Jordan Richards wasn’t watching the 2015 NFL draft when his name appeared on the bottom line at No. 64 overall. The Stanford product, projected to go anywhere from the fifth round to free agency, was in the car with his parents that Friday night, listening on the radio en route to visit his sister in Reno.
Then the New England Patriots called.
With that, Richards became the 13th defensive back selected after Trae Waynes, Kevin Johnson, Marcus Peters, Byron Jones, Damarious Randall, Landon Collins, Jalen Collins, Jaquiski Tartt, Eric Rowe, Ronald Darby, Senquez Golson and Quinten Rollins. And of whom, he became perhaps the biggest mystery.
But where Richards was picked means little now. In the midst of his third training camp in Foxborough, it’s not about validating his draft slot so much as it’s about validating his roster spot.
The former first-team All-Pac 12 selection, National Football Foundation Scholar-Athlete Award recipient, Cardinal captain and 44-game starter has started two games for the Patriots. He’s appeared in 25. He’s played a total of 276 snaps on defense.
On a safety depth chart led by the trio of Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung and Duron Harmon, it’s understandable as to why. Though in 2016, Richards played just 18 there.
It’s hard to forecast Richards seeing a sudden spike in 2017. Not with the free, strong and fifth defensive back standing the way they are. But the 24-year-old, who has been in for 404 snaps on special teams since entering the league, has seen the field.
And to his credit, Richards has drawn praise for his work on the one located behind Gillette Stadium this summer.
“I agree he hasn't had a lot of opportunity for playing time, but I think we know what we have with Jordan,” head coach Bill Belichick said in his press conference Tuesday, via Patriots.com. “Jordan's play time has increased this year in the practice opportunities that we've had in the spring and in training camp. He's done very well with those.”
It’ll take more good days for Richards to solidify his place as a fourth or fifth safety behind McCourty, Chung, Harmon and Nate Ebner – New England’s leading special-teams tackler last season. He was a healthy scratch for all three playoff games this past winter, and prior to then, only briefly checked into the secondary for victories against the Arizona Cardinals, Miami Dolphins, Buffalo Bills and New York Jets.
From Belichick’s view, however, Richards remains in position.
“I mean, I think he's going to be very competitive for playing time with those guys,” Belichick said of Richards and the safety group. “I mean, there are good players ahead of him and he's a good player. He's in that same conversation as well. He's improved every year. I think he's going to continue to do well. He works hard, he's tough, he's very smart, he's a very instinctive player.”
Richards has 23 tackles, two passes defended, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery to show for it through two campaigns. He recorded three tackles last campaign – all on special teams.
It’ll take more strides in coverage to pair with his strides in the kicking game for that to change. But Richards may still be a wait-and-see, even if the Patriots already know what they have.
“As he's gained more experience, a better understanding of our system, more experience in this league and working against other players, he's had a lot of production on the practice field in the first four days,” added Belichick. “Pass breakups, interceptions – he's had his hands on a lot of balls. He's around the ball, so he's doing well.”