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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Anthony Richardson chuckles as his football is puttted to the ground.
He started his March training, the High Arc Pass, in front of scouts from all 32 NFL teams near the end of Pro Day at the University of Florida, but the ball hit the ceiling of the practice facility, not the receiver’s arm. Hebe may have fallen short of his goal, but he showed Richardson’s mighty arm during his job audition.
“You should always find joy and happiness in any situation, so I just wanted to joke about it and laugh,” Richardson, 20, said in a phone interview earlier this month.
The display summarized a scouting report on Richardson, a prospective top 10 pick in the NFL Draft. The combination earned him the dreaded “project” label. It’s a euphemism for scouting a prospective athletic his quarterback who needs help figuring out how to lead an NFL offense.
The label had previously acquired quarterbacks who, like Richardson, showed interesting talent, but whose college careers did not inspire the scout’s confidence and quickly became a successful professional. Trey Lance answered questions about the quality of competition and lack of starts before the San Francisco 49ers named them their third quarterback in the 2021 draft. He faced similar scrutiny coming out of Liberty when he fell to the Titans’ third-round pick.
The “project” label stuck with future Pro Bowl passers like Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen in 2018, but it could land on black quarterbacks more often.
“Such words unintentionally operate on dehumanizing logic,” said Ben Carrington, a sports sociologist and professor at the University of Southern California, who said the term was used to describe African-Americans. He added that it can be particularly troubling when used to describe quarterbacks. I was stunned by the racist belief of white team owners and coaches not understanding the technical elements of their positions.
“It also undermines the agency of the athletes themselves trying to control their own destinies,” he said.
Before being tested by the NFL defense, Richardson must first put that label down.
“A lot of people say I have a ‘high ceiling,’ but if you don’t try, you’ll never reach that ceiling,” Richardson said. “If I don’t do my job, this means nothing.”
he finished training With a trademark backflip, effortlessly launched his 6-foot-4, 244-pound frame into the air, as he did during the gameday warm-up during his only season as a Florida starter. 7.
Before pro day, Richardson ran a 40-yard dash on the Scout Combine in 4.43 seconds. It’s his fourth fastest time recorded by a quarterback since 2006. Maker.
“There’s plays and throws all over the tape that scream for the top pick in the draft,” said Frank Reich, coach of the Carolina Panthers, who will take the quarterback with the No. 1 overall pick. “Obviously, his completion rate is lower than we would like at this level.
Two games last season show the ups and downs of Richardson’s on-field performance so far.
After Florida’s 29-26 victory over Utah in the season opener, the typically introverted Richardson grinned big as he discussed the victory with reporters. 274 total yards, an acrobatic 2-point conversion — he Dodge two defenders with Pump Fake and Spin Before throwing the pass into the end zone — Richardson answered post-game questions with his signature low voice and excitement.
A week later, in Florida’s 26–16 loss to Kentucky, he approached the podium looking trampled after Richardson threw two costly interceptions. Later, he told people close to him that the dramatic emotional swings between games affected his confidence.
“I never knew how stressful it would be to start a quarterback for such a big college,” Richardson said in an interview. I thought it was, but I realized that I can’t do anything on my own.”
Richardson was a latecomer to high-pressure football, flip-flopping at receiver and quarterback early in his freshman season at Eastside High School in Gainesville, which had not had a winning season since 2008. He totaled 6,266 yards and 78 touchdowns in his high school career, but only had one playoff game.
Richardson juggled soccer and basketball practices after school, caring for his younger brother Cory Carter, 13, and balancing it out, while his mother, Lashaonda Clear, occasionally juggled three jobs.Richardson rarely complained. , said his mother’s circumstances instilled in him a strong work ethic.
Still, Richardson’s dazzling talent caught the attention of coaches. After Richardson’s high school coach flagged the teenager down in the 10th grade, he began training with private quarterback coach Denny Thompson. Three times, he said, he needed to know that “there’s something special here.”
But Thompson said he didn’t realize how much pressure Richardson was under until the loss to Kentucky. He then found Richardson playing catch with a group of children in the parking lot of Gainesville’s Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, long after the car had moved. The quarterback called Thompson the next day. He apologized for his poor performance as he felt he had let down those who supported him.
“I thought, ‘Wow, this guy is playing for a lot of people,'” Thompson said. “He cares about a lot of people, especially those he trusts, and I think he’s had a lot of disappointment in himself.”
Richardson was recruited to Florida by Dan Mullen, who was fired as a coach during the 2021 season, and offensive coordinator Brian Johnson, who joined the staff of the Philadelphia Eagles in 2021. And Richardson started running with a new offensive system that the quarterback said he was comfortable with as the years progressed.
“From a quarterback perspective, I think there are times when you take too much credit and take on too much responsibility,” Napier said. I think it was kind of the epitome of.”
Florida offensive lineman Osiris Torrence said Richardson was always upbeat in the locker room and respectful in the clandestine despite the chaos.
“He was never nervous or anxious, he had a calm temper and mood, but his statements were assertive,” Torrence said.
With six teams in the NFL potentially needing a quarterback in this year’s draft, which begins Thursday in Kansas City, Missouri, Richardson, a redshirt sophomore, has no chances despite his challenging record. , was projected as a first-round pick. In December, he announced his retirement.
Focusing on his football future, he moved to Jacksonville, Florida to work out at Thompson’s gym under another quarterback coach, Will Hewlett. Thompson; and Tom Gormely, sports scientist and owner of the Tork Sports Performance facility in nearby St. Augustine. Gormely targeted his combined testing numbers for NFL quarterbacks (such as Cam Newton and Jalen Hurts) who were similar in size and athleticism to Richardson, and Richardson focused on improving the data.
Knowing that these numbers alone would not satisfy football executives who rely on their player insight to bet on success, the trainer instructed Richardson to pitch at least four days a week. I worked to improve my accuracy in the session. Together they addressed the issues with his throwing motion. Primarily, he balances on both feet when throwing, ensuring that his upper and lower body are properly aligned as his torso rotates.
Boringly, Richardson was nervous at times. Hewlett recalled one day in his January when Richardson was working on his 12–18 yard Outbreak throwing his route. The quarterback’s hips and footwork were out of alignment, keeping the ball off target.Richardson’s Hewlett ended the session early because his facial expressions and anxiety indicated he was getting worse.
Hewlett and Richardson had no previous working relationship, and the quarterback didn’t make much small talk during the early film sessions.
First, Hewlett came to the next day’s session to help Richardson how he distributed his weight. He corrected the quarterback throw.
“From then on, whenever we fixed it, he was confident that we would get things done, even if it didn’t work out right away,” says Hewlett.
Secondly, the team of trainers, having seen Richardson slow down and throw short passes with more touches when Richardson’s arms loosened up, gave Richardson a warm shot that involved throwing deep passes early. Gave an up routine. Given his power, they expected Richardson to overshoot a receiver during training on pro day, but without hesitation told him to unleash his arm. rice field.
“I knew the ball was going to go into his arm, and it was too small for him, so it just happened to hit the roof top,” Gormery said.
Richardson completed the formal draft preparation process after Pro Day in Florida, and traveled across the country in April to visit the Brass at the NFL team’s facility. has been considered one of the top four quarterbacks along with Bryce Young of Ohio State, CJ Stroud of Ohio State, and Will Levis of Kentucky. All four will be selected in the first round.
Each of these prospects has also been overshadowed by speculation. Young’s height from five to his ten years casts doubt on his effectiveness. In recent weeks, rumors have circulated that Stroud has performed poorly on S2, the league’s standardized cognitive test. .
NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah, a former scout for the Eagles, Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens, said the idea that Richardson might just be scratching the surface of his potential doesn’t make sense for the team. said that it would increase the interest in him from
“It’s like the lottery,” Jeremiah said in an interview. “It’s like, ‘Okay, let’s swing a little bit over the fence with the high-side guy and see if it works.'”
But that philosophy depends on the team’s championship window and the relationship between staff and owners. At the owners meeting, Reich said teams should value what they deem most important in a quarterback — size, college career, skill set, etc. — and factor that into their risk tolerance. .
“Every team is evaluating the same 10 items, but how do you rate those 10 items and, more importantly, how do you weight those 10 items? said Reich. “Every team will weight it differently.”
But Richardson has already begun to show a flair for breaking the expected trajectory.