GAINESVILLE — As NFL draft evaluators and analysts examine Anthony Richardson as a potential top-five pick, they see a quarterback with mixed Florida Gators production but a sky-high ceiling.
Richardson nearly hit it Thursday at UF’s indoor practice facility; one of the final throws of his pro day workout smacked a support beam that holds up the roof.
“I’ve seen (NFL draft prospect) Will Levis do it so I decided to one-up him,” Richardson said. “Put a hole through the thing.”
Richardson — fortunately for the Gators and their insurance providers — didn’t quite do that. But his eye-popping throw was another microcosm for the most puzzling prospect in the draft. Though his elite arm strength and unmatched physical tools are enticing, too many of his passes hit the ground.
“A lot of people have their own take on about it,” Richardson said. “But things happen for a reason...
“I can’t control everything. I do feel like I’m a great player. I do feel like I’ll end up in a great situation.”
Which leads to the $30 million question: Where?
At least three quarterback-needy teams with top-five picks had high-profile representation Thursday. The contingent from the Carolina Panthers (No. 1 overall) included head coach Frank Reich and quarterbacks coach Josh McCown, the former Bucs starter. The Colts (No. 4) had general manager Chris Ballard in attendance, and the Seahawks (No. 5) sent head coach Pete Carroll.
Despite at least two other early-round prospects (offensive lineman O’Cyrus Torrence and defensive lineman Gervon Dexter), Richardson commanded the spotlight at the state’s biggest pro day since Jameis Winston auditioned for the Bucs’ No. 1 overall pick eight years ago at Florida State. At least seven cameras were fixed on Richardson as he … tied his shoes. More NFL evaluators were watching Richardson warm up than the position drills of draftable defensive backs Trey Dean and Rashad Torrence.
That’s the way it’s always been for Richardson, who was followed by a Netflix documentary in high school and played the most pressure-packed position at his hometown school.
“People been watching me my whole life,” Richardson said, “so just another day in the office.”
It was a good one. He didn’t sprint or do other testing drills. After displaying what coach Billy Napier called “generational physical traits” at the NFL scouting combine earlier this month, Richardson didn’t need to.
He did, however, throw, completing 55 of his 62 passes. Three of the incompletions were borderline drops, plus the one the roof broke up. His final throw was a 70-plus yarder to Justin Shorter. Richardson celebrated with a roundoff-backflip maneuver — what he said will be the last one of his career.
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“I feel like I’m getting older,” Richardson said, “so my body won’t be able to hold up.”
That sounds like a sign of maturity for the exuberant 20-year-old who joins Levis (Kentucky), Bryce Young (Alabama) and CJ Stroud (Ohio State) as the top passing prospects in this draft.
Richardson will still have to convince teams that his performances at pro day and the combine are more indicative of his potential than three years at Florida. He had a 17-9 touchdown-to-interception ratio last season with a completion percentage (53.8) that ranked 12th in the SEC. Richardson missed on 18 of his 27 passes in his final game against Florida State. There are extenuating circumstances to those numbers, like three quarterback coaches in three seasons.
“Just a really inexperienced player, was a first-year starter in a new system and everybody around him was in a new system and teaching a new system,” Napier said. “So, we all know what this guy’s capable of.”
Everyone has a better understanding now after Richardson put on his final public display before next month’s draft. Except Richardson himself.
“Lord knows what my ceiling is and what it will be,” Richardson said.
But as he showed Thursday, he’s getting closer to hitting it.
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