‘First-round talent' knows why he fell

The Vikings got a bit of a steal with Antonio Richardson, who was graded a mid-round talent but believes he has first-round ability. So why did he go undrafted? He explains that and why the Vikings made a choice some other teams weren't interested in.

The Vikings saw in big offensive lineman Antonio Richardson what few others teams did: a knee that they believe is worth taking a chance on because of the athletic ability in the rest of Richardson's body.

Richardson was easily the highest rated undrafted player the Vikings signed. NFL Draft Report believed he would be a fourth-round pick, but a knee injury that concerned other teams so much that they took him completely off their draft board was something the Vikings were willing to take a chance on.

NFL teams saw an issue with his knee during medical testing at February's Scouting Combine. Richardson said he had surgery to repair cartilage damage in it in 2012 and didn't miss a game.

"As you can see, the Vikings cleared me so I'm out here, going to do whatever I can to get out on the field," Richardson said after a recent rookie minicamp practice. "I know that I'm a first-round talent, so at the end of the day I'm just going to come in here and work just like I was a first-rounder.

"… At the end of the day, it doesn't matter where you were drafted. We're all pros now and I'm going to do what I've got to do – bust my butt to get to that second contract and help my team."

The Vikings knew about the knee injury, too, but they came to their own conclusions about the overall prognosis and decided that signing him as an undrafted free agent immediately following the draft was worth the minimal risk for a player with big potential.

Other teams were interested, too, Richardson said, but …

"I made a deal with the Vikings pretty quick, so it was kind of like I got word out. I had about five calls right after the draft, and once everybody found out I signed with the Vikes, everybody stopped calling," he said.

"I chose the Vikings because I felt like I had a great opportunity here. They are very low on tackles. We've got Matt Kalil here at left and Phil (Loadholt) at right, but if something was to happen to one of those guys I'll automatically go in and I'm going to compete my butt off this summer to see what I can do. But the playbook is pretty deep, so I'm going to have to spend some time getting into it and learning the system."

Richardson is no stranger to strange endings and beginnings during different phases of his career.

He played 36 games at Tennessee, starting 24 of them at left tackle and was charged with allowing just two sacks on 821 pass plays as a starter. He also was credited for 208 key blocks/knockdowns and 32 touchdown-resulting blocks over his final two seasons at Tennessee.

But, despite knowing that NFL teams had concerns about his knee surgery in 2012, he elected to leave Tennessee early after three losing seasons. His teammate, Ja'Wuan James, the Volunteers' right tackle, went in the first round. Richardson waited and knew that his medical report likely was going to knock him out of mid-round consideration.

"It was one of those things where the issues were going to go on either way," he said of concerns with his knee. "I wanted to go ahead and leave where I could get the best doctors and the best medical treatment. I was able to do that. I've been out here. I haven't had any issues. I've been moving really well and I'm looking forward to competing."

His high school career also ended strangely. He graduated from Pearl-Cohn High School in Nashville, Tenn., but didn't play football his senior season after transferring there due to academic reasons. He had lettered three times previously at Ensworth High School, but transfer rules dictated he sit out, even though he was involved with his new team on the sidelines and received a four-star rating from Scout.com, along with being considered the 18th-best tackle in the country.

He played on the 2011 U.S. Under-19 National Team in the Team USA vs. The World game, as did his new teammate with the Vikings, Teddy Bridgewater.

Despite not playing his senior year in high school, Richardson's home-state team got him and used him well. After three years with the Volunteers, Richardson took the plunge to the NFL, even while knowing there was a possibility he wouldn't hear his name called on draft weekend.

All he can do now is make the most of his opportunity and hope his knee holds up.

"At the end of the day, it doesn't matter where you were drafted," he said. "We're all pros now and I'm going to do what I've got to do – bust my butt to get to that second contract and help my team."

Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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