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This article marks the first installment of CUI Sports Writer Tommy Wood’s series on former Buffs receiver Paul Richardson.
Here, a look at his NFL prospects.
Paul Richardson won’t be the first wide receiver taken in this year’s NFL Draft. Front offices don’t see the lanky junior as a franchise-changing player like Texas A&M’s Mike Evans or Clemson’s Sammy Watkins. Richardson is 6 feet 1 inch, but at 175 pounds, he is often considered too lean to battle physical defensive backs for jump balls.
But Richardson has one skill that will always be un-guardable — speed. Richardson’s 4.40 40-yard-dash time is good, but it undersells his explosiveness; Richardson averaged 15.5 yards per reception for his career, and an impressive 41.8 yards on his 21 career touchdown catches. He can fly, and though that won’t be enough to make him a first-round pick, he should be highly sought after on the second day of the draft.
An ideal situation would see Richardson drafted to a team that already has at least one other credible receiving threat. Were he to go to, say, Jacksonville or Tennessee, defenses could neutralize him with bump-and-run coverage (reacting to jabs is the biggest hole in his game) while rotating a safety over the top without worrying about another receiver beating them.
With that in mind, I’ve determined five teams that could be an ideal fit for Richardson, either in scheme or personnel.
Philadelphia Eagles: The need here is mutual. Philly needs a speedy receiver after it shortsightedly cut DeSean Jackson; Richardson needs a coach who knows how to utilize him. His skill set is similar to Jackson’s, but Richardson is taller and a better leaper. Coach Chip Kelly knows he won’t win championships with Riley Cooper as a focal point of his offense, and Jeremy Maclin, returning from a torn ACL, is a wild card.
Richardson gives the Eagles an instant replacement for Jackson. Philadelphia’s route combinations are designed to quickly get the ball to an athlete in space. The Eagles need a burner, but the top receivers will likely be off the board when Philly is on the clock in the first round (they pick 22nd). If so, they’d be foolish not to consider Richardson when they choose in the second round (54th).
Seattle Seahawks: Richardson would give the Seahawks depth after Golden Tate’s departure for Detroit, and insurance against further injury to Percy Harvin. The defending champs don’t throw the ball much (second-to-last in attempts last season), but when they do, they love going deep off of play-action (fourth in yards per attempt). Russell Wilson is one of the most accurate deep-ball throwers in the league, especially on bootlegs.
In this system, Richardson could run simple vertical routes at first, making an impact while he learns the nuances of an NFL route tree. He would need to improve as a run blocker, though. Seattle was second in the league in rushing attempts last year. Its offensive identity comes from its punishing running game; the Seahawks need their receivers to be physical and nasty at the point of attack. Seattle has the last pick of the second round (64th) and no third-round pick. If Richardson is available near the end of the second round, they could trade down to the beginning of the third to select him and land another pick.
Atlanta Falcons: Atlanta proved the importance of a deep receiving corps last year. Star Julio Jones missed the final 11 games due to a broken foot, and the offense fell apart. Roddy White played through ankle and hamstring injuries, limping his way to his lowest numbers in eight years. With White hobbled and Jones out, Atlanta fell from seventh in the league in yards per attempt in 2012 to 17th last season.
When healthy, the pair is arguably the best receiving tandem in the league. Richardson would thrive as the third receiver in this offense; defenses would have to cover him one-on-one because White and Jones are both deep threats. Richardson would work mostly out of the slot, where quicker receivers are harder to cover because they aren’t constrained by the sideline.
White’s contract expires after this season, so Richardson could also be insurance if the Falcons let White walk. Atlanta chooses fifth in the second round (37th), so they could trade down to the middle of the round, when he’d likely still be on the board.
New England Patriots: The Patriots would likely give Richardson a bigger role than most other teams. Julian Edelman is their only consistent receiver. Danny Amendola missed a quarter of last season and Rob Gronkowski is a broken shell of what he was two years ago. Normally, Richardson’s struggles against press coverage would exclude him from being a No. 1 receiver, but it is a role he would have by default in New England.
But, playing with Tom Brady negates most of a receiver’s weaknesses. He throws receivers open better than any other quarterback, and Richardson would be the downfield threat Brady hasn’t had since Randy Moss left. Richardson would relegate Edelman to his natural slot position, and his presence would mean less playing time for the inconsistent-at-best Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins. The Patriots choose 30th in the second round (62nd overall). If they don’t trade that pick (a big if, knowing New England) Richardson could easily fall to them there.
Kansas City Chiefs: The Chiefs desperately need a downfield receiver. Dwayne Bowe is big and physical, but lacks elite speed. The Jon Baldwin and A.J. Jenkins experiments both failed. Alex Smith was hesitant to push the ball deep last season because he didn’t have a receiver he could trust. Smith averaged just 6.5 yards per attempt, and no Chiefs receiver had more than five touchdown receptions (running back Jamaal Charles led the team with seven). Smith doesn’t have elite arm strength, but he has the accuracy and anticipation to hit the deep ball. Three-receiver sets with Bowe and Richardson on one side, the speedy flex back Dexter McCluster on the other and Charles in the backfield would be especially dangerous. Kansas City doesn’t have a second-round pick, so if they want Richardson they would need to package their third and fourth-round picks (87th and 124th) to trade up for him.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Tommy Wood at Thomas.firstname.lastname@example.org.