The New York Jets certainly had their ups and downs during the 2013 season, but the play of rookie defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson was a true bright spot. He has reportedly been honored with the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year Award because of it, according to NFL: Around The League:
Sheldon Richardson won Defensive Rookie of the Year.— NFL: AroundTheLeague (@NFL_ATL) February 1, 2014
Richardson was the second of the Jets' two first-round picks in the 2013 draft at No. 13, and he seemingly played with a chip on his shoulder all season long. Richardson could have easily been a top-five pick in the draft, but he fell to the Jets and proved to be one of the draft's biggest steals.
The 6'3", 294-pound Missouri product was a key cog in the Jets' dominant defensive line as he finished the season with an impressive 77 tackles, 11 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. His numbers weren't quite as gaudy as some of his counterparts since he did plenty of dirty work in the trenches, but his impact was always evident.
Richardson certainly doesn't lack for confidence either as he didn't hesitate to suggest that he was deserving of the Defensive Rookie of the Year Award following the season, according to Kimberley A. Martin of New York Newsday:
"I am the defensive rookie of the year," he said. "That's just how I feel. If anybody has an opinion about it, they can always state their opinion. It's just me."
The voters clearly agreed as Richardson beat out a number of deserving candidates. Buffalo Bills linebacker Kiko Alonso and Arizona Cardinals defensive back Tyrann Mathieu both made strong cases for receiving the honor. However, Richardson was able to edge them out, and deservedly so.
New York had no business going 8-8 this season based on the lack of talent on offense, but its defense was able to keep it afloat. Richardson was a huge part of that as he keyed Gang Green's dominant run defense and contributing to the pass rush as well.
Although it has nothing to do with winning Defensive Rookie of the Year, it's also interesting to note that Richardson became somewhat of a weapon for Rex Ryan and Marty Mornhinweg on offense, with two rushing touchdowns.
Simply put, Richardson is a football player who has thrived in any situation that he has been placed in. If the Jets are going to return to playoff form in the near future, then he and a handful of other players will be at the forefront of New York's ascent.
Richardson's progression is quite incredible when you consider the fact that his goals for the 2013 season weren't that lofty at all. He had said to Martin:
"[I] wasn't a bust. That's the only thing I tried to do is not be a bust and live up to my first round [draft selection]."
Richardson saying that he wasn't a bust might be the understatement of the year, but the true challenge moving forward is establishing himself as a star in the league. A number of players have had one good season, but it takes something special to continue producing on a yearly basis.
There is no reason to believe that Richardson will regress based on how big of a factor he was for the Jets this past season. It is entirely possible that the Defensive Rookie of the Year Award is the first of many pieces of hardware that Richardson will accrue over the course of his career.
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