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His nickname is Tiny, but Antonio Richardson is a big man with big aspirations.

The Tennessee offensive tackle is so confident in his NFL Draftstock he sounds like a cross between Richard Sherman and Mel Kiper Jr.

"I'm a first-rounder," Richardson said at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis last week. "I think I will be in the top 25. I plan on it being the case."

Draft analysts, however, don't share his opinion.

Most agree the 6-foot-6, 336-pounder, who played high school football at Ensworth before transferring to Pearl-Cohn, is a talented player with big potential. He proved that much for the Vols, starting 24 games in a row at left tackle and earning numerous All-SEC awards.

And when he opted to forgo his senior season, Richardson was projected as a first-round pick. But now, there's a healthy debate.

Bucky Brooks, a former NFL player and scout now with NFL.com, was less than impressed with Richardson's performance at the Combine, and said "his stock is certain to tumble after a disappointing workout." Another draft analyst raised questions about potential knee problems and whether Richardson is fluid enough to be an elite left tackle in the NFL.

So what does it all mean for Richardson?

"If I were a betting man, I'd say he goes in the second round," said draft analyst Russ Lande, a former scout for the Browns and former scouting administrator for the Rams. "He is a good football player, but I don't think he is a premier guy. I just don't think he is a top-level athlete. When I watched him on film, he's struggled with those explosive guys off the edge.

"Can he play in the NFL? There's no question. But I don't see him as a front-line stud guy. I see him as a good, solid starter."

Richardson ran the 40-yard dash in 5.3 seconds at the Combine. He also did 36 reps in the bench press, which tied for second among offensive linemen behind the 42 of North Carolina's Russell Bodine. His vertical jump was 24.5 inches. Lande called it an "average" workout but doesn't think Richardson hurt himself too much.

The biggest problem could be his competition.

Texas A&M's Jake Matthews and Auburn's Greg Robinson are the top two tackles, and Michigan's Taylor Lewan solidified his first-round status at the Combine. Notre Dame's Zack Martin and Cyrus Kouandjio are considered late-first- or second-round picks.

Lande, for one, said he thinks former Vol Ja'Wuan James might be just as talented, but doesn't anticipate him to be drafted as highly as Richardson. James played right tackle, leading to a friendly rivalry.

"Tiny, he is a great athlete, just like all of us. He is a star, he is an athlete, he is a great football player," James said at the Combine. "Me and Tiny make jokes about who is going to do better, but it's healthy competition."

Richardson is serious about excelling at the next level, however.

He grew up in a sometimes-rough neighborhood and got into some altercations because other kids wanted to test him because of his size. He moved from Mount Pleasant to Nashville as a sophomore in high school and excelled at Ensworth before jumping to Pearl-Cohn during his senior season, but he was unable to play there because of TSSAA transfer rules.

It was at Ensworth that Richardson got his nickname. He was 6-5, 310 at the time. The person who pegged him Tiny? "It was a girl," he said, "and she was every bit of 5-2, 100 pounds."

Richardson said he's grown as a person and as a player after facing "a lot of adversity" to get this far.

"You can say what you want to about me, but I am a fighter," he said. "I have been a fighter my whole life. I know when I get to the NFL there will be adversity, so I'll be ready for it."

Leading up to the draft, he hopes NFL teams develop the confidence in him that he has in himself, even if he doesn't get picked in the first round.

"If I would fall into the second round," he said, "only 2 percent get to do this, so it's a blessing either way."

Richardson was proud that his pre-Combine regimen put him in tip-top shape, with "only 16 percent body fat," he said.

"I want my trademark to be a hard worker, a guy who comes to work every day. The goal is to be All-Pro, the goal is to be in the Hall of Fame someday," he said, "but you have to take baby steps to get there."

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