2014 NFL Draft: Tennessee’s “Tiny” Richardson Enters a Loaded Offensive Tackle Class

Tiny RichardsonAfter defeating Kentucky in their season finale, the Tennessee Volunteers learned that their All-SEC left tackle had declared for the NFL Draft. Antonio “Tiny” Richardson entered the Vols’ football program as the top rated prospect in the state of Tennessee with 4-star grades from Rivals, Scout.com and ESPN.

Playing in every game since his true freshman season in 2011, Richardson earned 2nd team All-SEC honors from the Associated Press as a full-time left tackle starter in 2012 and 2013.

As a prospect, there’s a lot to like about “Tiny” Richardson from a physique and skill set standpoint. Measuring 6’6, 327 pounds with long arms, heavy hands and quick feet, Richardson is your ideal offensive tackle prospect –molding the power of a traditional right tackle with the range and movement skills of a left tackle. Even when out of position from a footwork-standpoint or off-balance with his weight distribution, Richardson can still win his individual battles thanks to a vice-grip and overpowering punch.

But therein lies the frustrating aspect of evaluating Antonio Richardson. He’ll flash the ability to control and secure the edge on one snap, then fail to even get a hand on his opponent the next.  Initial footwork off the snap and poor punch technique lead to quite a few bad habits with Richardson, as he routinely lunges for contact out of his pass set and even occasionally on run blocking downs. Instead of keeping his feet underneath his base at the point of attack and maintaining a balanced weight distribution, Richardson can often be seen bending at the waist and grabbing at opponents –giving full disclosure here, I’m shocked with how many holding calls Richardson gets away with. What’s more strange is the fact that Richardson appears to be naturally flexible in the hips, knees and ankles, so sinking in his pass set shouldn’t be an issue.

Some of the issues with Richardson are basic fundamentals, like keeping his elbows tight to his frame on punches or firing out of his stance in a low, centered athletic position. Right now, Richardson’s elite tools bail him out of what I would characterize as very sloppy, but very correctable technique. Leverage was an issue in a handful of games I viewed as well, another core fundamental of blocking. On the bright side, tightening his punches should lead to more accurate hand placement, more consistent “inside fits” on opponents and less potential holding penalties.

Part of the issue may even be the fact that Richardson focuses heavily on winning the upper half “strength battle”, rather than reaching landmarks in his pass set and patiently react to the path taken by his opponent. In my evaluation of his tape, I found that this approach aspect might be just as liable for Richardson’s inconsistencies, as were his technical flaws regarding footwork and hand placement. Wanting to click helmets with opponents and impose his will on pass sets, this mental approach ultimately causes Richardson to bend at the waist and lunge out of position.

Richardson’s violent approach to the game grades as a plus in the run game, however, as he excels at crashing down his side of the line of scrimmage and creating movement upfront. Quick and explosive for his size, even with subpar fundamentals, he quickly reaches inside shaded defenders and ends them with his dominant hand strength. And while he tends to stop his feet in reaching for contact out of pass sets, Richardson actually does a stellar job of latching on and driving his feet in the run game. The only area Richardson didn’t impress in the run game, involved climbing to the 2nd level and attacking linebackers; only asked to work upfield on a handful of snaps per game, he did not showcase ideal angle awareness or take the proper steps to execute the block.

In conclusion, pegging a draft grade is difficult with “Tiny” Richardson due to the fact that he has the potential to be a franchise left tackle prospect. He moves and bends very well for his size, presents plus length dimensions and has heavy hands to control defenders, and can dominate in the run game. His elite tools allow him to still recover and win matchups versus most defensive ends in college; however, he’s had his share of troubles due to the afore mentioned bad habits. With his inconsistent footwork and hand use, I currently view Antonio Richardson as a high 2nd round prospect but I certainly understand why an NFL team may use a mid-to-late first round choice to acquire the former Tennessee Volunteer.