Jets' defensive duo rising in #NFLRank

August, 26, 2014
Aug 26
10:00
AM ET
Muhammad Wilkerson is serious and reserved, not always quick with a smile. Sheldon Richardson is funny and engaging, a yapper's delight. He could have a future in stand-up comedy.

Wilkerson
Richardson
They're different in so many ways, including their playing style, but Wilkerson and Richardson form one of the top young defensive duos in the NFL. With nose tackle Damon Harrison, they form the New York Jets' "Sons of Anarchy" defensive line.

"I hope the whole defensive line goes [to the Pro Bowl]," Richardson said.

For now, Richardson and Wilkerson are the big names. Wilkerson, coming off a 10.5-sack season, jumped 60 spots in the ESPN #NFLRank list of defensive players, moving up to No. 31. Richardson, the reigning NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, debuts at No. 39.

Wilkerson and Richardson are only 24 and 23, and are still under contract for two and three years, respectively. If the front office doesn't mess it up, the Jets should have two defensive anchors for the next decade.

They're good friends, but there's a personal rivalry between them. When Richardson said last season that he considers himself the best defensive lineman on the team, it sparked something in Wilkerson, who responded with his best season.

"I consider myself an elite player," said Wilkerson, who somehow wasn't named to the Pro Bowl.

A first-round pick in 2011, Wilkerson is straight out of central casting. He's 6-foot-4 and 315 pounds, with a 76-inch wing span. He can play any position on the defensive line, even nose tackle in certain packages. In the Jets' 3-4 base, he's not a true defensive end -- he rushes mostly against guards -- making his sack total more impressive.

His production faded late in the season, so his primary goal for 2014 is consistency. He expects big things. How big?

"I've got a personal goal, but I'm not telling you. I don't tell it out to people," he said, revealing a rare smile. "I've got a [sack] number in my head, and I'm going to do my best to get it and get past it."

Figure he's thinking 15, minimum.

Richardson recorded only 3.5 sacks as a rookie, but that total should double now that he's comfortable in the defensive scheme. He relied on instincts and athleticism last season, emerging as a force against the run. Line coach Karl Dunbar said the plan this year is to feature Richardson as a pass-rusher, calling plays designed to get him free.

Because of his rookie honor, Richardson's nickname is "D-ROY." He will be a marked man after a breakthrough season, which means more double-teams.

"Bring it on, man. I ain't worried about that," he said. "It's football. Only so many ways you can block a 3-technique. So bring it on."

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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