Louisville's defensive line is arguably the best in the ACC. Sheldon Rankins is a NFL prospect at defensive end, DeAnglo Brown is a wrecking ball of a nose tackle, and Pio Vatuvei is an extremely disruptive end in his own right. However, with a long and brutal ACC schedule it is very important to have guys that can rotate in for the starters to keep them fresh. Johnny Richardson was sure to be that guy at both nose tackle as well as defensive end. If Richardson can't go this season, Louisville's line will be down to six players listed as defensive linemen on the roster.
Louisville's front seven is typically labeled as "deep" but can you call a position deep if there's no proven depth? I get excited about newcomers just as much as the new guy, but I think it's inaccurate to call a position deep if you're relying on guys that no one has seen play at this level. Drew Bailey and G.G. Robinson are two guys that most fans are really excited about this year. Robinson spurned late pushes from Auburn and Florida to stick with the Cardinals while Bailey should hit camp with the physical build and experience to be a contributor. Throw in Kyle Shortridge and you still only have four total games between the second unit. Whether these guys can really play at this level remains to be seen but there is obvious upside with all three.
Todd Grantham has been doing this for a long time and you have to imagine that he knew his defensive line was one injury away from having concerns. Grantham has two players that have spent some time with their hand on the ground in James Hearns and Nick Dawson-Brents. Hearns has shed a ton of weight and is down to 257 pounds as he has moved back to linebacker. Dawson is still a solid 265 and he's shown the ability to be a decent pass rusher. Grantham might look to utilize outside linebackers in pass rushing situations and he might even move to a "four man" line if need be by moving Devonte Field down to a more traditional defensive end alignment. Don't forget that Sheldon Rankins can play all three defensive line spots. That will allow Grantham to be much more versatile with his packages and fronts.
Big picture thinking, Richardson's injury could have little to no impact or it could really lead to a lack of depth. There really is no way to know until the first few games are behind us. If Robinson and Bailey turn out to be the guys we all hope they'll be the impact of this injury is significantly less than we might fear. If another injury hits this group we could really miss Richardson's size and versatility inside. Here's to hoping the line gets through the rest of the year without another major injury.