We conclude this mini-series of NFL Combine primers with offensive lineman Asim Richards, who’ll be part of the last group to check in to Indianapolis. Richards’ ascent to draftable status was significantly more surprising than that of his three teammates in Indy, but his play in 2022 absolutely deserved it and he’s got a good chance to be the second Tar Heel drafted, following in the footsteps of former linemates Joshua Ezeudu and Marcus McKethan.
Richards, a part-time offensive lineman and part-time tight end in high school, was probably thrust into a starting role at left tackle for UNC before he was really ready for it. He became a starter as a true sophomore and, despite his obvious athleticism, noticeably struggled even on a good offensive line in 2020 and then on a terrible one in 2021. With a new offensive line coach in 2022, though, Richards’ play made a complete 180, and he was arguably the best player on UNC’s front five. He moved better in the pass and run games, had stronger hands, and ended up allowing just 3 sacks all year. His efforts earned him a nod for All-ACC 3rd Team honors. Richards was UNC’s only player invited to the Senior Bowl after the season, and now he’s likely to be drafted in April.
What to look for:
Richards only ever played left tackle for UNC, but it wasn’t until 2022 that he was a stalwart there. In his two previous years, it was fairly common to see Josh Ezeudu slide from left guard to left tackle for a few snaps and be replaced at guard by one of UNC’s backups while Richards sat down. Interestingly, at the Senior Bowl’s week of practices, Richards took reps at guard and tackle, suggesting that scouts and coaches outside of Chapel Hill might see in him some potential for positional versatility. His guard reps didn’t go all that well, but that’s kind of what you expect for his first time at the position. I’m curious to see if he’ll work at both positions in drills, and if his media availability will shed any further light on if he thinks he can play guard at the next level. His measurements will also be important for this: if his arm length doesn’t clear that 34” threshold, playing guard becomes significantly more likely.
What he has to gain:
Richards’ projections vary pretty wildly at the moment. Lance Zierlein of NFL.com has him as the 10th-best tackle in the draft, while a couple of other outlets have him more in the 17-20 range. That’s the difference between being drafted in the 3rd round and the 6th round, which is consequently a huge difference in the amount of resources a team puts into after you’re drafted. If Richards can impress with his movement skills and show some power and drive at the same time, maybe he can start nudging consensus, not to mention NFL teams, towards the higher end of that range, and put himself in position to be drafted on Day 2. And if he looks position-versatile, all the better.