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Sheldon Richardson in Hunt for D-Rookie of the Year

Posted Dec 11, 2013

It’s no coincidence that the Jets and Panthers lead their respective conferences in rushing defense this season. Just take a look back at the first round of April’s draft.

With the 12th overall pick, we selected DT Sheldon Richardson. With the 13th overall spot, Carolina chose DT Star Lotulelei. Both young men have contributed as anchors on their defensive fronts, and as this season winds down, either one could turn out to be the 2013 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.

“Thirteen was 12 picks late actually if you ask me,” Richardson said of his draft position before cracking a smile and letting go a laugh. “Just playing, but no man, it’s all fun and games and I’m glad he’s balling, too. Thirteen, 14 and now we’re both up for Defensive Rookie of the Year. Can’t ask for too much better than that.”

Through 13 games, Richardson’s racked up 3.5 sacks, 66 tackles, 1 forced fumble and 8.5 "stuffs," or tackles for loss on running plays, which is seventh in the NFL, compared to Lotulelei's 2.0 sacks, 36 tackles, no FFs and 6.5 stuffs.

Head coach Rex Ryan’s endorsement of his own D-lineman for the Rookie of the Year award is not based on statistics.

“I just look at the film, base it on production, and the production’s a huge part of it,” Ryan said. “The way he plays, he’s got that relentless motor, and for a defensive tackle and being as productive as he is, it doesn’t show necessarily in the sack total. He’s had maybe 28 hits on the quarterback or something like that.

"Then there's the way he’s played screen games, and his tackles are probably amongst the leaders in the league for defensive linemen.”

In fact, Richardson unofficially is first in tackles among DTs and third among all D-linemen behind a pair of New England Patriots, Rob Ninkovich (78) and Chandler Jones (70).

“The tape doesn’t lie,” Rex said.

Back in April, the Jets might have gone with Lotulelei (6’2”, 315) over Richardson (6’3”, 294), but their confidence in a pair of big men already on the roster, Kenrick Ellis (6’4”, 346) and Damon “Snacks” Harrison (6’4”, 350), led them in another direction.

“Sheldon was a little more different than what we had,” Rex said, “but he would provide us with just that real athletic guy that can fit a 3-4, fit a 4-3. A penetrating-type guy is what we were looking for.”

“He’s a great high-motor kid,” LB Quinton Coples said of Richardson. “He plays very hard, he just has a nose for the ball, he tackles, makes plays. I’ve been impressed with him.”

Lotulelei might not fit the penetration-type description, but don’t be fooled, he too is drawing high praise from inside the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center for the gap-clogging, run-stuffing abilities he possesses.

“He kind of reminds me of Haloti Ngata from Baltimore,” G Willie Colon said. “Strong at the point of attack, has the ability to rush. He’s just a physical player and you can see it on tape.”

Despite their different styles, Richardson and Lotulelei will forever be linked and compared, thanks to their adjacent draft slots. And if their rookie seasons are any indication, these two will stick around the league for many years to come.

In the meantime, both will do what they can to help their teams claim the defensive rushing crown for this season.

“We’re only in the second spot, so it’s not that big of a falloff,” Richardson said. “We’re only like 2 yards behind, so it’s not that big of a deal, but most definitely we want the No. 1 spot and we’re going to fight for it. But they’re a good defense too so it’s going to be a good game.”

You can vote Sheldon Richardson and his Jets teammates into the Pro Bowl here.

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