The Denver Broncos team needs have undergone a bit of an overhaul since the trade to acquire Russell Wilson. Quarterback is presumably solved, but now the defensive line rotation is down to Dre’Mont Jones, Mike Purcell, and McTelvin Agim one year after the Denver defense ranked 21st against the run by Football Outsiders’ DVOA. Reinforcements are badly needed.
One lineman who will probably intrigue the Broncos’ front office is Sheldon Richardson, who played for George Paton’s Minnesota Vikings in 2018.
Weight: 294 pounds
Age: 31 years old
Experience: 9 seasons
Why it makes sense
At present the Broncos have three defensive lineman with meaningful NFL experience: Dre’Mont Jones, Mike Purcell, and McTelvin Agim. Jones was quietly the Broncos’ most effective individual pass rusher last year, but Purcell’s missed 19 of 33 games over the last two seasons and Agim’s played 231 defensive snaps since he was picked in the third round of the 2020 draft.
While Richardson’s closer to the end of his career than his Pro Bowl form from 2018, he remains a solid run defender and pass rusher. After the Cleveland Browns made him a cap casualty last offseason he signed with the Vikings and finished the ‘21 season with 29 pressures and 2.5 sacks by Sports Info Solutions charting. In fact he generated pressure on 7% of his rushes despite playing more snaps at defensive end than previous years because of the Danielle Hunter injury.
On top of what Richardson brings to the field, he’s been reliably available to this point in his career. He hasn’t missed a game since 2017 and Pro Football Focus credits him with 6,722 regular season defensive snaps since 2013, which ranks 11th among all defensive linemen.
Why it doesn’t make sense
There’s reason to believe the Broncos’ defense under Ejiro Evero will look quite similar to what Denver did with Vic Fangio the last three years. That means light box counts will continue as the safeties typically start out of a two high structure pre-snap, and defensive lineman will be asked to play gap and a half. Philosophically this is done to prevent explosive plays over the top and allocate additional resources to the pass defense. This is relevant to Richardson in the sense that the coaching staff will need to feel comfortable with his ability to play gap and a half. He’ll also play more 5 and 4i technique than he’s done for much of his career as the Broncos look like they’ll utilize a 3-4 when they’re in their base personnel groupings.
The biggest knock on Richardson is that he’s 31-years-old. He’s not quite the player he used to be and NFL history suggests his will play will decline as he ages. It’d be in the Broncos’ best interest to remain cognizant of this if they find themselves hammering out contract details.
If the Broncos are comfortable with Richardson’s age and fit in the new defensive system he strikes me as one of the most appealing short term replacements for Shelby Harris on the veteran market.
Should the Broncos pursue Sheldon Richardson in free agency?
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