Sheldon to Sapp: Forget sophomore jinx

CORTLAND, N.Y. -- Sheldon Richardson's new nickname around the New York Jets is "D-Roy," as in NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. Cute, right? Not everyone is a D-Roy fan. He believes there are "haters out there," and one of them apparently is loudmouth Warren Sapp, who, for some reason, likes to tweak Richardson at every opportunity.

Richardson noted Sapp's sarcastic response in May, when the NFL Network announced the Jets' defensive tackle as No. 94 on its top-100 list. It came a few months after Sapp trashed him in a newspaper article.

Sapp is picking on the wrong guy, according to Richardson, who vowed to make Sapp and other critics eat their words.

"I heard he said, when I made the top 100, 'We'll see how his second year goes,' like I'm supposed to have fall off," Richardson told ESPN.com during a break at training camp. "People are waiting on me to fall off. I only plan on moving up. I have to prove them wrong. I've been doing it my whole life."

Sapp has a curious fascination with Richardson, whom he criticized last January in an interview with the New York Daily News. Basically, Sapp described Richardson as an overrated talent with limited pass-rushing ability, seemingly offended that anyone would compare Richardson to him.

Sapp made it to the Hall of Fame because he was hot stuff as a football player. Now, as an analyst, he's all about hot air.

"I really don't care, man," Richardson said. "He's one of those guys who's going to love me or hate me. He can brag and boast on whoever he wants to boast on and he can hate on whoever he wants to hate on. If he wants to be relevant, he has to pick on somebody else because I'm putting in my work."

Richardson said he harbors no bitterness toward Sapp, but he's not looking to break bread with him, either. He doesn't think there would be any conversation if they crossed paths.

"He probably wouldn't say two words to me, honestly," Richardson said. "Don't know why. I have nothing against him. I never said nothing out of the way to him, I just told people I didn't want to be compared to him. I want people compared to me. That's what I'm striving for, to be in his position, footballwise."

He's off to a terrific start, overcoming challenges from the day he was selected 13th overall in 2013. The Jets received some criticism for the pick because Richardson was deemed a poor fit in their 3-4 defense.

How'd that work out?

"I told them I'd turn the boos into cheers within a year, and I did that," Richardson said.

There are new obstacles in his way.

After finishing with only 3.5 sacks, Richardson wants to improve as a pass-rusher. The Jets believe he'll be more productive because he's comfortable within the system. Line coach Karl Dunbar said the coaches didn't tailor many pass-rushing schemes for Richardson because "he didn't know our defensive scheme last year. A lot of plays weren't called for him to make plays, but he was so athletic that he made plays on his own.

"This year, he has a better grasp of the defense, so he'll be able to make some of the plays he couldn't make last year because he wasn't in position," Dunbar added.

Richardson said he never questioned his role last season. Didn't have to.

"I was scoring touchdowns, man, so I had nothing to complain about," he said with a laugh, referring to his two rushing scores.

Richardson said he has to become a better pass-rusher on play-action, noting that he had trouble disengaging from offensive linemen who latched on to him during the initial run-action. A shoulder injury that hampered him last season has healed, which should make him stronger at the point of attack.

On the flip side, he probably will draw more attention from opponents because of his rookie success. He could be a marked man.

"Bring it on, man," Richardson said. "I ain't worried about that. It's football. Only so many ways you can block a 3-technique, so bring it on. Hell no, I'm not worried at all. I can take it on with the fullest confidence in myself and this defense."

The irony about Sapp's criticism is that, as a rookie in 1995, his stats were inferior to those of Richardson.

"He wasn't really a force, really," Richardson said. "He got better. You can never take that from him. He was a great athlete. I looked up to him."