Antonio Richardson | 6'6, 332 pounds | Offensive tackle | Tennessee | Junior
Tennessee's offense was beyond disappointing in 2012. With quarterback Tyler Bray entering his junior season, and a trio of receivers that will be playing in the NFL in 2013, the production in Knoxville, Tenn. could have been far greater than it was.
But if there's a bright spot moving forward for the Volunteers on offense, it's the offensive line. Last season, Dallas Thomas was the leader in the trenches. But the Dolphins third-round pick was pushed inside to guard due to the emergence of sophomore Antonio "Tiny" Richardson, who started the entire season at left tackle.
Now a junior, Richardson is on the NFL radar. His hulking frame and solid athleticism are enough to intrigue any scout, but the experience he's gaining against high quality competition has only expedited his development. If Richardson takes another step forward this season, he could declare for the NFL Draft as a junior.
What he does well
Richardson possesses the ideal frame to play left tackle in the NFL. At 6-feet-6-inches tall and 332 pounds, he is a built to play in the NFL right now. His strength immediately jumps of the screen, particularly in his upper body. When he gets a strong initial punch, Richardson has the ability to dominate defensive linemen with advanced hand use and his brute strength. On a few occasions against South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney, Richardson showed off his strength and proper hand use to completely manhandle him.
Ironically nicknamed Tiny, Richardson has a fair amount of athleticism. He shows the ability to get to the second level on screen passes and make a difference in the running game down field as well. For the most part, Richardson understands how use leverage and angles to wash players out in the running game.
As a pass blocker, Richardson has clean enough footwork to hold of edge rushers and snuff out inside pass-rush moves as well. He takes quick choppy steps and is usually attacking defenders with proper timing and angles.
It also can't be understated how competitive and tough Richardson is, mentally and physically. In the week leading up to Tennessee's game against South Carolina, Richardson missed two practices but fought through a knee injury to have a strong performance against Clowney. Clowney ended up getting a game-winning strip sack, and Richardson took full blame for the loss and was still harping on it the week after the game. He's a competitive kid, and his mean streak shows up on the field.
What he needs to improve on
The potential and upside are evident for Richardson, but there are a few flaws in his game that he needs to work out to be a first-round lock next May. For starters, Richardson needs to develop more of a natural knee bend in his pass block set. He has a tendency to bend at the waist, which can give him less leverage and make him less balanced when blocking. Speaking of balance, Richardson could show more coordination when cut-blocking and making plays on the move. It's not a huge issue, but one worth monitoring.
Richardson could also improve on his quickness getting into his set. There were a few occasions when he was slow off the ball. While he managed to use his length and athleticism to get away with it against N.C. State, it cost him against Florida, as he was beat badly to the inside, mostly due to not getting a solid jump off the ball. A few other awareness issues popped up, where Richardson appeared confused by blitzes and wound up not blocking anyone. As a sophomore, those types of mistakes are understandable. Now a junior, Richardson will have to clean up those areas of his game and become a leader and anchor on Tennessee's offensive line.
From an upside standpoint, Richardson deserves mention in the second tier of offensive tackles. While few consider him in the same class as Jake Matthews, Taylor Lewan and Cyrus Kouandjio, he's not far off, either. Another solid season from the former No. 1 recruit could go a long way towards cementing his status as a top 40 pick, though he has the potential to be draft much higher than that.
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