Anthony Richardson’s NFL Draft Status Is Up In The Air

Follow our live coverage of the 2023 NFL Draft.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. Anthony Richardson laughed as he tossed the football to the ground.

He launched a high-arching pass near a March workout in front of scouts from all 32 NFL teams, at the end of Pro Day at the University of Florida, but the ball crashed into the roof of the practice facility instead of going into his receiver’s arms. Went. Hew may have missed his target, but he displayed Richardson’s mighty hand during the job audition.

“You always have to find joy and happiness in every situation, so I just wanted to joke and laugh about it,” Richardson, 20, said in a phone interview this month.

The performance summed up the scouting report on Richardson, who is projected as a top-10 selection in the NFL Draft: Jaw-dropping talent, misplaced. The combination earned him the dangerous “project” label, a euphemism scouts dole out for athletic quarterbacks who need help understanding how to lead an NFL offense.

The label has struck quarterbacks before, players like Richardson who displayed intriguing talent but whose college careers didn’t inspire confidence from scouts that they would be immediately successful as professionals. Trey Lance raised questions about the quality of the competition and the lack of starters ahead of the third quarterback selected by the San Francisco 49ers in the 2021 draft. Malik Willis faced similar scrutiny when he came out of Liberty in 2022, when he slipped on the Tennessee Titans’ third-round pick.

Although the “project” label stuck to future Pro Bowl passers like Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen in 2018, it may descend on black quarterbacks more often.

“This kind of language unintentionally plays into a dehumanizing argument,” said Ben Carrington, a sports sociologist and professor at the University of Southern California. “The term used to describe African American quarterbacks can be particularly sinister, Whose career has been historically. So influenced by the racist beliefs of the white team owners and coaches that they did not understand the technical elements of the situation.

“It kind of undermines the agency of athletes to control their own destinies,” he said.

Before he can be tested by an NFL defense, Richardson must first face that label.

Richardson said, “A lot of people say I have a ‘high ceiling,’ but if I don’t work, I won’t reach that ceiling.” “If I don’t work, none of this matters.”

she finished her workout with his trademark backflipeffortlessly launching his 6-foot-4, 244-pound frame into the air as he did during game day warm-ups during his only season as Florida’s starter, in which he held the Gators’ 6-K As a result, he completed only 53.8 percent of his passes. 7.

Ahead of pro day, Richardson ran the 40-yard dash in 4.43 seconds at the scouting combine—the fourth-fastest time ever recorded by a quarterback since 2006—and had the highest vertical jump (40.5 inches) since 2003, ahead of his NFL decision. manufacturers.

“There are plays and throws throughout the tape that scream top-of-the-draft pick,” said Carolina Panthers coach Frank Reich, who is expected to take the quarterback with the No. 1 overall pick. “Obviously his completion percentage is lower than you’d want at this level. But I don’t get too discouraged by things like that. I see a lot of upside.

The two-game period last season exemplifies the ups and downs of Richardson’s on-field performance so far.

Following Florida’s 29–26 win against Utah in the season opener, the normally introverted Richardson smiled widely as he discussed the win with reporters. His three rushing touchdowns, 274 total yards and acrobatic 2-point conversion – he pump-fucked and went past two guards Had Richardson excitedly answering his postgame questions in his characteristic low voice—before throwing a pass in the end zone.

A week later, Richardson began to appear underdog when he threw two costly interceptions in Florida’s 26–16 loss to Kentucky. He later told people close to him that the extreme emotional swings between games affected his confidence.

Richardson said in an interview, “I had no idea how stressful it would be to be the starting quarterback for such a big university.” “I thought it would always be like high school or Little League for me where I could handle it. But I realized I couldn’t do it on my own.

Richardson was a latecomer to high-pressure football, flip-flopping at receiver and quarterback early in his freshman season at Eastside High School in Gainesville, which hasn’t had a winning season since 2008. He took over in the middle of that season and piled on. 6,266 total yards and 78 touchdowns in his high school career, but only played in one playoff game.

Richardson balanced football and basketball practices after school with taking care of his brother, Corey Carter, 13, while his mother, Lashonda Cleary, sometimes juggled three jobs. Richardson rarely complained and said that her mother’s condition instilled in her a strong work ethic.

Nevertheless, Richardson’s flashy talent caught the attention of coaches. After the teen was flagged in the 10th grade by Richardson’s high school coach, he began working with Denny Thompson, a private quarterback coach. Thompson said he needed to see Richardson just three passes at a public park to know “there’s something special here.”

But Thompson said he didn’t realize how much pressure Richardson was under until after the loss to Kentucky. He saw Richardson playing with a group of children later in the parking lot of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville after the cars had been moved. The next day, the quarterback called on Thompson to vent. He apologized for his poor performance as he felt he had let down those who had supported him.

“It hit me that, ‘Wow, this guy is playing for a lot of people,'” Thompson said. “He cares for a lot of people, especially those he trusts, and I think there was a lot of disappointment in myself.”

Richardson was recruited to Florida by Dan Mullen, who was fired as coach during the 2021 season, and offensive coordinator Brian Johnson, who joined the Philadelphia Eagles’ staff in 2021. Billy Napier took over as Florida’s coach in 2022, and he and Richardson hit the ground running with a new offensive system that the quarterback said became comfortable as the year progressed.

Napier said, “I think sometimes from a quarterback perspective, you get too much credit and you get too much blame.” “I think his experience was a tiny microcosm of our team’s experience.”

Florida offensive lineman O’Cyrus Torrance said that Richardson was generally upbeat in the locker room despite the turmoil and commanded respect in the crowd.

Torrance said, “He never looked nervous or anxious, just a calm demeanor and mood, but he was articulate in what he said.”

With potentially six NFL teams in need of a quarterback at the top of this year’s draft, which begins Thursday in Kansas City, Mo., Richardson, a redshirt sophomore, is slated as a first-round pick despite his rocky record. was introduced in In December, he announced that he would be leaving the school.

Focusing on his football future, he moved to Jacksonville, Fla., to work under another quarterback coach, Will Hewlett, at Thompson’s Gym. gone; Thompson; and Tom Gormley, a sports scientist and owner of the Torque Sports Performance facility in nearby St. Augustine. Gormely targeted the combine testing numbers of NFL quarterbacks similar to Richardson in size and athleticism – guys like Cam Newton and Jalen Hurts – and Richardson focused on improving his data.

Knowing that those numbers alone would not satisfy football officials, whose jobs depended on successfully betting on a player’s skill, the coaches worked on Richardson’s accuracy with throwing sessions at least four days per week. . Together they addressed problematic aspects of his throwing motion – primarily balancing him on both feet when he throws and reaching proper alignment in his upper and lower body when his torso rotates.

Sometimes the monotony made Richardson restless. Hewlett recalled a day in January when Richardson worked on throwing out-breaking routes of 12 to 18 yards. The quarterback’s hips and footwork were misaligned and the ball kept hitting the target. Richardson’s The facial expression and restlessness showed that he was agitated, so Hewlett ended the session early.

Hewlett and Richardson had no prior working relationship, and the quarterback did not engage in much small talk during their early film sessions. But two things helped Richardson trust the process.

First, Hewlett came to the next day’s session and helped Richardson with how she had dropped the weight back. This corrected the throw of the quarterback.

Hewlett said, “From then on, whenever it came time to make improvements, he was more confident in working things through if it didn’t work out right away.”

Second, the team of coaches gave Richardson a warm-up routine that involved throwing deep passes early because Gormley observed that once Richardson’s arm was loose, he would throw short passes with less velocity and more touch. Given his power, they speculated that Richardson might overshoot a receiver during his day’s workout, but they told him not to hesitate and keep his arm open.

Gormley said, “We knew on that ball that the target was really to get his arm to eat it, and it happened to hit the top of the roof because it was too short for him.”

Richardson completed his formal drafting process after Florida’s Pro Day and spent April visiting NFL teams’ brass at their facilities across the country. During the draft cycle, Richardson was considered one of the top four quarterbacks along with Alabama’s Bryce Young, Ohio State’s CJ Stroud, and Kentucky’s Will Lewis. All four are expected to be selected in the first round.

Each of those possibilities has also been dinged by the estimate. Young’s height at 5-10 has raised questions about his effectiveness. Rumors that Stroud performed poorly on the league’s standardized cognitive test, the S2, have circulated in recent weeks. Lewis, 23, has been marked by being older than others.

Daniel Jeremiah, a former scout for the Eagles, Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens and an analyst for the NFL Network, said that the more Richardson could scratch the surface of his potential, the more teams would be interested.

“It’s like a lottery ticket,” Jeremiah said in an interview. “It’s like, ‘Okay, let’s swing for the fences on the little top guy and see if it works.'”

But that philosophy can vary depending on the team’s championship window and the staff’s relationship with the owner. At the owners’ meeting, Reich said that each team places value on what they see as most important in a quarterback — such as size, college career or skill set — and that should factor into risk tolerance.

“Every team is evaluating the same 10 things, but how do you evaluate those 10 things and more importantly, how do you weigh those 10 things?” Reich said. “Every team is going to weigh differently.”

Richardson, however, has already begun to show a flair for exceeding expected trajectories.