INDIANAPOLIS -- This won't come as a surprise to Missouri fans aware of the outspoken ways of defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson. But Richardson believes he's the best player available in this year's NFL Draft.
"I see myself as the top pick, not a top-10 pick," Richardson said Saturday at the NFL Combine. "I didn't come into this draft to be second to anyone. If they see what they like -- they're going to get a (heck) of a ballplayer."
The Chiefs have the first pick in the draft and prefer defensive ends in their 3-4 system to be taller than Richardson, who is 6 feet 2. But Richardson said he had a Saturday night meeting scheduled with the Chiefs.
Even if the Chiefs don't draft Richardson, he won't have to wait long in the first round to hear his name called. With a strong showing at the Combine and in subsequent workouts, Richardson could be the first defensive tackle drafted, ahead of Utah's Star Lotulelei and Florida's Sharrif Floyd.
"They're real good defensive tackles, but I like the way I stand up to them," Richardson said in his typically candid way. "I like my draft stock versus their draft stock."
But Richardson's ability is real.
"The Richardson kid is exciting," NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said. "At 300 pounds, to me he has the movement skills of a 250-pound linebacker. Missouri actually stood him up, and how often do you see a defensive tackle standing up and playing a linebacker position at 300 pounds? Obviously, Missouri and Dave Steckel were highly impressed with this kid's athletic ability. He's really gifted. He's probably more gifted than the Utah kid."
The belief he could be one of the top picks led Richardson to declare for the draft rather than return to Missouri for his final season.
"Leaving my guys was the hardest thing I had to do," he said. "It was a family decision. Me and my father and my mother sat down and it was something that we came to together. It was time for us to leave."
Richardson was encouraged by his play in Missouri's first season in the Southeastern Conference.
"It motivated me a lot," he said. "Jumping to the SEC brought a whole lot of offensive competition that I was ready for and I wanted to prove I was ready for it. I loved it."
He got in trouble with coach Gary Pinkel when, before Missouri's first conference game against Georgia, he criticized the Bulldogs' offense as "old-man football" because of a taste for running the ball.
"I told coach (Mark) Richt how he had a great team and I didn't mean any disrespect after that game and that I respected his team," Richardson said. "When I said old-man football, I meant old-school football. It was just a joke -- and it's a joke still to this day."
Asked what he learned from the incident, Richardson said, "Just watch what I say. They'll take a little thing, anything, and make something out of it."
But he said he won't stop being himself, with his new NFL teammates at least.
"I'm an assertive leader," he said. "In college . . . I was the guy the team looked to. When it got nitty and gritty, I was the guy they needed and the guy they depended on and the guy that kept them going."
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