by Evan Bruner
The 2023 NFL Draft is just a few days away, and Alabama’s Bryce Young quarterback going first overall is close to a guarantee. This move, in many ways, makes sense. Young was a highly productive college player who played in a pro-style offense with the Crimson Tide. He’s tested off the charts in nearly every cognitive assessment, and has been lauded for his leadership abilities.
However, just because Young is the safe choice doesn’t mean he’s the right one. The NFL Draft is an event characterized by its unknowns. No matter how much time scouts spend watching film, drafting is an imprecise art, hence why there are so many mistakes made every year.
Few players are as emblematic of this uncertainty as Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson. At first glance, it may seem as if Richardson doesn’t belong in the same stratosphere as someone like Young. He started one year of college football, had mixed results at best, and was one of the least accurate quarterbacks in division one football.
These surface-level observations have led to the notion that Richardson is a project, years away from being NFL-ready. But this data is quantitative, and while statistical data is integral to the scouting process, it isn’t absolute. The qualitative aspect of Richardson’s evaluation, his film, tells a much different story. He’s a savant in the pocket, posting one of the best pressure-to-sack rates in college football. This ability to handle pressure without taking many losses is hard to teach and invaluable to an offense.
Anthony Richardson was pressured at the highest rate among all QBs in this draft class per SiS (37.1%).— Rich Hribar (@LordReebs) March 1, 2023
True to his strengths, he was sacked on just 10.1% of those dropbacks, the lowest rate in this class.
What’s even more impressive about this skill is that Richardson rarely uses his legs to escape the pocket. This level of poise is not commonly seen in uber-athletic quarterbacks and raises Richardson’s floor considerably. Additionally, Richardson is underrated as a processor. He played in an offense at Florida that often required him to go through multiple reads and was able to hit his check down when necessary.
And no discussion about Anthony Richardson would be complete without mention of his otherworldly physical gifts. He has the ideal length and frame for an NFL quarterback, the strongest arm in the class, one that could top five in the NFL from day one, and is, quite possibly, pound for pound, the single most athletic quarterback this game has ever seen.
Everyone already knows this about Richardson. But then why isn’t he in the running for the first pick? Carolina didn’t just fall into the No. 1 overall pick by some coincidence; they orchestrated a massive trade to ensure they had their pick of the litter in this year’s class. Actions speak louder than words, and the Panthers trading away two first-round picks, two second-round picks, and their best offensive player to move up eight spots was like putting their mouth to a megaphone and announcing to the NFL world they were going all-in.
Continuity is key to the drafting process, and a team’s actions throughout the pre-draft should be commensurate. But it doesn’t make a lot of sense to go all in the draft by giving a haul for the top pick only to swing for contact. Young is a good prospect and, in all likelihood, will be a good NFL quarterback. With that said, we’re seeing a shift in paradigms at the quarterback position.
Whereas the last generation of star quarterbacks were pocket passers who played on script like Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and Drew Brees, the new school quarterback is a complete departure from their predecessors. Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, and Justin Herbert are young, athletic, and have howitzers for arms. This isn’t to say that physical traits need to be the foundation for any high-level quarterback, as players like Joe Burrow, Dak Prescott, and Jalen Hurts have been successful despite run-of-the-mill arm strength. But when looking at the future of the game, the prototypical quarterback is moving more toward players like Richardson.
The argument for Richardson isn’t just ceiling-based, either. For years, rushing ability and athleticism have been viewed as high-upside traits, but athletic ability also has proven to translate to higher floors. Look no further than 2022 Justin Fields. Fields was, by most metrics, the least efficient dropback passer in football. However, his ability to reinvent himself as a rusher led to a potent offensive attack from Chicago.
Richardson’s athletic testing numbers were just as good, if not better, than Fields, and he’s about 15 pounds heavier, making him even more capable on the ground. This power-speed combo hasn’t been seen at the quarterback position since Cam Newton.
The ultimate question with Richardson comes down to accuracy. For years, ball placement was seen as a stable trait, but advancements in technology have allowed coaches to pinpoint where a player’s inaccuracy comes from and rewire their throwing mechanics to correct this. Cases like Josh Allen should be viewed as anomalies, but the truth is Richardson doesn’t need to have an Allen-esque transformation to warrant the top selection.
Richardson has gained a lot of attention and praise over the last few months, but the overall supposition of his status seems incomplete. Many are fixating on Richardson’s physical gifts and the upside they offer; however, in the process, they’re losing track of how these gifts can make him a serviceable starter from day one.
The draft, especially the first overall pick, isn’t about finding competence or adequacy; it’s about finding stars, franchise-altering talents. Richardson isn’t the popular pick, nor is he the safe one, but he might just be the right one.