The Tennessee Volunteers are desperately searching for some consistency and the ability to get to the level they achieved under Phil Fulmer. They have not been short on talent the past few years and the offensive line is loaded this year. Their best prospect will likely end up being their left tackle, Antonio Richardson, but he is far from the only one. ’Tiny’ Richardson is an enormous tackle but fits right in with the size along the Vols offensive line, which has a team or earth movers.
Richardson is an enormous tackle but he appears to have the athleticism to play on the left side in the NFL if he can get more consistent. The worst case scenario is that Richardson would end up as a right tackle in the NFL which is an incredibly valuable player in its own right. Nevertheless, Richardson has the ballast and length to be a left tackle and if he can improve his feet and consistency in mirroring, it will only help him ensure his case for the NFL Draft. Regardless of the side he ends up playing, Richardson appears to be a top 50 pick at this point and is more than likely going to end up in the first round if he can hold his own against a difficult schedule, should he opt to declare.
Vitals & Build
Richardson is listed at 6’6” 327lbs and is an enormous player who stands out in a game of giants. He has good strength and ballast for the offensive line and is more athletic than people might think. His short area quickness can be good but it is not consistent and his feet flash the ability to be good, especially for his size. It would not be a huge surprise if Richardson actually dropped a few pounds to try to get quicker and more athletic but he looks like he can continue to get stronger, but the biggest thing that will help him is working to improve the quickness of his feet, overall balance and body control.
Richardson is extremely athletic given his size and he can move. He has some habits that can result in him playing slower than capable. Richardson is more suited for a power scheme than one that asks for a lot of pulling and moving the pocket around but he has some ability to move around if he improves some technique.
Richardson can be a great run blocker but he needs to do a better job with his technique and when it comes to finishing plays. He can show a great first step and create momentum with his size that enables him to generate a great deal of power in a hurry. Richardson can create space and open up running lanes but seems too satisfied and shuts it down once he has established position. While he does a good job of getting angles and shielding the opponent from the ball carrier, when opportunities are there for him to drive a defender into the ground, he seems to let them off the hook.
Additionally, there are times when he will play a little too tall and gets off balance and loses power as a result. When he has played some extremely talented opponents, he will win a number of battles but will get beaten. Opponents who do not give up and have a great motor with second and third efforts can get the best of Richardson. He is by no means a lazy player but once his job is completed, he is moving onto the next play rather than looking to make another block or send a message to the opponent.
The talent and strength is there for Richardson to be a mean, drive blocker who can really dominate opponents, especially when he has a massive size advantage. If he opts to finish some of those blocks and set the tone by crushing opponents, he will actually make his job of pass blocking a little easier with a simple mental edge. Whether he adopts a meaner streak or not remains to be seen but he has the capability to be tremendous in this area of the game.
Richardson can get to the second level, though not as consistently as teams might like. He does not always seem enthusiastic to get there but he is reasonably accurate on making sure he can land the block when he gets there.
There is a good amount of ability and even more potential in this area of Richardson’s game, but it is still a work in progress. His wingspan and sheer ballast make him a pain to get around for opponents and that gives him a natural edge to keep opponents under control. His ability to mirror can be good but there are times when he will lose an opponent and get beaten. Richardson is susceptible to speed rushes to the outside and opponents who fake outside and shoot the gap.
He has the quickness and agility to get outside but he is not always sure on when he should use it and there appears to be a slight fear in the back of his mind that someone is setting him up to attack the B gap.
Richardson is well suited to hold up against a bull rush as long as he is sitting down in his stance. When he sits down, he is incredibly difficult to push back, but when opponents can catch him tall, he can get himself in trouble, give up power and have a little trouble re-anchoring. Because of his sheer size, he has usually been able to recover in time, but there are times when guys have beaten him and taken advantage of that window. It is not always easy to slide and keep a balanced, low base but that is something he needs to improve upon.
Richardson’s long arms make his life easier but he needs to do a better job taking advantage of them. Especially as a run blocker but even as a pass blocker, showing a more consistent and more effective punch would help him. It will make him play with more power and if he can jolt the opponent, it will make getting in position and shielding opponents off in either facet of the game.
He needs to do a better job of maintain hand position in general as he can periodically lose blocks and have opponents outlast him in terms of hand fighting. Again, the potential is there but he just needs to continue his development and do a better job in that respect.
Richardson has more athletic feet than his techniques can sometimes indicate. His ability to mirror is still developing and he is cautious going outside at times in what appears to be a worry about opening up the inside lane. He shows the ability to kick slide well but can get inconsistent at times and can get caught in between steps and be knocked off balance.
When asked to pull, Richardson often has a little jump before getting into the pull, which is a habit that needs to go away. He slows himself down by doing it and his jab step in pass protection is far quicker than his first step to get into a pull. The whole motion looks too mechanical and routine rather than looking like a guy who is tearing over to get in position and often times Richardson is late. He is going to need to develop quicker feet to be a consistent threat when pulling, but eliminating that bad habit would make him get there faster.
Trying to speed up his footwork is certainly going to be at a premium for a tackle anyway, but especially one of Richardson’s size, but his habits and technique could speed him up as much as anything. If he can get just more comfortable in his foot work, it would help make him look quicker and play more effectively.
He also needs to keep working throughout the play as there are times when it appears as though he uses the least amount of effort possible to get the job done to save his energy for the whole game. At times, he gets outlasted and part of that is due to stopping his feet and not fighting all the way through the whistle.
Where Richardson will play is dependent on which team drafts him, but he is well suited to play in a power type scheme. He needs to play with more consistency and a meaner streak but if he can protect the passer, he will go early. A team like Baltimore could use Richardson on their left side while the Steelers might look at him on the right side and a team like Buffalo might bring him in, let him compete and see where he ends up with Cordy Glenn there. Richardson is the type of player who can be great at either side and it will all depend on how bad he wants to be great.
|Sat, Aug. 31||vs. Austin Peay|
|Sat, Sept. 7||vs. Western Kentucky|
|Sat, Sept. 14||at Oregon|
|Sat, Sept. 21||at Florida|
|Sat, Sept. 28||vs. South Alabama|
|Sat, Oct. 5||vs. Georgia|
|Sat, Oct. 19||vs. South Carolina|
|Sat, Oct. 26||at Alabama|
|Sat, Nov. 2||at Missouri|
|Sat, Nov. 9||vs. Auburn|
|Sat, Nov. 23||vs. Vanderbilt|
|Sat, Nov. 30||at Kentucky|
The game against Oregon is an intriguing contrast of styles. Richardson is more of a power player and the Duck defense prides itself on speed and quickness. Specifically, the game could feature Richardson against Taylor Hart, who is an incredible athlete with identical height and is close to 300lbs himself. One of the most anticipated matchups in all of college football from a matchup perspective is Richardson going against Jadeveon Clowney of South Carolina. Clowney is the ultimate measuring stick for any offensive lineman and there will be plenty of onlookers who put a ton of emphasis on the performances in that game and that matchup. The Vols have an extra week to prepare for South Carolina after they host Georgia. The following week, Tennessee go on the road to Tuscaloosa and plays Alabama. They are a terrific team and going up against them a week after South Carolina will be tough. They have a mix of talented 5-technique defensive ends in addition to an impressive athlete as a pass rusher in Adrian Hubbard. The Vols schedule is not short on great tests this season and he will have his work cut out for him this year.
Richardson’s game could end up looking quite a bit like Marcus Gilbert of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Gilbert started out his career as a good right tackle for the Steelers after playing a quality left tackle for Florida. A combination of need and Gilbert doing a great job ended up with Gilbert moving over to the left side of the Steelers line. He has the feet to be effective but he is a bulldozing type of offensive lineman that fits what the Steelers are looking for in their line. Richardson could end up being a left tackle out of the gate but it would not be a shock if he was picked by a team that started him at right tackle either just at the beginning of his career or they have a great option at left tackle and want a talented group of bookends.
Richardon looks the part of a top 50 pick because of his ability to potentially play left tackle but he is still a good right tackle prospect. He has some areas he can work to ensure that stock, but Richardson has an extremely difficult slate to play against this season. If he can play well against the competition, he should really firm up his stock going forward, but if he does have some struggles, he could opt to return to Tennessee for another year to continue working. If Richardson can firm up some of the issues he is fighting against such as consistency in his mirror, firming up his technique, and improving his feet, he will likely end up going in the first round if he opts to declare.