Mehta's Jets Top 10 Countdown – No. 2: Richardson a star in limbo

The 2017 Jets roster is filled with question marks, but one thing is clear: Woody Johnson wants evidence that Mike Maccagnan and Todd Bowles’ young core is making tangible improvement. I’ll be revealing my Top 10 Players for 2017 every weekday over the next two weeks. The list is made up of the 10 players that I believe will make the most impact in this watershed season for the Maccagnan-Bowles regime. A player’s accomplished resume does not guarantee them a spot on this list. This is about the present and future, not the past.

The countdown will be filled with surprises.

Top 10 recap:

No. 10:OLB Jordan Jenkins

No. 9: RT Brandon Shell

No. 8: CB Juston Burris

No. 7:S Jamal Adams

No. 6:WR Quincy Enunwa

No. 5:LG James Carpenter

No. 4:RB Bilal Powell

No. 3:DL Muhammad Wilkerson

* * *

SEPT. 25, 2016, FILE PHOTO

Sheldon Richardson celebrates a rare 2016 sack, this one coming against Chiefs QB Alex Smith.

(Ed Zurga/AP)

No. 2 Sheldon Richardson

Position: Defensive lineman

Age at the start of the regular season: 26

2017 Salary Cap Charge: $ 8.1 million (Fifth-year team option. Will be an unrestricted free agent in 2018)

2016 Season in Review:

Richardson’s forgettable fourth season kicked off with a league-imposed one-game suspension for violating the personal conduct policy and ended with questions about his future with the franchise that once upon a time took him with the 13th overall pick.

In between, Richardson was disciplined by Bowles for being late for team weight-lifting sessions, shopped before the trade deadline and played out of position at times to help alleviate the logjam along the defensive line.

The predictable result: A career-low 1 1/2 sacks.

It’s no coincidence that Richardson’s best game of the season – A Week 7 win over the Ravens that included a sack, two quarterback hits, three tackles for loss and a team-high eight tackles – came when Mo Wilkerson was out due to injury.

2017 Crystal Ball:

The Jets are still amenable to trading Richardson after their latest unsuccessful attempt during the draft, but any interested team would have to be willing to pay him the guaranteed $ 8.1 million he’s due this season.

It’s ridiculous that the Jets want to move such a talented player who hasn’t even hit his prime yet, but the powers that be believe that a fresh start might be the best thing for all parties. Truth be told, the organization isn’t exactly thrilled with some of the tardiness/absence issues.

One thing is certain: The Jets have done Richardson no favors by not leaving him at his natural position of three-technique defensive tackle. Bowles has tried to find creative ways to play his three best linemen (Richardson, Wilkerson and Leonard Williams) together as much as possible, but it simply hasn’t yielded the results that you would think. Richardson’s athleticism prompted the coaches to use him at linebacker at times, but defensive coordinator Kacy Rodgers intimated this week that those days are over.

If Richardson stays on the straight and narrow path and returns to Pro Bowl form, the Jets could slap the franchise tag on him (or sign him to a long-term deal) in 2018. Wilkerson’s contract structure has an escape hatch after this season if he continues to underperform.

Keeping Richardson this season would give the Jets more flexibility/options after the season.

Next on the countdown: No. 1: A superstar in the making.

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