GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Former Florida receiver Justin Shorter roared down the right sideline on a go route that would require him to go almost to the end zone. Anthony Richardson measured Shorter’s pace and unleashed. The ball soared high above the field at Florida’s indoor practice facility until … THUNK.
Richardson burst out laughing as the ball bounced off the ceiling high above. Then he turned to his quarterback coaches Denny Thompson and Will Hewlett.
“That’s gonna go viral,” Richardson said.
— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) March 30, 2023
Indeed it did. Among clips posted by the SEC Network, the NFL and NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero, video of Richardson hitting the ceiling had been viewed more than a million times within four hours of the throw. Richardson joked that he saw Kentucky QB Will Levis hit the underside of the roof at his pro day last Friday and wanted to one-up his draft class competition.
“I tried to put a hole through the thing,” Richardson said.
Patriots QB Mac Jones, a Jacksonville, Fla., native who has known Richardson’s Jacksonville-based trainers for years, texted to remind everyone that he started the ceiling-scraping trend during his second pro day at Alabama in 2021.
In terms of metaphors, Richardson couldn’t have served up a more perfect one. Because every discussion of his NFL future involves ceiling. The 6-foot-4, 244-pounder with the rocket arm, 4.43-second 40-yard dash and 40.5-inch vertical probably has the highest one of any quarterback in this draft. But Richardson’s 6-7 record as a starter and his 2022 completion percentage (53.8) suggest his floor is lower than that of either Alabama’s Bryce Young or Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud.
That ceiling is why a group from the Carolina Panthers, holders of the No. 1 pick, sent a contingent. Though if we’re scoring at home, we should note owners David and Nicole Tepper did not visit in person with Richardson as they did with Stroud, Young and Levis last week. Still, general manager Scott Fitterer and new head coach Frank Reich did come. So did Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider. Their team picks fifth thanks to the Russell Wilson trade. They added Gainesville to an itinerary that included Columbus, Tuscaloosa and Lexington last week — even though Seattle just signed starter Geno Smith to a three-year deal.
With the Panthers (No. 1), Texans (No. 2) and Colts (No. 4) absolutely needing quarterbacks and the Seahawks (No. 5), Lions (No. 6), Raiders (No. 7) and Falcons (No. 8) all in positions where they could choose a QB of the future if so moved, it’s difficult to imagine Richardson lasting through the top 10 come April 27. This might still feel somewhat shocking to those who watched him play all season at Florida, but try to understand from an NFL coaching/personnel perspective.
Taking a QB in the top 10 is a crapshoot, especially when there is no Trevor Lawrence/Andrew Luck-level prospect in the draft. You could land on Justin Herbert, or you could land on Zach Wilson. But if you’re a general manager whose job might hinge on a QB pick that feels risky, you’d likely bet on the player with traits that few other QB prospects can match.
Anthony Richardson is a QB prospect in the 2023 draft class. He scored a 10.00 RAS out of a possible 10.00. This ranked 1 out of 890 QB from 1987 to 2023.
— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) March 30, 2023
Bet is another key word in any discussion involving Richardson.
“Anthony kind of bet on himself to some degree,” Florida coach Billy Napier said. “He knew what teams needed quarterbacks. He went through an exhaustive process and made a decision that is going to prove to be a smart decision.”
Napier, who explained that situation perfectly, is in a strange spot. He would have loved to have Richardson back to try to improve on those production numbers. At the moment, the favorite to start at quarterback for the Gators in Napier’s second season is Wisconsin transfer Graham Mertz, who likely will not draw anywhere near this level of attention at his pro day. A second season with Richardson as starter would have provided a calmer offseason. But that might not have been the best move for Richardson.
Next year’s draft likely will include USC QB Caleb Williams and North Carolina QB Drake Maye, both of whom have the potential to excite NFL teams in ways that this year’s group doesn’t. Richardson knew that, and it was just another piece of information that helped him decide this was the year to move. And what might have happened had Richardson stayed at Florida and had a 2023 that looked exactly like his 2022? Suddenly NFL executives might weigh the production more heavily than the potential.
‘This kid’s pretty special’: Why Billy Napier believes Anthony Richardson can make it
Napier is correct. Richardson already has bet and won. He got accurate information ahead of his decision and put himself on a path to a high pick and millions of dollars.
“I definitely feel like I’m showing that betting on myself was the right decision,” Richardson said.
The question is whether the NFL team that bets on Richardson will win its wager.
Richardson understands the questions about his production, though he said he has not been asked specifically by teams why his production didn’t seem to match his raw talent. But when asked to give his pitch for why he should be the first pick of the draft, he almost immediately mentioned what needs improvement.
“I’m a workhorse. I’m going to work to be the greatest,” Richardson said. “A lot of people would say I have a lot of things to clean up, so I’m definitely going to try to clean those things up.”
And what are those things?
“Footwork, accuracy, arm path, leadership, decision-making,” he said. “I could go on and on.”
So pretty much everything. But that answer says more about Richardson’s mentality than his to-do list. He isn’t the type of person who will declare himself a finished product — even if someday he’s much closer to a finished product than he is today.
The truth is that nothing in a heavily scripted, 45-throw session or the media interviews after will tell us anything about whether Richardson can grow into the kind of quarterback his likely draft position will demand. That information will come from meetings with teams. How does he answer questions about specific plays this past season? Does he show an understanding of scheme and defenses that allows him to explain what went wrong and what he could do better in the future? Teams will get those answers over the next few weeks. We’ll probably learn how effectively Richardson answered over the course of his first few professional seasons.
Those questions don’t seem to be bothering him, though. Before he decided to turn pro, he assumed this process would be more difficult.
“It’s been better than I thought it was going to be,” Richardson said. “I thought it was going to be a lot more stressful. I didn’t think it was going to be as fun. But I’ve been having fun since the day I made my decision. I’m just thankful.”
A few throws after he hit the ceiling, Richardson uncorked a go ball that remained below the hard deck and landed up in the hands of Shorter about 70 yards from where it left Richardson’s hand. That was enough. Richardson didn’t stick the landing when he attempted a backflip following his throwing session at the combine, but he glided through a back handspring to close pro day.
The deep ball 🚀
The back flip 😮
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) March 30, 2023
The next time we see Richardson throw a football, we’ll know which NFL team placed its bet on him.
(Photo: Stacy Revere / Getty Images)
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