COLUMBIA — Missouri defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson will opt out of his final season of eligibility to enter the NFL draft, Missouri’s athletic department announced Friday. Richardson also confirmed the news in a text message to the Missourian.
"This has been my dream ever since I was a little kid," said Richardson in a statement. "It’s still not easy leaving Mizzou like this, but I know I’m ready. I really appreciate all of the support I got here at Mizzou, and I know that they will help me and my family with this next step. I’ll always be a Tiger."
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel also expressed his support for Richardson's decision.
"I’ve always said that when guys have opportunities like these, if they’re ready to go, then they should go," Pinkel said. "I have no doubt that Sheldon is ready to play in the NFL, and while we’d love to have him for another year, the important thing is that this is the right decision. It will be fun watching him play on Sundays."
In ESPN football analyst Mel Kiper’s most recent mock draft, he has Richardson listed as the country’s No. 20 draft-eligible prospect. Todd McShay, another analyst for ESPN, has him ranked 25th.
Richardson, a redshirt junior, finished with 75 tackles, four sacks and three forced fumbles in 11 games in 2012. He played more sparingly in 2011, finishing with 37 tackles and two sacks.
The 6-foot-4, 295-pound defensive tackle attended high school at Gateway Tech High School in St. Louis, and was ranked by Rivals.com as the country’s No.4 overall football recruit in 2009.
He originally committed to Missouri at that time, but did not perform well enough academically to become eligible at Missouri. Instead, he attended the College of the Sequoias in Visalia, Calif., where he played for two years before transferring to Missouri prior to the 2011 season.
Besides becoming perhaps Missouri’s best player over the past two seasons, Richardson has also made news off the field during his time at Missouri.
After Missouri’s season-opening 62-10 win over Southeastern Louisiana on Sept. 1, Richardson immediately looked ahead to Missouri’s next opponent, Georgia, calling its style of play "old man football." He was withheld from speaking to the media for weeks after the comment.
Later in the season, Richardson was suspended for Missouri’s home finale against Syracuse for reportedly missing classes and then failing to carry out a team-issued punishment.