Tiny Richardson's Story May Sound Familiar to Minnesota Fans

Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE

Projected to go early in the draft, former Tennessee offensive tackle Antonio Richardson fell out of the draft entirely, surprising some observers and analysts, though he may have a medical condition strikingly similar to a former Minnesota athlete, Brandon Roy.

While watching teammate Ja'Wuan James go early to Miami, the better player at the same position had to wait for his phone to ring near the end of the final round of the draft.

Ranked 63rd on the Consensus Big Board, Richardson probably should have gone at some point in the second or early in the third round. Instead, he failed to see his name called at all at Radio City.

It wasn't entirely unexpected, he knew he had these issues coming out of Tennessee. Further, he knew that these issues would always be there, and that declaring early would be better than finishing out his time in college.

"I was," he said in response to a question about whether or not he knew about his knee issues coming out, "But it was one of those things where the issues were going to go on either way. And I wanted to go on and leave where I could get the best doctors and medical treatment. I was able to do that. I've been out here, I haven't had any issues and I'm looking forward to competing."

Richardson says that teams found out during the NFL Combine that he had knee issues, but Scott Carasik indicated that teams were wary of his arthritic knees in January—and felt he may only have a 4-5 year career.

Arthritic knees would be quite the downer, and Richardson himself told the gathered media it was a "cartilage thing." If it's anything like former Blazer and Timberwolves shooting guard Brandon Roy's knees—where he suffered from a condition (osteoarthritis) that resulted in cartilage degeneration—then the outlook is grim. If you're unfamiliar with Roy's story, it could be a precautionary tale.

Roy was drafted sixth overall by the Portland Trailblazers, and was named rookie of the year despite missing 20 games early in the season due to an unrelated heel problem, receiving 127 out of 128 first-place votes. He was a reserve for three all-star games, and a primary All-Star selection in his fourth year.

In his fifth year, he needed to undergo arthroscopic surgery (a routine procedure for many athletes, but serious in Roy's case) on both of his knees, and it was revealed to the public at large that Roy was suffering from a degenerating cartilage condition, which was part of a knee problem he had continuously suffered from since high school.

For the rest of the season, Roy was a reserve who was inconsistent and did not return to his All-Star level of play. He retired at the end of that year. A year later, he signaled his intentions to play after receiving platelet-rich plasma treatment (most famously associated with Kobe Bryant) in Germany and signed with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

He suffered a knee collision in training camp, and five games into the season, needed to end his season with knee surgery. The next year, he performed poorly before getting waived. Over the course of his high school, college and professional career, Roy had had seven knee surgeries.

Walter Football reports something a little different, saying his sources told him Richardson needed microfracture knee surgery and may have to start the year out on injured reserve. While that surgery is more intensive than arthroscopic surgery (which Richardson underwent in 2012), it's often used for conditions that don't signal long-term issues, like a tendon tear.

Given the fact that a second-to-third round talent went completely undrafted and that Richardson himself referred to cartilage when describing the condition, I am more inclined to believe Carasik's report of arthritic knees, especially because Richardson indicated that this may be a long-term condition by mentioning that it was going to go on either way.

Asked if it inhibited him at Tennessee, Richardson hesitated before saying "I didn't miss any games."

He feels it's not an issue at all. That he didn't miss any games, to him, was "A testament to how I feel like I am healthy and ready to go." For now, Richardson told us he feels no pain and has been moving extremely well. Minnesota didn't run him through any additional medical testing other than those done at the combine and has fully cleared him to play.

For what it's worth, Richardson's phone was buzzing throughout the draft from teams that wanted to sign him. He had received phone calls right away at the end of the draft from teams wanting him to hammer out a deal, and five teams called him before word got out that he had agreed to terms with Minnesota.

Minnesota, it sounds like, was his first choice.

"It was a great opportunity—they have limited depth at tackle. I know they have Matt Kalil on left and Phil [Loadholt] on right, but if something was to happen to one of those guys I might have to go in," he said. "But I'm going to work my butt off this summer. The playbook is pretty deep, so I'm going to have to spend some time getting into it and learning the system."

Richardson is definitely ready to play, and with that "chip on his shoulder" that Mike Zimmer loves to see in players.

"Of course [I have a chip on my shoulder], but I'm just here to work. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter where you were drafted, we're all pros now. I'm going to do what I gotta do, bust my butt to get to that second contract and help my team."

"I know I'm a first-round talent so at the end of the day, I'm going to come here and work like I was a first-round pick."

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