Rookie Sheldon Richardson is brash and boastful, but he delivers

Sheldon Richardson celebrates a sack with David Harris Sheldon Richardson celebrates a sack with David Harris during a game against the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome. (Oct. 7, 2013) Photo Credit: Getty

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Sheldon Richardson tapped the seat of the stool beside him and, with one hand, beckoned the interviewer to sit down.

His corner of the Jets' locker room is a constant bevy of activity, a revolving door of media scribes and TV crews seeking unadulterated honesty and good-natured one-liners. And the rookie defensive tackle never disappoints.

He is blunt but entertaining -- a seemingly perfect blend of unapologetic brashness and goofiness that makes him likable rather than insufferable.

"I guess I'm an old snake charmer. I don't know," Richardson said, flashing a big smile and rubbing his fingers through the tip of his black beard.

Rex Ryan raised eyebrows when he declared the Jets' 2013 draft group "about as strong a class as I've ever seen." But in many ways, Richardson, who at No. 13 was sandwiched between ninth overall pick Dee Milliner and second-rounder Geno Smith, has been the saving grace of the group.

The struggles of Milliner -- the replacement for All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis -- and new quarterback Smith have been a constant topic of conversation, but Richardson has been a steady force on the defensive line from the beginning.

By the end of October, ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. had Richardson rated as the NFL's top rookie. A few weeks later, he was named the league's rookie of the month for November, becoming the first Jets defensive player to earn the award since 2007 (David Harris).

Richardson, who has 31/2 sacks, now is third among NFL defensive linemen with 64 tackles. But he is nonchalant about the accolades, crediting his success to playing alongside Muhammad Wilkerson, Damon Harrison and Quinton Coples.

But don't think for a second that Richardson is surprised that he's garnered so much attention.

As he sees it, there was no better defensive tackle available on draft day. And despite being rated below Sharrif Floyd (23rd to the Vikings) and Star Lotulelei (14th to the Panthers) by experts, Richardson was the first defensive tackle taken.

But Richardson believes he should have been the first overall pick.

"I just felt like because I went to Missouri, and we had a losing season, I didn't get the pub I deserved. It's as simple as that," said Richardson, who was taken with the pick secured from Tampa Bay in the Revis trade. "I have a chip on my shoulder for a lot of reasons . . . I thought I was better than everybody in this draft class no matter what position they played."

The Jets fell in love with his athleticism and energy. They also liked his attitude, which was on full display during their private meeting at the NFL combine.

In a league full of studs, every team searches for players who can fall in line. "But you want those first-round picks to be alpha males," defensive line coach Karl Dunbar said.

Richardson certainly is. And he's always had a high opinion of himself. That's why he occasionally feels compelled to -- playfully -- tell Milliner and Smith that he's the best among the Jets' rookies. And when Milliner struggles, Richardson utters just two words to the former Alabama cornerback.

"War eagle," Richardson deadpanned, reciting the battle cry of Auburn, Alabama's in-state rival. "I don't say stuff like, 'Oh, man, get better. Don't worry about it.' Shake it off. We're grown."

But Richardson said his boastfulness isn't intended to be a slight to others. It's more about his own level of play and his own high expectations.

"That's just how I feel," said the 6-3, 294-pounder, who spent two seasons at a junior college in Visalia, Calif., before enrolling at Missouri because of academic issues. "I just do. I don't know why. I don't care about your stats or none of that . . . I feel like I'm better than you."

His words may seem harsh -- unnecessary, even. But that's nothing compared to growing up in St. Louis, one of the five most deadly cities in the U.S.

His parents, Zelda and Michael, still live in his childhood home on Cabanne Avenue. The youngest of four boys, Richardson had everything he needed growing up. But despite his "very happy childhood," there was "a lot of bad around the neighborhood," he said.

In the Richardson household, a child's best was to be expected and a lack of effort was inexcusable. He still laughs at the memory of his father getting on his case after he recorded four first-quarter sacks but missed another during his freshman year at Gateway Tech (Mo.). But the seeds of determination were planted through that tough love. And the always critical assessments of his family helped set a standard.

But only recently did Richardson realize that everyone isn't accustomed to brutal honesty. At Mizzou, there were times that teammates didn't want him speaking for the group because "I'm too forward and I don't care about feelings," said Richardson, who generated headlines in September 2012 by saying Georgia plays "old-man football."

Now Richardson rarely speaks after losses because he's afraid he might say the wrong thing. And despite being one of the brightest stars on the defense, he isn't looking to be a leader just yet.

"We've got Hall of Famers, Pro Bowlers," he said. "I have a lot of people I can follow right now, so I don't need to lead.

"But I speak when I need to."

Richardson is surprisingly laid back most of the time -- even "boring,'' he said. But he's a terror on the football field. And as long as he's producing, Dunbar is fine with his brash delivery.

"It shouldn't rub anybody the wrong way if you're going out there doing the things you talk about doing," Dunbar said.

"Being self-assured is different. Cockiness is when you don't do it. And all you do is talk."

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