It happens every year at the NFL combine. It’s has become an almost Pavlovian response from scouts and general managers across the NFL. An athletic marvel shows up to the combine and dazzles everyone with their athletic prowess. Talking heads immediately start claiming that this player is rising up the draft boards. A lot of the time these players wind up being wide receivers. Names like Stephen Hill, Kevin White and Matt Jones showed out at the combine, but if you are sitting there asking who the hell are these guys? You wouldn’t be alone. Their NFL careers were minimal to say the least. Occasionally, it happens with a Quarterback. Names like Tim Tebow and Akili Smith come to mind.
This isn’t a knock on those players. It’s not their fault that they were great athletes that performed remarkably well in shorts and t-shirts. The problem lies with the NFL general managers and scouting departments who ignored all of their other red flags on why this players would have a poor NFL career. This year’s player who will be over analyzed is Florida Quarterback Anthony Richardson.
Again, this isn’t to place blame on Anthony Richardson. If an NFL franchise is going to use a 1st round pick on him and hand him a bag full of money for at least four years, then by all means take the money. It’s not Richardson’s fault that he’s bigger, faster and stronger than almost every Quarterback in this draft class. The blame lies within the front office staff who doesn’t believe what they see on tape this past year from Anthony Richardson.
Scouting departments will pour over hours upon hours of game tape. Watching every throw, ball placement and mechanics of a player is what they are tasked to do. The athletic ability is clear on tape, but there is one glaring issue: Anthony Richardson is not an accurate quarterback. This is a huge problem for someone using a first round pick on a quarterback. If a quarterback struggles with accuracy in college, where passing windows are larger and schemes are designed to get receivers wide open, how do you expect them to be accurate in the NFL where Quarterbacks are expected to throw a guy open.
How bad was Richardson’s accuracy in college? Well this past year, he completed 53.8% of his passes. That puts him at 116th out of the 124 quarterbacks who qualified. Even more concerning, he’s the 2nd worse passer in college football for Quarterbacks with over 300 attempts. Even his former running mate, Emory Jones was able to complete 62.8% of his passes at Arizona State. This alone should be a huge warning sign for NFL GMs.
We all know what’s going to come next, the excuse. “He played in the SEC! It’s the toughest conference in America!” There is no denying that the SEC has incredible football each year. There will be a good amount of 1st round players that come from the SEC. But just because Anthony Richardson played in the SEC, doesn’t give him a pass for struggling accuracy. Take for example playing the Georgia Bulldogs. Most fans would agree that they presented the greatest challenge for Quarterbacks in the SEC.
In late October, Georgia and Florida meet annually in Jacksonville. This is a rivalry game. A game a player wants to perform at his best. Richardson completed less than 50% of his passes at 48.6%. Let’s put this into context against Georgia. The very next week Hendon Hooker completed 69.6% of his passes in Athens. Kentucky’s Will Levis completed 64.5%. Ohio State’s CJ Stroud completed 67.6%. Even Kent St.’s Collin Schlee completed 66.6%
The point being that most Quarterbacks were able to complete passes against what is believed to be the best defense in the SEC. Anthony Richardson might be a freak athlete, but does he make players around him better? Does he make that throw through a window that makes you turn to your friend and ask how he did that? The tape doesn’t lie. The answer is no. And the question out there still is if Anthony Richardson was such a great Quarterback at Florida, why did they go 6-7 in 2022?
With GMs and scouts drooling over all the athletic measurable data, it’s important for them to look back at the top Quarterbacks currently in the NFL. And while accuracy isn’t the only thing that goes into determining NFL success, it definitely plays a huge factor. This posed the questions what was a Quarterback’s completion percentage in college before entering the NFL draft? Anthony Richardson enters in at 53.6%. Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahommes was 65.7%. That’s a bit of an extreme comparison as Mahommes is arguably the best Quarterback in the NFL. But then you have Joe Burrow at 76.3% and Jalen Hurts at 69.7%. Or there is Justin Herbert at 66.8%, Dak Prescott at 66.2%, Deshawn Watson at 67% and Trevor Lawrence at 69.2%. There is definitely a trend.
The two Quarterbacks mentioned in the same breath as Richardson is Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen. Lamar played at Louisville and completed 59.1% of his passes. Josh Allen only completed 56.3% but played at Wyoming. Not many three, four or five star wide receivers are playing in Lamarie Wyoming. At least, not comparable to what Richardson had to play with in Gainesville. While people will make the athletic comparisons between the players, they aren’t the same. Lamar was a Heisman winner. Josh Allen led Wyoming was 16-11 his two years as a starter. Richardson could become Josh Allen in a few years, but would definitely need some seasoning to get ready for that role.
This is a problem coming out of the combine every year. Scouts, Media and GMs set a level of expectations on certain NFL prospects that is just unrealistic. This bleeds over to the fans who also ignore the tape and elevate a prospect. Even a recent Twitter poll shows the perspective of Anthony Richardson.
The idea behind this is not to blame Anthony Richardson. He’s is clearly an intriguing prospect but will need a great deal of time to learn the ways of the NFL. If he was available in the 2nd round with the expectation to carry a clipboard for a year, that’s acceptable. But when a player is drafted in the top 10, he is now expected to start and have an immediate impact. If he doesn’t, he will be labeled a bust. But is he truly a bust if the blame lies with the people who over valued him in the pre-draft process.
On top of all of this, which ever GM takes Richardson in the first round is now tying his employment to the success or failure of Richardson. With the odds stacked against Richardson being an immediate first round success, that General Manager will be looking for a new gig within three years. When will they learn that jaw dropping athletic ability at the combine must align with the high performance viewed on tape. Obviously, this isn’t the first combine warrior to be over drafted and clearly won’t be the last.