Back in April, some fans and draft experts said the Jets whiffed badly with their 13th overall pick of Sheldon Richardson out of Missouri, while others said, well, he is a good player, but not at a position the Jets needed to fill.
But Richardson showed all from the get-go that he fit right into head coach Rex Ryan's scheme as a high-impact, high-production, all-season-long fixture at defensive tackle. And his impact was validated tonight when he was crowned as the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year by The Associated Press during the NFL's Honors Awards during the show.
"I was surprised," Richardson said at Radio City Music Hall in New York after winning the award. "It was a tossup to me. It was a tight race."
Some favored Buffalo LB Kiko Alonso, others safeties Kenny Vaccaro of New Orleans and Tyrann Mathieu of Arizona and Carolina DT Star Lotulelei. But of the 50 votes by the AP panel, Richardson took home 23 of them and Alonso 19.
"Sheldon's had a tremendous year and I think he has a great future here," Ryan said in December. "The production is a huge part of it, and the way he plays. He's got that relentless motor. For a defensive tackle and being as productive as he is, the tape doesn't lie."
Sheldon Richardson played in all 16 games with 15 starts and was in for 80% of our defensive snaps (882 plays out of 1,102) plus 74 more on special teams and six on offense for a total of 956 plays for the year. He recorded 3.5 sacks and also unofficially led all D-tackles in the NFL, rookies and veterans alike, this season both with 78 tackles and with 8.5 stuffs (tackles for loss)
He credited Ryan and D-line coach Karl Dunbar with helping him make the impact he did as rookie, "just knowing how to put us in position to make plays and letting me be me, not putting shackles on my talent."
That included on offense, where Richardson, used as a 6'3", 294-pound fullback, carried the ball four times in the last three games and scored two touchdowns. Additionally, he was in on offense for two other plays, touchdowns by Kellen Winslow at Atlanta and Chris Ivory at Buffalo.
Asked if he expected to garner a vote or two as NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, Richardson told reporters, "Nah, Eddie Lacy had more touchdowns than me." Lacy in fact scored 11 rushing TDs for Green Bay and took home tonight's offensive rookie honor.
Richardson is following in an interesting Jets tradition of a high-round draft pick claiming the AP defensive rookie prize once every decade. S Erik McMillan first took home the award in 1988, then DE Hugh Douglas grabbed it in '95 and LB Jonathan Vilma followed suit in '04.
Wouldn't you like to know how some of Richardson's teammates felt about the award, not to mention fellow Mizzou alum Erik McMillan and perhaps a Jets Ring of Honor DE by the name of Mark Gastineau?
We have that exclusive reaction from those players, all of whom are making guest appearances tonight at Jets House on 33rd Street, just across from Madison Square Garden and down Super Bowl Boulevard a few blocks from Radio City. We'll bring those reactions to you in a Sheldon Richardson sidebar that will be live on newyorkjets.com also this evening.
Meanwhile, let us all offer Richardson a hearty round of applause and congratulations on his honor.