Tennessee’s Richardson decides to enter draft

Tennessee offensive tackle Antonio "Tiny" Richardson is bypassing his senior season to enter the NFL draft.

"As much as I have enjoyed my time at Tennessee, I have long dreamed of playing in the NFL and taking care of my family," Richardson said Friday in a university release announcing his decision. "After careful consideration, I have decided to forego my senior year and enter the 2014 NFL draft. I am grateful to all of my Tennessee coaches and everyone in the football program who made my life easier, from trainers to tutors to our fans, who are the best in the country. I am ready for the next level and look forward to what I know will be an exciting challenge."

Richardson’s departure means that Tennessee must replace all its starting offensive and defensive linemen from a team that went 5-7 this season.

Rob Rang, a senior analyst for nfldraftscout.com, said last month that he considered Richardson a late first- or second-round pick.

Richardson, listed on Tennessee’s roster as 6-foot-6 and 327 pounds, was Tennessee’s starting left tackle each of the last two years. He earned second-team all-Southeastern Conference honors in 2012 as part of a line that allowed only eight sacks. This year, Richardson’s blocking helped Tennessee gain 2,261 yards rushing, its highest total since 2004.

"We appreciate Antonio’s efforts and contributions to the University of Tennessee," Tennessee coach Butch Jones said in a university release. "He will always be a Vol for life, and we wish him all the best as he looks to further his career in the National Football League."

Tennessee is still waiting to hear whether junior linebacker A.J. Johnson also will declare for the draft. If Johnson chooses to turn pro, Tennessee will have to replace its entire starting front seven from this year’s defense.