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Anthony Richardson’s NFL future hinges on this draft question

This factor will determine whether the former Florida Gators QB stars or gets chewed out, one ESPN analyst says.
 
Former Florida Gators quarterback Anthony Richardson is a top prospect in the 2023 NFL draft.
Former Florida Gators quarterback Anthony Richardson is a top prospect in the 2023 NFL draft. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]
Published April 26, 2023|Updated April 26, 2023

GAINESVILLE — The most interesting unknown around the NFL draft’s first round is when former Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson will be picked.

Will his off-the-charts athleticism make him the Gators’ sixth top-five draft pick since the NFL merger (1966)? Or will his inexperience and inaccuracy drop him out of the top 20, as NBC Sports’ Peter King projects?

The most important factor, however, is something different entirely. It’s not when he goes but where.

“What’s going to make or break him is where he goes,” ESPN analyst Todd McShay said.

Specifically, draft analysts say Richardson’s NFL success or failure hinges on whether his landing spot provides the patience and coaching necessary for him to develop his elite innate talent.

Florida Gators quarterback Anthony Richardson looked like a star at times during his UF career.
Florida Gators quarterback Anthony Richardson looked like a star at times during his UF career. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times (2022) ]

Patience is required because Richardson is so inexperienced. His 13 career college starts will tie Mitchell Trubisky for the fewest by any first-round quarterback since 2000. Richardson cycled through three quarterback coaches in his three years at Florida — a fact that also didn’t help his progression. Richardson himself has acknowledged critiques that he has “a lot of things to clean up.”

‘Matter of repetition’ for Anthony Richardson

“We all know what this guy’s capable of,” UF coach Billy Napier said at Richardson’s pro day last month. “It’s just a matter of repetition.”

Repetition means practice. And practice requires the patience of whatever team invests millions of dollars and a first-round pick on a quarterback who went 6-7 as a starter at a blue-blood program.

“The team that drafts him, they have to have patience but understand the only way that he’s going to work out those kinks and get better with his footwork is that he’s going to have to play,” ESPN analyst Jordan Reid said.

The best-case scenario for Richardson is a situation like the one Patrick Mahomes entered when the Chiefs drafted him No. 10 overall in 2017. Though Mahomes started 29 games at Texas Tech, he needed time to adjust from the Red Raiders’ pass-happy system to the NFL. Kansas City essentially gave him a redshirt year behind Alex Smith before turning him loose the next season; Mahomes won the first of his two (and counting) MVP awards.

Seattle — which sent coach Pete Carroll to Richardson’s pro day — could offer a similar setup behind Geno Smith. The Vikings could, too, allowing Richardson to learn from Kirk Cousins.

Florida Gators quarterback Anthony Richardson completed less than 55% of his collegiate passes.
Florida Gators quarterback Anthony Richardson completed less than 55% of his collegiate passes. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times (2022) ]

The other component to Richardson’s NFL future is equally important. Reps without proper coaching will only take him so far.

Anthony Richardson needs a Brian Daboll

Though Richardson’s 54.7 completion percentage is one of the lowest among recent first-round picks, neither Josh Allen nor Daniel Jones were statistical superstars either. Allen completed only 56.2% of his passes at Wyoming, and Jones’ passing efficiency at Duke (122.9) was lower than Richardson’s (133.6). Allen has blossomed into a Pro Bowler, while Jones just took the Giants to the playoffs. Both were developed by Brian Daboll, who found ways to maximize the strengths and athleticism of both players.

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McShay said Richardson needs his own Daboll — a head coach or assistant who can “allow him early in his career to utilize his mobility, be himself, do what’s comfortable for him and then work on his footwork and mechanics…”

One possibility: Shane Steichen, the Colts’ first-year head coach who groomed the Eagles’ Jalen Hurts and the Chargers’ Justin Herbert as an assistant. Neither is as talented as Richardson.

That’s why his landing spot Thursday is so pivotal for Richardson. His physical tools are generational. He just needs to be with a team willing to hone them over time.

“If he is, he’s going to be a star in this league,” McShay said. “And if he’s not, he’s going to get chewed up and spit out, and it’s going to be really unfortunate to see.”

Florida Gators quarterbacks drafted in first round since NFL merger (1966)

Tim Tebow was the last Florida Gators quarterback to be a first-round NFL draft pick.
Tim Tebow was the last Florida Gators quarterback to be a first-round NFL draft pick. [ Times (2006) ]

Tim Tebow: Broncos, No. 25 overall, 2010

Rex Grossman: Bears, No. 22 overall, 2003

John Reaves: Eagles, No. 14 overall, 1972

Steve Spurrier: 49ers, No. 3 overall, 1967

Highest drafted Florida Gators since NFL merger

Dante Fowler, a Lakewood High alumnus who was picked by the Jaguars, is one of the highest drafted Florida Gators ever.
Dante Fowler, a Lakewood High alumnus who was picked by the Jaguars, is one of the highest drafted Florida Gators ever. [ Times (2018) ]

No. 3: Wes Chandler (Saints, 1978), Gerard Warren (Browns, 2001), Dante Fowler (Jaguars, 2015), Steve Spurrier (49ers, 1967)

No. 4: Kyle Pitts (Falcons, 2021)

No. 6: Lomas Brown (Lions, 1985), Kevin Carter (Rams, 1995)

No. 7: Joe Haden (Browns, 2010), Ike Hilliard (Giants, 1997)

No. 8: Derrick Harvey (Jaguars, 2008), Larry Smith (Rams, 1969)

No. 9: Fred Taylor (Jaguars, 1998), CJ Henderson (Jaguars, 2020)

No. 10: Travis Taylor (Ravens, 2000)

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