NFL prospect criticized for lack of consistency, aggressiveness
CLEMSON — Vaneiseea Richardson keeps telling her brother he needs to speak up for a change.
As a 20-something disc jockey in the Charleston area, she has no problems offering her opinions or standing up for herself. She just wishes her brother, Barry Richardson, would acquire the same qualities and venture outside of his reserved shell at an important time in his life.
"You have to be more vocal," she said. "I'm trying to get on him about that, but he's not with it."
Vaneiseea, who goes by the nickname "V. Trip" at the private parties she works, believes Richardson has to do something — anything — to help shift opinions in his favor as he prepares for the NFL Draft in April. A four-year starter at offensive tackle for Clemson, the former Wando High standout has watched his draft stock take a precipitous slide in the past six months.
Considered a potential first-round draft pick and one of the premier players at his position entering his senior season, Richardson is now deemed a likely late-round pick in the seven-round draft. Frank Coyle, a veteran NFL draft analyst who runs Draft Insiders' Digest (www.draftinsiders.com), calls Richardson a "project."
"I tell you, I don't know what's going to happen to that kid," Coyle said. "My God, I wonder if he's even going to get drafted."
At 6-7 and 320 pounds, Richardson looks like the prototype NFL offensive lineman. He put together an impressive list of credentials at Clemson — first-team all-Atlantic Coast Conference as a junior and senior; 44 consecutive starts at left tackle; no injury issues; and a health science degree in just 3 1/2 years.
Yet the NFL folks weren't enamored of what they saw on film during Richardson's senior season, nor of what they witnessed in person at the recent NFL Combine and Senior Bowl.
At last month's combine in Indianapolis, he posted a 5.44-second time in the 40-yard dash. At the Senior Bowl in late January, he drew criticism for his lack of consistency, aggressiveness and flexibility.
Nolan Nawrocki of Pro Football Weekly wrote that the 21-year-old Richardson is a "pretender."
"At a position where teams seek warriors, Richardson quite simply plays like a chardonnay drinker," Nawrocki wrote.
Richardson, who recently completed a month-and-a-half's worth of training in Phoenix, bristles at the suggestion that his stock has plummeted. He said he's still holding out hope of being taken in the first round — a goal he professed in January of 2007, when he announced plans to remain at Clemson for his senior season instead of turning pro early.
Richardson is now in Clemson working out with his brother Nathaniel, a former offensive lineman at South Carolina State who also has aspirations of playing professionally.
"Everybody who watched my games can tell I'm a first-round pick," he said. "People who make these predictions, they say those things and they don't look at the tape. They're looking at what I did last."
Throughout Richardson's life in sports, few if any people have successfully penetrated his guarded exterior. Whether the circumstances on the field are exhilarating or excruciating, he seldom shows much emotion.
That's the part his sister suspects might be costing him in the eyes of NFL personnel who don't see the requisite initiative and intensity. She believes he could be more assertive during interviews, reminding his potential employers of his college accolades and his drive.
Vaneiseea recalls the summer of 2006, when Richardson endured 100-degree temperatures while making the long walk to and from the Wando gym while home on vacation. She points out that Richardson managed to shed almost 30 pounds before making the trip to last month's combine.
"It was hard for me to watch him perform bad at the combine, because I know the hard work he's put in behind the scenes," she said.
Richardson acknowledges he needs to speak up more but says it's "not in my nature" to do it. In one breath, he says he wants to change people's minds. In the next, he admits he won't be devastated if he's selected in the lower rounds.
"If all hell breaks lose and I'm not a high pick, there's nothing else I can do," he said. "I'm not going to hang my head over it. I'll still be on a team and will have my chance. I'd still be playing football. If I'm on a team, I'll be happy to play football."
Even if he did not play another down of organized football, Richardson will have accomplished remarkable things. He wasn't even an all-region player at Wando, yet he signed with Clemson while graduating in three years. The Tigers and South Carolina offered him scholarships based not on the vision that he'd eventually be all-conference, but on the hunch that he was capable of being merely serviceable.
In the summer of 2004, offensive line coach Brad Scott all but guaranteed Richardson would redshirt his freshman season. But almost immediately after the start of preseason camp, Richardson proved his coach wrong by gutting out post-practice "gassers" and grasping his assignments much more quickly than anticipated.
Less than two months after he arrived on campus, he played the entire second half in the fourth game against Florida State and didn't allow a sack. By the next game, he was starting — the first non-redshirt freshman to start on the Tigers' offensive line since Stacy Long in 1986.
From that point until the end of his career, Richardson's only missed start was in December's overtime loss to Auburn in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. He was late for a team meal.
"Hopefully he can prove some people wrong," said Bob Hayes, his coach at Wando. "It does seem like when he turns it on, he's an unbelievable athlete for such a big man."
Richardson faced high expectations entering the 2007 season. ESPN guru Mel Kiper ranked him the No. 4 senior offensive tackle in college football. Todd McShay of Scouts Inc. projected him as a potential first-round pick. He was named first-team all-America by Lindy's, Athlon and Playboy.
But the offensive line struggled over the first half of the season, particularly in back-to-back losses to Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech. The NFL folks didn't like what they were seeing out of Richardson, citing inconsistency, weight fluctuations and an inability to run block.
Richardson said he improved significantly in the final seven games, largely because he began to ignore talk of his sliding draft stock. Scott gave him a grade of 87 after the season, higher than any other lineman.
That's not good enough for Coyle, who said Richardson could fall between the fifth and seventh rounds. Coyle said he lacks the agility to be a left tackle, the power to be a right tackle, and the intensity to be anything more than a gamble.
Richardson's cause isn't helped by the fact that this year's draft is heavy on offensive linemen.
"Where's the fire?" Coyle said. "This kid got away with things on raw ability as a collegian. I don't see him being anything more than a project at this point."
This week, Richardson will have a final opportunity to impress the NFL folks. Clemson will play host to its "pro day" on March 14, giving Richardson and other former Tigers a showcase for league personnel.
"When I go to pro day, I'm going to blow it out," Richardson said. "I'm going to leave no doubt in people's minds."
Said his sister: "He has one more chance — pro day. He's going to have to speak up or show up."
Reach Larry Williams at firstname.lastname@example.org.