The 2023 NFL Draft will be here before we know it now that college football is officially headed into Week 2. This week, Pro Football Network’s Scouting Notebook returns with a keen look at what to do with some of those top-notch early-season performances like that of Florida’s Anthony Richardson.
2023 NFL Draft: How to handle Anthony Richardson’s Week 1 performance
Ian Cummings: As evaluators, it’s important to hold ourselves accountable and remain aware of how potential biases can impact the overarching scouting process. Midseason evaluations can be a minefield for this kind of thing, especially with high-profile prospects and first-round hopefuls at the quarterback position.
When a player does very well or quite poorly, how do you approach, compartmentalize, and contextualize that performance while staying independent of outside influences like excessive positivity and negativity? We can take a look at a good case study for this situation by evaluating Anthony Richardson’s Week 1 showing against Utah.
Against the Utes, Richardson completed 17 of 24 passes for 168 yards and amassed 11 carries for 106 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. In a 29-26 win over a top-10-ranked team, Richardson’s impact proved to be invaluable. But as a passer, the production looks ordinary. So how does one view this performance through a scouting lens, and how should it affect their perception of Richardson?
I think the first thing to do in this case is clear. Forget the statistics, and focus on the visible diagnostics on tape. In previous scouting notebooks, we’ve spoken about how being grounded in the diagnostics can help keep you on the right track. Regardless of whether the stat line fits your perception of an impressive performance, throw the numbers aside, look at the tape, and see what Richardson did operationally to attain those numbers.
At the same time, it’s important to take into account the context around Richardson’s showing. He’s a young QB, and this was his first start as the full-time QB1 for the Gators. Any signs of growth are positive, and mistakes shouldn’t be surprising. Once you take a step back from the overwhelming positivity or the clashing contrarian movement and recalibrate mentally, you can evaluate Richardson’s performance from an honest, objective viewpoint.
Within the evaluation itself, there are several diagnostic positives to take away from Richardson’s first start of 2022. We already know the Florida QB has near-generational physical tools, but the most important thing he showed last Saturday was tangible growth in multiple operational facets. We wanted to see his mechanics become tighter and more efficient, and that’s exactly what the tape shows. His release is less winding and more rotational, and he stays in phase while navigating the pocket.
To that end, Richardson’s process in the pocket appears to be improving. On his longest touchdown run, Richardson reached his drop, then stepped up into the hallway as pressure looped around the ends. He didn’t bolt right away but instead surveyed the field with his eyes active and alert. When Richardson saw nothing open, only then did he divert left where the route concepts had cleared an open lane for him.
There’s even active progression work and mental adaptability on Richardson’s Utah tape. One rep stands out in particular — when Richardson makes a check at the line, progresses from left to right, and immediately triggers on an intermediate seam route with excellent velocity and placement. Last year, Richardson never had a chance to get comfortable, and he was incredibly volatile as a result. Now, with a summer of preparation behind him, he looks like a different QB — a fully functional one with astronomical talent.
Once the game evaluation is complete, it’s time to take a step back once again and determine what to take away. Does this promising showing mean that Richardson has locked in first-round draft status? No. Does it mean he’s going to be successful at the NFL level? No.
Whether positive or negative, it’s far too early to speak in absolutes. What we can say is this: Richardson displayed tangible progression against Utah. If that progression is sustainable over the course of the 2022 season, he’ll no doubt be a contender for the first overall pick because his physical tools are undeniably the best in the class.
Let’s maintain awareness of the fact that nobody should be anointed just yet. There are 11 more games on Florida’s regular-season schedule, including contests against Tennessee, Texas A&M, Florida State, and Georgia. Richardson is off to a good start, but we need to see if he can maintain the momentum.
When evaluating early-season performances — both good and bad — always keep the broad scope in mind. It’s just one game. Players can bounce back after bad games, and they can regress after good ones. At the same time, it can be more reasonably expected for the arrow to keep pointing up for players like Richardson who are younger and less experienced than for those who have been around for a while and might be stuck in their ways.
Regardless, there comes a point where NFL teams are willing to bank on the tools, and his Week 1 performance showed that Richardson has the tools.