would be a perfect marriage of 'best player available' and 'drafting for need' for Carolina. Not unlike a few of the other defensive tackle prospects, Richardson is very athletic for an interior lineman, capable of playing both against both guards and tackles, and can be frequently found chasing wide receivers and running backs down on screen passes.
Richardson's versatility is intriguing, and in tangent with his superb measurables, should ensure that he is drafted highly in April. Even under the premise of athleticism and explosion, would Richardson be a good fit for the Panthers in the first round?
Channeling my inner-Batman: To the tape!
As a prospect, Richardson is fairly raw. His biggest problem, as with Sharrif Floyd and Sylvester Williams, is his pad level which, unlike the aforementioned tackles, I'm not sure will be as easy to correct. Secondly, Richardson is fairly unskilled as a handfighter, which, when combined with poor pad level, leads to disastrous results.
On this running play versus Kentucky, Richardson (distinguished by the red triangle) is aligned as the three-technique. At this point, Richardson's pads are roughly equal with the Kentucky RG's, however, note that the RG already has his arms extending into Richardson's torso.
The RG places his hands in between Richardson's shoulder pads, and drives him backwards, jolting Richardson.
Within one second, Richardson is under the control of the Kentucky RG. Richardson attempts to disengage himself by turning free, however, the RG's hand placement disallows this escape route.
Completely at the mercy of the RG, Richardson is driven backwards, as the Kentucky RB breaches his gap.
A denouement to his ignominy, Richardson is brought to the ground by the Kentucky RG as the RB follows the block. And we're not talking about Chance Warmack, or another high-profile lineman; Richardson was driven 10 yards backwards from the line of scrimmage (LOS) and thrown to the turf.
The results are not always so pathetic, however, Richardson does have a tendency to end up on the ground. Had Richardson struck first with his hands, and achieved optimal hand placement, he would have been able to shed the block, and had he used proper pad level, the RG would not have been able to drive him backwards. Even had both of those mistakes still occurred, Richardson could have disengaged from the blocker had he clubbed the RG's arm/s, or used any number of countermeasures to free himself from the RG's grip.
In this example versus Alabama, Richardson will be facing off against LT Cyrus Kouandjio.
In a stunt, Richardson, here the 1-technique, will move over to the B-gap, directly in the way of RB TJ Yeldon's trajectory. Kouandjio's job will be to crash down on Richardson and secure the B-gap for Yeldon.
At the snap Richardson moves to plug his gap, however Kouandjio meets him there first, and similarly strikes first with his hands.
Kouandjio keeps Richardson at distance, and holds the block.
As Yeldon approaches, Kouandjio walls Richardson off, securing the hole for the Alabama RB. Richardson is unable to shed the block.
By the time Richardson breaks free from Kouandjio, Yeldon is already three yards downfield.
This play occurs in Missouri's game versus Florida.
A testament to his versatility, every now and again the Tigers had Richardson rushing from a two point stance, as is the case in this double A-gap blitz.
Richardson engages the center and the left guard with poor pad level, and seemingly attempts to execute a swim move. As on this play, Richardson has a propensity to bend too much in his waist, and not enough in his knees at times.
Richardson attempts to extricate himself from the LG and collapse the pocket, however, without leverage, he is unable.
Richardson is stonewalled; with no leverage he can't generate any pressure.
Here is another example of poor leverage from Missouri's game versus Florida.
Richardson is aligned as the 3-technique; on this pass play he will rush towards the edge.
Richardson has a decent first step, however right from the get-go, he comes out of his stance too high in his pad level, and with very little bend in his knees. Though Richardson does a good job of immediately extending his arm for a punch.
Engaged with the Florida LG, Richardson loses the leverage battle.
Pushing outside, the LG opens his face, as if to run Richardson by the pocket, Richardson loses his balance and falls to the ground.
Although rare, when Richardson utilizes good hand placement and decent pad level, he is able to be a factor in run defense.
Here Richardson is operating as the 1-technique versus the Gator center.
Richardson has a fine first step and does a good job of initiating hand combat with the blocker, achieving optimal hand position.
With an eye in the backfield, Richardson notes the handoff, and sheds the blocker.
He doesn't take a great angle to the ball carrier, but Richardson exhibits his agility in chasing down the ballcarrier and helps to make the TFL.
Despite his impressive speed and agility, I don't think Richardson is the elite penetrator that some paint him as. He's quick on his feet, but he doesn't have a great first step. Rarely will you see him beat his man off of the snap and break free into the backfield as in this example versus Alabama.
Here as the 1-technique, Richardson is lined up against C Barrett Jones.
Probably anticipating the snap count, Richardson has a explodes off of the snap.
Richardson dispatches the blocker with a swim move and proceeds into the backfield unabated.
Richardson takes away a possible angle of escape for Alabama RB Eddie Lacy, and is able to help gang tackle Lacy after a short gain (major props to Lacy for breaking a couple of tackles and gaining a yard on what looked to be a disaster).
Many of Richardson's high profile TFL's/Sacks came against blown protection schemes and/or inadequate offensive linemen, such as his sack of Alabama QB AJ McCarron, and big TFL of Florida RB Mike Gillislee.
Richardson's aggressive play and nonstop motor are well documented as well, however they also have the potential to hurt him against savvy blockers, or deceptive blocking schemes.
Deep in Tiger territory, Missouri has held South Carolina to a critical 4th down and 1. Here Richardson is aligned as the 1-technique. On this play South Carolina is going to shift their blocking scheme to the left, while having RB Marcus Lattimore run to the right, hopefully attracting the Missouri front seven away from Lattimore.
At the snap Richardson shoots to his right, eager to disrupt the play, following the flow of the Gamecock blockers.
As Lattimore reaches the LOS, Richardson and some of the other DL/LB's realize their blunder.
Richardson attempts to break free from his blocker and give chase, however Lattimore is already in the secondary.
Fairly raw in pass rushing moves, Richardson's favorite, again like Floyd and Williams, is the swim move, though like Williams he tends to rely on it too often.
In this contest versus Georgia, Richardson is again rushing from a two point stance from the A-gap.
Richardson has a fine first step, although his pad level is not great; had the center gotten his hands in position, he could have delivered a punch to disorient Richardson. Richardson begins the move by swinging his right arm over the back of the Georgia center.
Richardson dispatches the center and moves into the backfield.
Richardson doesn't take a great angle to the ballcarrier and is forced to make an unsuccessful diving attempt at a tackle.
Richardson is largely unrefined in his other pass rushing moves. Back to the Alabama game, here Richardson attempts a spin move.
Richardson is operating as the 1-technique.
Ignoring Gary Danielson's drawing, Richardson begins his rush with fine pad level, except once again he has too much bend in his waist, and not enough in his knees.
Engaged with RG Alex Steen, Richardson begins his spin move. One of the hazards of a spin move, Richardson leaves his back vulnerable to a strike from Steen, which is exactly what occurs.
Richardson is slowed down enough that LG Chance Warmack slides over and, together with Steen, smothers Richardson.
Like his spin move, Richardson also possesses an unrefined rip move.
On this play from Missouri's game versus Tennessee Richardson assumes the role of the 1-technique.
Richardson begins his rush with decent pad level, once again the concoction of too much bend in his waist, and not enough in his knees. Tennessee pulls the LG, leaving center alone with Richardson. With the LG still in the area, the C does not have enough real estate to slide to mirror Richardson.
With the edge in hand, Richardson executes a rip move.
Richardson finishes the move and breaks aways from the center, although not before Tennessee QB Tyler Bray gets off the pass.
As I said above, Richardson is a fairly raw defensive tackle. He needs to correct his pad level, which I suspect could be a tougher fix than for Sharrif Floyd and Sylvester Williams. I wouldn't categorize Richardson as a 'waist bender', but he definitely exhibits such characteristics. On a similar tangent, Richardson needs training on hand placement and hand combat. Richardson also needs to polish and diversify his pass rushing moves, which should come with seasoning.
At times Richardson is an absolute liability in run support. Aside from the technical aspects of the position, I'm not sure whether or not Richardson possesses the base to be a three down lineman in the NFL; whether or not he can be an anchor against the run on short yardage situations, of which he was atrocious in college, or can be counted on consistently in run support on first down.
With his versatility and athleticism, Richardson could fit in a number of defenses. A creative defensive coordinator would fall in love with Richardson, and with some development, he could wreak havoc in a multiple front defense. But I don't think he's the elite penetrator that Sylvester Williams is, or the mauler Sharrif Floyd is. And for those reasons, as well as those mentioned above, I think the Panthers would be well served to look elsewhere in the first round. I do think Richardson is worthy of a first round pick, but the questions about his development would scare me away in the top half of the first round.