It’s said a draft class can’t be fully graded until at least three years after the picks are made. That’s why after submitting grades for every Pittsburgh Steelers pick made in 2021, I began going back through and grading previous Steeler draft classes beginning with 2018. Today continues the fifth class in that exercise, with the first of the Steelers’ two fifth-round picks in the 2014 NFL Draft: Shaquille Richardson, a cornerback from Arizona.
This exercise follows the six viewpoints (listed below) for examining and re-grading a pick. Each of the first five viewpoints gets examined and assigned a letter grade, before taking that analysis and combining it into a final letter grade. Those five viewpoints comprise much of what goes into the draft grades consumed by so many every year after the draft.
Steelers’ Career: What did the player contribute to the team that drafted him?
NFL Career: Did the player make the pick look better in hindsight after leaving Pittsburgh?
Pick Value: Did the player outperform his draft slot? Did he fail to live up to the pick used on him?
Positional Value: Was the player the best player remaining at his specific position in the draft?
Other Options: Did any players go during the next round that were better selections?
Overall Grade: A final mark to denote whether the selection was an overall positive one, or one better spent elsewhere.
Each factor in a retrospective doesn’t apply evenly to every pick made; consider the grades weighted. For example, to return a high grade in pick value, a first-round pick should have a long and impactful career, while a later-round pick needs only a couple seasons as a back-up or modest contributor to be worth the selection used on him.
Some factors are universal, though. Whether picked first overall or 259th, there will always be other options on the board to compare the player to, and steals and reaches can come from any place in the draft.
Round 5, Pick 17: Shaquille Richardson, CB, Arizona
STEELERS & NFL CAREER: N/A
It’s not for lack of trying that Richardson has yet to take the field for a regular season game in the NFL. He has earned contracts from almost a fifth of the league to this point, signing with six different franchises. None of those chances have translated into a concrete foothold on a regular season roster, though.
The first team to miss was the Steelers, who drafted the promising cornerback from Arizona 157th overall in what looked like another solid-value pick from an outstanding class to that point. The promise dimmed when Richardson failed to make the team’s roster out of the preseason, spending his rookie year on the team’s practice squad. His Steeler career didn’t make it the full season — Pittsburgh waived him with an injury settlement from the practice squad in mid-October.
Richardson’s tenure with the Steelers was both his longest with a franchise, and the only time he made it through camp with a team as part of the practice squad. His waiver began a process of bouncing from team to team. He signed offseason deals with the Kansas City Chiefs, Arizona Cardinals, Carolina Panthers, and Oakland Raiders over the next three years, but never made it out of camp with any of them. Richardson did make one more practice squad appearance, signing mid-season with the Tennessee Titans in 2015.
Since his final NFL opportunity in 2018, Richardson has kept up his career in other leagues. He played four games for the Arizona Hotshots in the AAF, recording 16 tackles, six passes defensed, an interception, and a forced fumble. He had a career game against San Diego, making eight of those tackles, defensing three passes, and forcing both those turnovers.
Richardson went on to find success in the CFL both before and after the AAF folded. His first season came in 2016 with the Calgary Stampeders where he made 19 tackles, but 2017 with Calgary was where he looked like a star. Richardson intercepted four passes, had a forced fumble and fumble recovery, made a career-best 57 tackles, and ended up scoring a pair of defensive touchdowns.
Signing with the Toronto Argonauts later in 2019, Richardson made eight tackles, forced a fumble, and had an 89-yard pick-six in three games. He remains with the franchise, which begins its season next month.
PICK VALUE: F
Since 2008, Richardson is one of only three players selected by the Steelers in the first five rounds of the NFL Draft that has never taken the field for the franchise in a regular season game. Illustrating consistent struggles in drafting at the position, the other two are also cornerbacks, taken on either side of 2014: Senquez Golson, taken in 2015’s second round, and Terry Hawthorne, taken in 2013’s fifth round.
By default, the value is a failing grade because Richardson never brought anything to the Steelers. It just stings a little more than most who miss the roster, because this is a fifth-rounder who never played, not someone taken on the back end of the seventh.
POSITIONAL VALUE: D+
The 2014 Draft had been exhausted of long-term cornerbacks by the time the Pittsburgh Steelers jumped into the pool in the middle of the fifth round. Only a few players stuck around in the league after their first few seasons, none of whom inspire tremendous regret for missing at the position.
T.J. Carrie (219th, Oakland) and Terrance Mitchell (254th, Dallas) are tied for the most interceptions by a corner taken this late in the draft, with seven each. Carrie has started two full seasons in the league and is on his third team in the Indianapolis Colts, after stints with the pre-Vegas Raiders and the Cleveland Browns. Mitchell, taken three picks before the end of the draft, spent his first season as a full-time starter in 2020, with Cleveland. He spent little time in Dallas, playing most of his career with the Browns and Kansas City, where he had a four-interception season in 2017.
E.J. Gaines (188th, St. Louis) is still around the league, though currently a free agent. He started his first three seasons in three different cities, first in St. Louis and Los Angeles with the Rams and then with the Buffalo Bills. He had four career picks through his first four seasons, but has not played since 2018. He missed all of 2019 with an injury, and opted out of 2020 due to COVID-19.
Highlighting those gone from the league is Kenneth Acker (180th, San Francisco), who started as a rookie and had three interceptions, but was out of the NFL by 2018. Not a whole lot the Steelers missed out on, though most of the remaining corners did take the field for at least one regular season.
OTHER OPTIONS: C-
The Steelers didn’t miss on much else in the next 32 picks, either. Gaines doubles as one of the best selections who went shortly after Richardson, as most picks followed Richardson’s lead as early exits from the NFL.
One major exception is the lineman taken 161st overall by Green Bay. Corey Linsley was an immediate starter at center for the Packers as a rookie, and has started 99 games over seven seasons with the franchise. Recognized as one of the best centers in football, Linsley was awarded as such with an All-Pro selection in 2020, before signing the largest contract for a center in NFL history with the Los Angeles Chargers as a free agent.
Devon Kennard (174th, New York Giants) never reached Linsley’s heights, but is on his eighth season and third team as an NFL linebacker. Starting in New York before earning a two-year starting gig in Detroit, and now on his second season in Arizona, Kennard has 26.5 sacks and three 50-tackle seasons to his credit, and most importantly is still active in the league where most of his classmates are not. But the next round of picks was very weak in this draft, with Linsley the only major exception of note.
OVERALL GRADE: F
Even without a lot of better options remaining in the class, Richardson stands out as a notable misfire as a fifth-rounder who never made it out of camp with his drafting team (on the active roster), and never took the field in an NFL game. He always had the promise that made people praise the Steelers’ selection initially. He has displayed that promise in other leagues, too. Multiple stints in the CFL have seen him play as a top corner, and he also briefly showed it in the AAF. Richardson remains with the Argonauts, and has one of the most successful careers away from the NFL of a player profiled in these retrospectives.