Sheldon Richardson's future in the spotlight as Jets prepare for draft

Defensive end Sheldon Richardson can become a free agent next offseason. Kelley L Cox/USA TODAY Sports

This is the sixth installment of our position-by-position breakdown for the New York Jets as we head to the April 27-29 draft:

Position: Defensive line

Current personnel: Ends -- Leonard Williams (signed through 2018), Muhammad Wilkerson (2020), Sheldon Richardson (2017), Lawrence Thomas (2018), Kenny Anunike (2018), Julien Obioha (2018); Tackles -- Steve McLendon (2018), Deon Simon (2017), Mike Pennel (2017), Anthony Johnson (2017), Claude Pelon (2018), Brandin Bryant (2017).

Key newcomers: Pennel.

Departures: None.

Projected starters: DE Williams, NT McLendon, DE Wilkerson.

Overview: This is the deepest and most talented position on the team. In addition to the Big Three -- Williams, Wilkerson and Richardson -- the Jets have a couple of intriguing young players in Simon and Thomas, who returns from shoulder surgery. The question is, will the Big Three become the Big Two? Richardson's uncertain status is hanging over the team as it prepares for the draft. Ideally, they'd like to trade Richardson, who is entering the final year of his rookie contract (a guaranteed $8.1 million). "Good luck," one AFC executive said. It will be difficult to get fair-market value because of his two suspensions, big salary and poor production last season. But there's no denying his talent. If there's no trade, he'll become a free agent next offseason and the Jets probably would get a third-round compensatory pick in 2019 -- if he commands a big deal on the open market. Richardson attended some voluntary workouts last week, perhaps a sign he'll be sticking around.

The last lineman drafted: The real question is, when don't they draft a defensive lineman? They've picked a first-round lineman in four of the last six drafts, the latest of whom was Williams (2015). They wouldn't do it again, would they?

Potential targets: The draft includes three defensive linemen that could go in the top five -- Myles Garrett (Texas A&M), Solomon Thomas (Stanford) and Jonathan Allen (Alabama). What if one of them slips to the Jets at No. 6? The draft is unpredictable. In 2015, they never thought Williams would be available at No. 6. General manager Mike Maccagnan already had Wilkerson and Richardson, but he couldn't resist Williams. It was the right call. Could he justify another first-round choice on the line? That would be tough. Unless Todd Bowles is planning to switch to a high schoolish 5-2 front, the best play would be to trade down. Frankly, it would be a surprise if they use any of their seven picks on a defensive lineman.

Need factor (based on a scale of 1 to 10) End -- 1. Tackle -- 4.