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NY Jets Saturday Spotlight: Sheldon Richardson

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Ok, so yeah, this is supposed to be a Friday Spotlight.  What can I say?  Life intervened.  It happens.

You know what else is happening this week?  Sheldon Richardson, arguably the best defensive player on the Jets, is making his return from an aggravated brain muscle pull.  The muscle pull was serious; we were aggravated.  But now he's back, and since he's a genetic mutant freak of a player with a motor of epic proportions, naturally all is forgiven and forgotten. Drug infraction?  What drug infraction?  I don't remember anything about any drug infraction, do you?

Welcome back to the Friday Spotlight.  Here we spotlight one key player for each game of the season, hopefully putting a different player in the spotlight each week.  Today's player in the spotlight is Sheldon Richardson, freshly arrived back after a stint of ritual flogging in league offices.

Sheldon Richardson, a 6' 3", 295 pound defensive lineman out of the University of Missouri, was drafted by the Jets with the 13th overall selection in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft.  With great strength, extraordinary quickness and agility for a man his size, great leverage and as good a motor for a defensive lineman as you'll ever see, Richardson has the ideal makeup of a 34 defensive lineman.  He is capable of playing tackle or end and he can and will line up anywhere.

Richardson was an instant sensation as a rookie, dominating matchups on the line of scrimmage, routinely blowing up running plays, running down guys from behind and generally impressing at every turn.  He capped a stellar year by winning the NFL Defensive Rookie Of the Year Award.  Richardson followed that up with an even more impressive sophomore campaign, making an arguable case for being the best interior defensive lineman whose name doesn't sound something like what?  What?

Here are Richardson's statistics for the first two years of his career.

Year

Tackles

Assists

Sacks

Passes Defended

Forced Fumbles

.

2013

42

35

3.5

1

1

2014

42

24

8.0

1

1

Coming into the 2015 season the hopes and expectations for Richardson in his third year were sky high.  Pro Bowl honors,  maybe even All Pro honors, were not unreasonable goals.  After developing into a very good pass rusher to go along with his dominant run defense in 2014, many expected Richardson, with his preternatural quickness and explosiveness off the line, to progress into a nearly unstoppable beast in 2015.  Jets fans salivated at the prospect of Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson destroying opposing quarterbacks with a relentless pass rush game after game.  It has not worked out that way.

Richardson has been a bit of a disappointment in his third season. For reasons I cannot at the moment recall he has gone the entire first quarter of the season without registering a single sack, tackle or assist.  It's almost like he's been in a state of suspended animation or something.

Sunday's game against the Washington Redskins provides the perfect opportunity for Richardson to come back from his mysterious disappearance.  The Redskins have a talented duo at running back in Alfred Morris and Matt Jones and look to establish the rushing offense early and often.  Richardson, a supremely talented run defender, should help to quash the Washington ground game and force them to rely on their Cousins to bail them out through the air.  Unfortunately for the team from our nation's capitol, Richardson is also a pass rushing demon, who is capable of making opposing quarterbacks miserable if they hold onto the ball too long.  With the addition of Richardson to a defensive line that already included Mo Wilkerson and promising rookie Leonard Williams, for the first time this year the Jets can unleash the full force of their pass rush at it was designed to work.  Now would be a great time for Sheldon to celebrate his return and register a sack or two while putting pressure on Redskins' quarterback Kirk Cousins all game long.

The Redskins have a nice offensive backfield, but one half of that backfield, impressive rookie Mat Jones, is struggling with a toe injury.   The Jets front seven should be able to effectively limit Washington's rushing attack.  If Richardson and the rest of the Jets pass rush can get to Cousins repeatedly, this sets up as a game the Jets defense might dominate with their newfound proclivity at turning the ball over.   That dominance would get a huge boost with a strong performance from the Jets' Pro Bowl defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson.

The stage is set for a triumphant return.  This is the time for Sheldon Richardson to excel.  This is an opportunity tailor made for a breakout performance from Richardson, a chance to remind Jets fans just how much they have been missing this year without him.  If we see Richardson resume being a force in the running game, make tackles all over the field and be a generally disruptive force in both the pass rush and the run defense, then the Jets should be able to pull out a win against Washington and set up a showdown next week against the Patriots with first place on the line.  If on the other hand we see Richardson return with a thud, almost as invisible as he has been the first four games of the season, then the Jets risk losing an eminently winnable game and prematurely taking all the buzz out of next week's showdown.  Either way, Richardson should prove to be a pivotal player in this game.   This is Sheldon Richardson's time in the spotlight.  This is his chance for a legendary return from the abyss.  Let's hope he shines come Sunday afternoon.