The Florida Gators’ regular season ended unceremoniously with a rivalry week loss to the Florida State Seminoles on Saturday. Right away, the rumor mill started churning about quarterback Anthony Richardson preparing to declare for the 2023 NFL Draft. But should he?
It’s an interesting question for a very interesting prospect, and it’s one worth asking because of just how turbulent Richardson’s regular season performance was. There are so many examples of why the 21-year-old is such a special quarterback prospect with the passes he makes and the mobility he has. At the same time, there are just as many, if not more, examples of miscues and misfires: bad decisions, inaccurate throws, and wonky footwork. The result is a highly-polarizing prospect at the most important position in sports.
From a pure tools standpoint, Richardson might be the best quarterback in this draft class. He’s got the arm talent to push the ball downfield effortlessly and fit passes into tight windows by putting some extra zip on the ball. His upper-half mechanics are crisp and mostly consistent, allowing him to get the ball off with a quick and clean release.
3rd & 15, Anthony Richardson stays in the pocket and delivers a strike to convert! His mechanics are clean and crisp! pic.twitter.com/GWUgv2GUJm
— Full-Time Dame 💰 (@DP_NFL) September 3, 2022
— 𝗙𝗢𝗟𝗟𝗢𝗪 @𝗙𝗧𝗕𝗲𝗮𝗿𝗱𝟳 (@FTBeard7) November 26, 2022
Of note on that second passing touchdown to Ricky Persall against Florida State, Richardson also showed off his ability to manipulate defenses with his eyes, keeping his head pointed straight forward and freezing the safety until he was ready to make the throw up the seam. Here’s a different angle:
The beauty in this play isn’t the pinpoint accuracy…watch his eyes. The eye manipulation is just 🔥🔥🔥
Anthony Richardson has all the talent and physical tools in the world to become an elite difference maker at the next level. pic.twitter.com/XD9izz2upN
— Ray G 🏁 (@RayGQue) November 26, 2022
Those tools and traits are just when the Gators use Richardson as a passer. As a runner, the quarterback adds another level to his game. When he takes off running, he can use his 6-foot-4, 230-pound frame to be a bruiser that fights for extra yardage after contact (yes, just like 6-foot-5, 235-pound Josh Allen). If he breaks into the open field though, he also has the speed to take off and beat defenders in a foot race.
ANTHONY RICHARDSON SAID GET ON MY BACK LET’S GO FOR A RIDE 💀 pic.twitter.com/TeCRWOJuNx
— The Transfer Portal CFB (@TPortalCFB) November 26, 2022
— pickett’s pool (@PickettsPool) October 16, 2022
The stuff Richardson is capable of is truly unbelievable when he manages to put everything together as both a passer and a rusher, but the challenge he faces at the next level is consistency. As much as his tape flashes in those plays and with his tools, there are still plenty of downright bad moments in his game. For instance, Richardson has a tendency to get impatient when plays take extra time to develop, often creating instances of messy footwork and poor decision-making.
Anthony Richardson?????????? pic.twitter.com/wE8rxSAYVj
— 𝗙𝗢𝗟𝗟𝗢𝗪 @𝗙𝗧𝗕𝗲𝗮𝗿𝗱𝟳 (@FTBeard7) September 18, 2022
Perhaps as a result of that, opposing teams have figured out that blitzing against Richardson often—a little more than one-third of his throws, to be specific—can force him into making more quick (and often bad) decisions. That’s something Richardson is going to have to figure out at the next level if he wants to find success as an NFL quarterback, and it’s something that team evaluators are going to have to consider if he does decide to declare.
Right now, Richardson’s decision to declare might boil down to how badly he wants to play next season. If he declares for this coming year’s NFL draft, there’s a high chance that whatever team drafts him would go the Patrick Mahomes route. As a toolsy quarterback that still has some big questions remaining, it would make sense that a team would opt to keep him on the bench for a season to develop behind their starter.
That could be valuable experience for Richardson under a head coach that’s good with quarterback development like, say, New York Giants head coach Brian Daboll, who had experience with a similar quarterback—toolsy, but with some questions outstanding—in Buffalo.
If Richardson wants to get more in-game reps to improve and develop, staying at Florida is the better decision. He’d have another full season to develop within the Gators’ system and could wind up being a top-three quarterback in the 2024 draft class rather than a top-five/fringe first-round talent in 2023.
In all though, declaring for the 2023 NFL Draft is the better move for Richardson. Around this time in 2016, Mahomes himself was seen only as a top-five quarterback in his class and one that still needed more development to be a surefire first-round pick. We all know how that turned out for him and the Chiefs.
If Richardson declares this year and ends up with a team that bets on his traits and can get him NFL-ready within the next year, that team will no doubt be ecstatic in the same way that the Bills are to have Allen and the Chiefs are to have Mahomes. Just because a quarterback is a bit of a project does not necessarily mean that betting on traits doesn’t work. At the end of the day, it’s really all about development.