There might not be a more polarizing prospect in the entire 2023 NFL draft class than Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson.
Evaluators rave about his dual-threat ability, his excellent size at 6-foot-4 and 232 pounds and how he can beat you with the best arm in the draft class. And they'll talk about his sky-high ceiling, with comparisons to Josh Allen and Cam Newton. From a physical traits perspective, he could be the most talented player on the board this April after he declared for the draft following his redshirt sophomore season.
But Richardson is not the favorite to be the first pick in the 2023 draft, and he might even be the fourth quarterbackoff the board. Why? Many scouts see the upside but are concerned with his inconsistent production over just one full season as a starter and massive accuracy issues. Richardson completed 54.7% of his passes in his career while throwing 24 touchdown passes and 15 interceptions.
That means there's a lot of risk for a team looking to land its future franchise quarterback in Round 1, which makes Richardson such a difficult pre-draft evaluation. How do you weigh the potential against the flaws? I spoke to more than a dozen scouts, executives and coaches from around the NFL to get a sense of how Richardson stacks up right now, why he's so hard to place on their draft boards, how he can find success in the league and what's next for the super intriguing prospect as we prep for the combine.
Potential | Risks | Development keys
Comps | Draft range | Team fits
When talking to one scout at the Senior Bowl, he openly gushed about all the things a team could do with a dual-threat quarterback like Richardson. The signal-caller could unlock new parts of the playbook for the team that drafts him. Look no further than the 2022 season opener against Utah for a perfect illustration of that talent and promise.
The Gators were trailing 13-7 near the end of the second quarter. Richardson -- in his second career start -- was in a pistol formation with 11 personnel and ran a mesh concept, setting up a run-pass option. The ball could be tossed to a receiver in motion for a jet sweep, handed to the running back or kept by Richardson for a pass or run. Richardson kept it and surveyed the field, looking deep and going through his progressions. His eyes stayed up the entire time, even as he stepped up in the pocket to avoid a defensive end crashing the backfield party.
Then he saw a crease, and he was simply gone. Richardson pulled the ball down and ran 45 yards for six points, showing excellent speed, agility and balance. It is the type of play that causes scouts to wear out the rewind buttons on their video controllers.Anthony Richardson runs for a 45-yard Florida TD
Anthony Richardson turns on the burners and finds pay dirt to give the Gators the lead.
"I remember the first time I saw that game." an AFC area scout who covers the Southeast said. "There was so much hype on [Richardson] coming into the year that you're almost expecting him to struggle to live up to it. Then that happened, and you're like, 'Damn, this dude can play.'"
An NFC scout said, "That's what you worry about when defending him. You can put him in these situations where it's impossible. It's like Justin Fields or Jalen Hurts. You can do everything right as a defense, and he's betting that one-on-one he'll beat your spy defender with his feet."
Last season, Richardson led all FBS quarterbacks in yards per rush at 6.4, well clear of Bo Nix's second-best 5.7. He rushed for 654 yards (ninth in the FBS) and scored nine touchdowns on the ground (tied for 13th), and only two quarterbacks in the nation forced more tackles as a ball carrier than his 43. But it's not just the rushing ability that has scouts intrigued.
For one, Richardson has the strongest arm of any quarterback in the 2023 draft class -- and one of the stronger arms evaluated in the past five years. He can not only dial up deep-ball throws but also has velocity that rivals the best throwers in the NFL, allowing him to drive the ball into windows. Part of his development will be learning touch and how to layer the ball to different levels of the field, but there isn't a throw that Richardson can't make from an arm talent perspective.
When asked to compare his arm talent to another prospect, one NFL general manager was reminded of Josh Allen.
"Allen had this great throw at the combine when he was coming out -- it was like a 70-yard bomb -- and it kind of made us all sit up and take notice. Richardson will do that, too. And not those fake roll-out throws with tons of momentum. He'll just drop back and chuck it."
Eight of his 17 touchdown throws last season were on passes targeting receivers 20 or more yards downfield, and three of them were heaved at least 40 yards. Richardson will walk into the NFL with a top-10 arm as a rookie.
There's also the matter of his frame. Richardson is 6-foot-4 and more than 230 pounds, and he is strong. Keep the game tape rolling on the Utah matchup, and you'll see him use that power on a 2-point conversion attempt to put the Gators up three points early in the fourth quarter.Florida scores, then converts 2-point conversion on Richardson's great fake
Montrell Johnson finds pay dirt and Anthony Richardson finds a wide open Ja'Quavion Fraziars to complete the 2-point conversion.
Again out of the pistol, Richardson took the snap and faked a toss but was surprised to see two Utah defenders storming down on him off the right edge when he turned around. Most quarterbacks are throwing the football into the 300 level and living to play another day. But Richardson took two steps back, jumped into the air and faked a pass with one defender draped all over him and the other waiting to play the ball. He used his strength to shrug off the tackle attempt and gather himself to find a wide-open receiver in the back of the end zone.
"That's [Patrick] Mahomes-like stuff, man. There are maybe three dudes in the NFL right now who are strong enough and agile enough to make that play," one NFC quarterback coach said. "That's the stuff that makes you sit up in the recliner and get excited. Because the other stuff, the footwork and all that ... that you can teach. What he did on that play can't be taught."
"It all goes back to accuracy -- trying to fix his accuracy. I'm not sure you can," is how one AFC scout put it to me at the Senior Bowl. "Everyone wants to talk about Allen this and Allen that, but the fact of the matter is he completed under 55% of his passes, and some of those misses were all-time misses."
Many evaluators will be cautious with quarterback prospects with sub-60% completion percentages. Richardson's percentage as a full-time starter last season? 53.8%.
Only 69.9% of Richardson's passes were considered "catchable" last season (as tracked by ESPN Stats & Information), which ranked No. 110 among 124 qualified FBS quarterbacks. And 13.2% of his incompletions were thrown to receivers who didn't have a single defender within five yards of them when the pass arrived. That was the ninth-highest rate in 2022.
The Allen comparisons start coming in here, considering the big-armed, physical signal-caller completed 56.2% of his throws during his years at Wyoming before getting drafted at No. 7 in 2018. And like Allen, scouts believe many of Richardson's issues start with his feet.
"First thing I'm doing is finding out who his private quarterback coach is and asking what they're doing about his feet," an AFC area scout said. "His feet are just all over the place, and he can get away with that because his arm is so strong. But the root of his accuracy issues start at the feet."
Richardson started the 2022 season hot with a 70% completion day against Utah but hit 40% the following week against Kentucky. On the year, Richardson had four games where he completed fewer than 50% of his passes, and another six where he was at or under 60%. That makes up 10 of Florida's 12 games.
"There's no way around it. The accuracy is bad," said the AFC area scout. "But there are so many scouts who think because Josh Allen cleaned up his stuff that Richardson and others can, too. I still think Allen is an outlier, not the rule."
Richardson could become only the fourth quarterback drafted in the first round over the past 10 classes with a career completion percentage below 60%, joining Daniel Jones (59.9%), Allen (56.2%) and Lamar Jackson (57.0%). And he would be the only quarterback drafted in the first round with a career completion percentage below 55% in that same time frame.
So while it's easy to say, "Oh, just fix his accuracy," history has shown that it's perhaps the hardest trait for a quarterback to change. And Richardson's lack of experience doesn't help. He has thrown under 400 passes and started 13 games over his career. In other words, his game is still very raw, and there's no guarantee he's even ready to take over an NFL offense. He was used as a secondary quarterback in a platoon with Emory Jones in 2021 before becoming the full-time starter in 2022.
"There is no substitute for experience," said a college coach who faced Richardson last season. "The best trait for a quarterback is experience. Reps matter so much. What has he seen? What can he handle? The more you see, the slower the game gets. He just doesn't have that."
Situation is often the biggest indicator of success for quarterbacks early in their careers, as we've seen with Mahomes, Allen, Hurts and many others. Richardson will be no different. His otherworldly traits are exciting, but like those great quarterbacks, he'll have to dedicate himself to doing the work inside and outside the facility to live up to his potential. His footwork has to get cleaner. He has to learn when to take heat off passes and make himself a catchable quarterback. And he has to learn when it's OK to give up on a play.
Time is the best thing for Richardson right now, though. He needs to see more defenses. He needs to attempt more passes to see what works and doesn't work. And of course, he needs to work on his footwork, from his dropback to his steps when throwing. Being able to learn behind a veteran and get coached up a bit in his rookie season would be huge for his development.
"Situation is everything, but he needs to sit and watch and learn," an AFC area scout said. "His play really broke down throughout the year because his mechanics are just rough. To me, he's a Year 2 player."
We have already mentioned Fields, Hurts and Allen, but Cam Newton also comes to mind. Oddly enough, Newton also spent time at Florida and was a one-year starter in college, though he won a national title at Auburn before becoming the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 draft. But both have elite size, power, arm strength and running ability. And like Newton did, Richardson can impact the game as a rookie in a dual-threat manner while learning as a passer.
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"Everyone keeps saying Josh [Allen], and I could see it from a rawness and arm strength comparison," said an NFL scout who covers the SEC. "Richardson's athleticism and build is closer to Cam, though, I think."
A more modern comparison -- and the one I personally use -- is Trey Lance. Both were fantastic runners and dynamic trait-based quarterback prospects, but both had limited experience in college and very scattershot accuracy. Richardson has a stronger arm, but they are similarly sized, with Lance measuring 6-foot-3 and 224 pounds. They also both needed time to develop in the NFL versus playing right away.
I put Richardson at No. 9 to the Carolina Panthers in my most recent mock draft, despite the fact he is No. 30 on my board right now. Will a team in the top 10 bite on the traits and potential?
"I would feel much better saying he is going in the top 10 than saying he won't go in the top 10," said the scout who comped Richardson to Newton. "You look at where the game is going, and you see this is the model. Every quarterback has to acclimate and learn, so why not draft the guy who in the meantime can tear up a defense with his legs?"
Another evaluator echoed those sentiments. "I think he goes top-10 all day. Based on need, based on value, based on potential. He just does too many things well to not be a top-10 pick when so many teams need exactly what he is."
Richardson's draft range is huge and will be affected by interviews at the combine. And his odds to be the No. 1 pick in the draft have actually seen a sizeable jump this week at Caesars Sportsbook. But his current range feels more comfortably between No. 7 (Las Vegas Raiders) and No. 20 (Seattle Seahawks), barring a trade of a veteran quarterback for a team like the Baltimore Ravens (No. 22) or a move up the board by a QB-needy franchise like the New Orleans Saints (No. 29).Why Mel Kiper Jr. thinks Anthony Richardson needs time to develop
Mel Kiper Jr. shares why any team prepared to draft Florida QB Anthony Richardson needs to give him time to develop.
A team's front office and coaching staff has to believe it has the structure in place to give Richardson a boost in his game. The organization will need a plan and some patience. The Panthers, with a quarterback-friendly coach in Frank Reich, could be that home.
"If you give Richardson to Reich and [senior assistant] Jim Caldwell, watch out," a rival general manager said. "I mean, watch out. Because with those weapons, he could be dangerous."
There's also the Seahawks (Nos. 5 and 20) and the Detroit Lions (Nos. 6 and 18). Assuming Geno Smith re-signs in Seattle, both teams will have veteran quarterbacks in place who can keep the job while Richardson develops, a la Jordan Love in Green Bay.
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