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How Anthony Richardson becomes a star
The risk is obvious. The reward? Super Bowls. This is the most fascinating player in the draft.
Enjoying Anthony Richardson highlights feels like a football sin. We’re clearly breaking a commandment that crosses religious lines. If we’ve heard it once, we’ve heard it a manziellion times: Never, ever, ever — under any circumstances — fall in love with cherry-picked, dynamite moments on a college football field.
Those plays that resemble deepfakes, too often, are exposed vs. NFL speed.
We don’t have enough ink to detail the cautionary tales. Ja’Marcus Russell’s cannon. Johnny Manziel’s magic. Vince Young’s Rose Bowl. Zach Wilson’s improvisation. A kneeling Kyle Boller splitting the uprights with a throw from the 50-yard line. Differentiating fiction from fact is a quest that leads to both ambassador elite Marriott status for scouts and sleepless nights for general managers. No wonder so many coaches and scouts reiterate that they rely on the tape above all. Not one play, one game, one pro day. Rather, the full collegiate archive.
Which brings us to the most fascinating prospect in the 2023 NFL Draft: Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson.
He also didn’t even throw 400 passes in his career.
He’s either a Manchurian Quarterback bound to flop or The Future. It’s very easy to have a very strong opinion either way because there probably isn’t much of a middle ground. Human beings typically don’t measure in at 6 foot 4, 244 pounds, run a 4.43 in the 40 and wield this much sheer speed, strength. “Horsepower,” as one of the best private quarterbacks coach says. How many current starting quarterbacks in the NFL blast off for an 81-yard touchdown quite like this? Lamar Jackson? Maybe? Richardson also completed 53.8 percent of his passes, good for 13th amongst 14 SEC quarterbacks. His team went 6-7. Scouts are cruel in their assessment.
This year’s draft brings far more raw drama than 2022 because of the headliners at quarterback: Alabama’s Bryce Young, Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud, Kentucky’s Will Levis and Florida’s Richardson could all be drafted in the top 10. Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker may sneak into the first round.
Young’s production is unrivaled. He threw the Crimson Tide offense on his back most Saturdays, in ways even Tua Tagovailoa, Jalen Hurts and Mac Jones did not.
Stroud’s delivery is exquisite. As if he started throwing a football fresh out of the womb.
Levis is considered pro-ready, and perhaps the Indianapolis Colts’ preference at No. 4.
But Richardson is the freak. The quarterback with a legitimate shot at greatness if his puzzle fits together juuust right. The ceiling? Super Bowls — as in plural. Yet, whoever stakes their career on this draft pick must bring Sam Cassell-level stones to the war room. Because the floor? You’re fired. You’re mass-texting friends in the biz for another job. Let’s hope the right coach on the right team isn’t scared of Anthony Richardson because, Lordy, this could be fun. Too often, a quarterback’s NFL readiness is based upon our own preconceived notions and biases and what we’ve always been trained to think. We view 20- and 21-year-olds as finished products.
Believing in Richardson means tossing dusty textbooks into the bonfire. Old rules cannot apply.
He needs an open mind. Patience. And, sure, this is typically true for any quarterback.
But this is the most extreme case I can remember in years… with the potential for extreme results.
The one bummer about the NFL Draft is that the best college players typically head to trainwreck organizations. The best of the very best are subjected to slapdash ownership or horrible coaching or a leaky offensive line because the league rewards ineptitude.
This spring is different. The Carolina Panthers, a team that finished 5-3 and hired Frank Reich, boldly traded up. Even if Carolina chooses Young or Stroud, the stars could align for Richardson. There are multiple teams at the top of this draft that can draft Richardson, say they’ll sit Richardson for a year, and actually mean it. That’s the lost art. That’s what makes a team like the Packers so different in today’s NFL. If Jordan Love takes the NFL by storm, expect more teams to draft quarterbacks when they don’t have a need. We’ll see more teams in possession of a 35-, 36-, 37-year-old quarterback select an heir late in the first round. A topic of conversation with Hall of Fame GM Ron Wolf, who correctly pointed out that smart teams have been doing this since the Baltimore Colts gave Johnny Unitas a shot in the 50s.
Richardson would obviously benefit from a redshirt season. Or two. And there are suitors! The Seattle Seahawks (No. 5), Detroit Lions (No. 6), Las Vegas Raiders (No. 7) and Tennessee Titans (No. 11) are all appealing in that there’d be zero need to launch this rocket before he’s ready.
Whoever believes is undoubtedly adopting a new mentality in what can and cannot be fixed at the quarterback position.
For ages, we deemed accuracy innate. Either you’re able to hit a receiver in-stride, or not.
Then, Josh Allen’s completion percentage jumped from 52.8 to 58.8 to 69.2 percent. Next, Jalen Hurts elevated from 52.0 to 61.3 to 66.5 percent in leading the Philadelphia Eagles to the Super Bowl. These two players should’ve forced us all to rethink the position. Quarterbacks can improve their accuracy. This element of a player’s game is now as fixable as teaching an NBA player how to consistently shoot the 3. For decades, you knew your role and your range on the court. Hell, only one player on the court truly had the green light to hoist 22-footers for each squad. Steph Curry arrived. Steph Curry changed the sport. The last 10 years, we’ve seen all teams rapidly embrace the 3-pointer to the point where guards, forwards and centers alike all need this weapon in their arsenal.
It’s required to win in the NBA. So, it’s learned — by everyone.
That’s accuracy in the NFL, thanks to both the proliferation of personalized quarterback coaches and innovative playcallers. Now, any QB can target and attack ultra-specific flaws to their game with the likes of Jordan Palmer, John Beck, Tom House, Quincy Avery, Steve Calhoun, Joshua Harris, etc. Quarterbacks of yesteryear might’ve had a two- or three-month gap in the calendar. As Calhoun told us, he’s been in constant communication with Packers head coach Matt LaFleur. For three offseasons, LaFleur has sent him specific drills to work on in addition to Calhoun’s own technique work. From Year 2-to-Year 3, Love took a giant leap.
And when the right quarterback pairs with the right offensive mind, it’s beautiful thing.
Palmer tweaked Allen’s mechanics and Brian Daboll maximized his physical gifts within the Bills’ offense.
Avery ripped Hurts through his drills. By 2022, Hurts became more confident than ever in Nick Sirianni’s offense.
Inaccuracy is either a result of physically not being able to make the throw, Avery explains, or mentally not seeing the field. He isn’t working with Richardson 1 on 1, thus isn’t sure if his struggles were one or the other. The talent’s obvious.
“Now seeing things better is very hard to improve,” Avery says. “Being accurate is not. He can definitely get his accuracy more in line, and that could just be the consistency of getting his feet in place, getting his base consistent every time. Because when he does that, he’s very, very accurate. Being able to do that, going from one to two… boom. If he can do that, the accuracy will improve undoubtedly. But the vision. Being able to anticipate and throw things early, that’s the difference-maker in Josh Allen and Jalen. They both see things really well. And now they have such a high confidence in their ability to throw the ball accurately that they throw things really, really early. You’ll see them throw balls before guys get open because they’re confident they can put the ball exactly where they want. It’s the combination of those three things that allow quarterbacks to be really successful. If he can put all three of those together, the sky’s the limit. If I really thought he could put those three things together, I’d take him with the first pick because he’s that physically gifted.”
Hurts told Avery that the difference in 2022 was “confidence.” Not seeing a new game.
He trained to the point where there was no need to hesitate at all.
“He became so confident that he could make every throw,” Avery adds, “that he just let it go because he felt good about it. He could throw early. He knew he could put it in a spot. But you have to earn that confidence. Is Anthony Richardson going to do all those things to earn that level of confidence?”
That’s the unknown. Richardson — like Allen, like Hurts — must realize this is only the beginning. Must view himself as an unfinished product and go to work.
If he does? Every team may regret passing on Richardson.
Because here’s what cannot be fixed at the position.
A feel for pressure. An ability to break your defense any moment.
Instead of consuming five-minute highlight reels, it’s worth taking in a full Florida game for better context on that 53.8 number. The Gators’ 2022 offense was no rhythmic sequence of completions. It did not feature a $1 menu to fatten up his completion percentage. Yes, Richardson misses throws. But, most often, they were of the “I’m going to chuck this football through that wall 25 yards downfield” variety. Not ideal, but not deal-breaking. Honestly, Richardson’s incompletions are eerily similar to Allen’s misfires at Wyoming. Like both young passers were in possession of this Paul Bunyan arm and weren’t always sure how to use it.
Because here’s what I loved watching a Florida football game: The palpable feeling that — any given moment — the quarterback could detonate.
Take Florida’s 45-35 loss to LSU in The Swamp.
Thirty-six seconds in, off play-action, Richardson plants his back foot at his own 43 and spirals the ball with a flick of the wrist 60 yards in the air for a touchdown. The next drive, on a rollout, LSU safety Jay Ward is in face. There’s no panic. He shrugs Ward away, loops wide, and travels from his own 8 to the 30. His stride is both long and fast. Much like a 100-meter sprint on the track. Defenses will have zero choice but to allot a spy on him in the NFL. Even then, when a lane opens up, Richardson is big enough and athletic enough to slay that defender.
There was some ugly this night. At the goal line, he threw low and behind a wide-open Dante Zanders. Richardson grimaced in disgust.
Yet right when the rout was on, LSU leading 42-21, Richardson detonated again. From his own 19, he saw a lane, directed running back Trevor Etienne to block and Etienne’s chip of Ward was all Richardson needed. He accelerated past the Tigers defense… froze one DB with a subtle shimmy of the shoulder… flicked away another… and then Superman-flipped into the end zone. Richardson made a proud LSU defense look like a bunch of kids who forgot how to tackle. Play-by-play man Joe Tessitore correctly asks, “How many quarterbacks do you know who can do that?”
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The argument for Anthony Richardson is straightforward.
If you’re viewing Patrick Mahomes as the bar — if you believe it takes a special talent to go the distance — the roll the dice is warranted. You hope and pray (and pray some more) that Richardson eventually can turn that corner as a passer. Because once he does? These physical gifts will render any defensive gameplan obsolete.
The Utah game is even more dazzling than LSU. One free-running blitzer is in Richardson’s face, set to clobber the quarterback, before he miraculously escapes with a weird leaping, spinning, pump fake. The 2-point play is absurd. His deep-ball accuracy is much better than you’d think. Against Eastern Washington, he threw one ball 60 yards through the air with ease, before embarrassing six defenders on one jaunt diagonally across the field.
Now, we see which team believes.
Colts head coach Shane Steichen did coach Justin Herbert as a rookie in L.A. before then serving as Hurts’ OC in Philly. Maybe he’s the right coach for Richardson, but it’s also hard to envision Gardner Minshew as a full-season bridge starter. Hence, the Levis smoke. Levis probably is more capable of starting immediately. The Lions could be the dream destination. They return one of the league’s best playcallers in Ben Johnson as OC. This is a top 3 offensive line, fully equipped with a Samoan ass-kicker at right tackle and a sage vet at left tackle. The receiving corps is deep. And Jared Goff, the unquestioned starter in 2023, is damn good. In this NFC? Goff is talented enough to lead the Lions on a deep playoff run. Dan Campbell has strongly supported Goff publicly. Armed with the sixth and 18th overall picks, Detroit can now choose its own adventure. The Lions are two immediate starters away from a legitimate Super Bowl run, yet the Lions are also a splendid spot for Richardson to wait, develop, then potentially burst onto the scene.
The Titans are in the midst of a competitive rebuild in trying to win now with Derrick Henry and Jeffery Simmons while eyeing their quarterback of the future under a new GM. Ron Carthon’s crew will visit with Richardson on Sunday.
The Falcons have committed to Desmond Ridder as the starter for 2023, but will also meet with Richardson. (They’ve enjoyed a banger of an offseason.)
These meetings will be critical.
At the heart of Richardson maximizing his gifts will be his relationship with whoever’s calling plays.
“Seeing the same thing through the same eyes,” Avery says, “so they’re understanding what they’re trying to get to, why they’re trying to get to it and understanding the why behind every play call. When they start doing those things, and they have the ability to throw the ball, they start getting really good. Jalen also has a ton of responsibility at the line of scrimmage. He does all those things every time he goes to the line. Now, he’s seeing things through his head coach’s eyes. So, if you understand why you’re trying to do something and you have the confidence to do all the things you’re asked to do — and you understand what defenses are doing — that puts you at a tremendous advantage.”
Avery has served as a private coach for Hurts, Deshaun Watson, Justin Fields and Trey Lance amongst others. I’ve always appreciated his outside-the-box thinking at “QB Takeover” — here’s his Happy Hour visit from a while back. Few independent teachers of the position have stayed at the cutting edge of modern quarterbacking like him. He knows how the dual-threat quarterback best adapts to the pro game.
With Richardson, it’s simple.
“The horsepower with his arm?” Avery says. “He can do anything with his arm. Which is amazing. But then he also has the dynamic ability with his legs.”
That’s why Avery is actually surprised. Somebody this strong, this fast should’ve eclipsed 1,000 yards in his opinion. There are times on film that Richardson isn’t quite sure whether he should hit the gas or not. When he does, he’s a load for anyone to tackle. Avery cannot even compare the Florida quarterback to Allen because he says Richardson is far more athletic.
Of course, drafting this quarterback is a terrifying polar plunge. If he was GM of the Panthers, Avery would welcome a long discussion about Richardson at No. 1 overall but admits he wouldn’t take him. “Just too risky for me,” he says. Instead, he likes Ohio State’s Stroud at the top spot because he’ll start Day 1. Stroud brings adequate escapability, if not stunning athleticism.
“CJ,” he says, “reminds me a lot of Burrow. … He is dynamically accurate. He doesn’t miss throws. Like we’re talking about coaching somebody to be accurate? You don’t have to coach him. You know Day 1 he’s got it.”
Avery has a hard time knocking Stroud for completing so many first- and second-read throws in Ohio State’s offense because the coaches plainly do such a good job of getting those initial receivers open. Whether it was needed or not through this 3,688-yard, 41-touchdown season, Avery believes the Buckeyes did ask Stroud to cycle through full-field progressions. Ohio State had a better receiving corps than Alabama in 2022, which makes Young’s film pop with more excitement.
It’s never wise to put limitations on a quarterback based on what he wasn’t even asked to do.
Quarterbacks who reach that Hurts-like flow state will flourish.
“We try to teach a lot of things,” Avery says. “But if a quarterback’s not confident enough, he’s not going to be good enough. Even if you have irrational confidence. I don’t care what anybody says, Baker Mayfield was never that good. But he was so confident that it ended up working out for a little bit. Lack of work kind of caught up with him. He was able to be different for a while because he did have a level of confidence. If you don’t have confidence in the NFL at the quarterback position, you’re going to struggle in ways you cannot imagine.”
“You’re going to have bad moments, and it’s the ability to battle back from that.”
By Day 1 of the draft, there will be a team that believes. Richardson will not free-fall like Liberty’s Malik Willis last year.
Patience all around is paramount. The head coach must be disciplined enough to wait. The quarterback must be willing to work. And work.
And if the stars align? By 2025, we may wonder why this was even a debate at all.
Richardson spoke up on Friday. He wants everyone to know that work will not be a problem.
“And, yeah, I may not pay attention to all the noise, but I do hear the critics,” Richardson wrote in The Players’ Tribune. “I know the things people are picking apart. People talk about whether I can be accurate. They say I don’t have touch. They say I can’t throw short. They say a lot of things. All I gotta say is: Watch how hard I work. In my mind, I can do anything with the football in my hand — but I know that no one will ever work harder than me to improve. Whether that’s my footwork, accuracy, mechanics, learning defenses, you name it. You can always grow, and that’s what I’m focused on. I’m going to come in and be tireless. I’m going to put it all on the line. My family sacrificed too much for me to not give everything to this game.”
How do you see the quarterbacks in the 2023 draft? Let us know in the comments…