Sheldon Richardson has never lacked confidence, nor has he ever met a microphone he did not like.
During his tenure at Missouri from 2011 to 2012, the hyper-athletic defensive tackle always knew he one day play in the NFL, and he wasn't shy about telling people.
But now that he is two years into his NFL career with the New York Jets, is it everything he thought it would be?
“It’s been real easy since I left college,” Richardson said with a huge laugh. “I don’t have to worry about school anymore.”
He quickly added a playful “I'm just playing” to the end of the comment, but that answer — which is as candid as it comes — is classic Richardson.
When asked this week what makes Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles so good, Richardson declined to do so, saying he didn't want to “ride his jock strap.”
And a month ago, following a loss that dropped the Jets' record to 1-3, Richardson told Jets fans booing quarterback Geno Smith to “shut up” and challenged them to produce a child capable of playing in the NFL so they can see if he does better.
“He’s got a big personality,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said, “and he plays big.”
No kidding. The Jets might be a woeful 1-7 this season, but it's hard to lay much of the blame at Richardson's feet. The 13th overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft has been an impact performer from day one.
As a rookie, the 6-foot-3. 294-pounder racked up 78 tackles and 3 1/2 sacks and was named the league's defensive rookie of the year. He was also ranked No. 94 on the NFL Network's top 100 list for 2014, which is notable because it is voted on by the players, themselves.
“He kind of jumps out on tape,” Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith said. “Very disruptive, can create a lot of penetration there in the pocket. He’s tough; he’s playing really well right now.”
The Jets use Richardson in a number of positions along the line — heads up on the tackle, shaded on the guard, shaded on the center, etc.— and he continues to use his quickness, power and arsenal of pass-rush moves to confound opponents.
Through eight games, Richardson has already equaled his sack total from last season and has 40 tackles. According to Pro Football Focus, he has the fifth-most pressures of any 3-4 defensive end in football among the 24 qualifying players at his position.
Together, Richardson and fellow defensive tackle Muhammad Wilkerson — who has a Pro Football Focus grade of 24.1 — form quite a duo against the run and pass.
“The thing I love about him is … this guy loves to play,” Jets coach Rex Ryan said of Richardson. “And every snap he's out there, you can't sleep on him. You do, he's going to make plays on ya.”
Richardson was the same way at Missouri. During his breakout junior campaign in 2012, he incredibly finished second on the team in tackles with 75 — a rarity for interior linemen — by regularly chasing down plays down the line of scrimmage and downfield.
And yes, he was a talker back then, too. That year, he called Georgia's style of offense “old man football,” which mushroomed into a distraction before a blowout loss and resulted in Richardson being kept from the media for a few weeks.
ESPN.com's draft profile of Richardson also noted that his “mental capacity and maturity level” were “being investigated closely by NFL scouts,” and it must be mentioned that he was suspended for a crucial game at the end of that season for violating team rules.
But since Richardson has joined the Jets, Ryan — a chatterbox and outgoing guy, himself — has absolutely gotten the most of his star defensive tackle.
Ryan has even taken advantage of Richardson's athleticism on offense, where he's occasionally seen spot duty as a fullback. Richardson even has two rushing touchdowns to his credit, though he's only been used as a blocker this year.
“You can see his personality in all of us and he sees it in me,” Richardson said of his coach. “He’s a fighter; I’m a fighter, both competitors. Only thing is he’s calling plays and I’m out there doing them.”
Richardson also credits his fellow defensive linemen for helping him make a seamless transition to the NFL.
“Just the guys I came in with, Mo (Muhammad Wilkerson), Q (Quinton Coples), Snacks (Damon Harrison), Big Ken (Kenrick Ellis) and those guys, made my transition from college to the NFL effortless,” Richardson said. “Playing with those guys and sharing the battlefield with those guys, there really wasn’t much of a learning curve.
“Most guys have a hard time learning the playbook, didn’t take me too long to learn that. And some guys have a hard time adjusting to the NFL speed; I didn’t struggle with that at all. Because when it’s all said and done, football is football.”
Now, the St. Louis native looking forward to having his friends and family see how far he's come, in person. Richardson said he expects 60 visitors at Sunday's game at Arrowhead Stadium, where he hopes they'll be treated to a rare Jets win.
“Keep the negative thoughts to yourself when you come to work and pray and hope that things get better,” Richardson said, when asked how he's been dealing with the losses thus far. “Just the little things some of us are not doing, we just have to get it turned around.”
If the Jets somehow find a way to do that Sunday, it’s safe to say there's a good chance Richardson will make a play to two to contribute to the cause.
“Quite honestly,” Ryan said, “he's just now coming into his own, I think.”