NFL Analysis


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Anthony Richardson Will Be Unleashed During 2024 NFL Season

Oct 1, 2023; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Indianapolis Colts quarterback Anthony Richardson (5) drops back to pass the ball in the first quarter against the Los Angeles Rams at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

In some ways, it’s easy to do a “deep dive” on a quarterback with only 98 career dropbacks. There are only so many plays to dive into. In other ways, it can be difficult because, well, there are only so many plays to dive into.

That’s where we are with Anthony Richardson, quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts and the fifth pick of the 2023 NFL Draft.

Richardson appeared in just five games as a rookie, missing time to a Week 2 concussion and a shoulder injury suffered in Week 5 that ended his season. After throwing just 393 passes in college, 327 of them in his final season, there just isn’t a big sample of Richardson playing quarterback.

While Richardson could certainly use more playing time — and the Colts hope that is the case this season — the lack of reps isn’t concerning in the same way it might be for other young quarterbacks.

Richardson already feels like an NFL quarterback. His feel at the position and in the pocket is already a plus trait. That goes back to college when Richardson had the best pressure-to-sack rate of the 2023 draft class and one of the best in college football during his 2022 season.

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Finding 'The Feel'

Richardson had higher-than-average pressure-to-sack (22.8 percent) and sack (7.7 percent) rates as a rookie, but he rarely looked out of sorts while in the pocket or under pressure.

Richardson wasn’t blindsided by pressure — no big hits were taken — and the few times he was sacked, it was while escaping out of the pocket, leading to a minimal loss of yards.

Of his seven sacks taken, just three were in the pocket. As a result, Richardson lost the least EPA per play on sacks among 53 quarterbacks with at least 75 dropbacks.

This matters, and we start here because it sets the foundation of Richardson’s game. It’s much easier to build up a skill set for a quarterback with a natural feel for the game around him.

Richardson also stepped into Indianapolis' offense and started executing the quick game at a high rate, something he didn't do at Flordia. In his brief stint, 54.8 percent of Richardson’s dropbacks finished within 2.5 seconds, which was the 12th-highest rate among those 53 quarterbacks. 

On those plays, Richardson was ninth in EPA per play and had the second-highest rate of throws to the intermediate level of the field between 11-19 air yards at 19.6 percent, behind only Tua Tagovailoa. Richardson has the timing and a quick, smooth release to get the ball out with the arm strength to get the ball downfield.

The Colts also lack the same speed at receiver as the Dolphins to get receivers down the field at that pace. Richardson has that ball ready to rip as soon as the opening is there. It’s a fun element that could continue to be built out in 2024. 

Colts QB Anthony Richardson runs away from Los Angeles Rams defender
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Anthony Richardson (5) runs the ball in the second quarter against the Los Angeles Rams at Lucas Oil Stadium. Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports.

Working In The Run Game

Much of the focus on Richiardson’s game will come from what he does on the ground. He’s a threat in the run game, but it’s also the source of his injuries during the 2023 season.

Let’s start there — Richardson does not really put himself in dangerous situations in the run game. He’s not some reckless runner initiating contact or failing to feel where defenders are coming from when he takes off.

His concussion in Week 2 came after a rushing touchdown. He was pushed into the end zone and tried to roll backward to stop his momentum. Unfortunately, his head hit the ground, causing the injury. No concussion is minor, and it will be something to monitor going forward, but that was not a play where Richardson left himself vulnerable to a hit to the head.

On his season-ending shoulder injury, Richardson took a keep to the right, and as he braced for a hit, Titans edge rusher Harold Landry landed perfectly on the quarterback’s shoulder as it hit the ground. Again, this is a concern but not something where Richardson routinely puts himself in dangerous situations.

More often, Richardson’s mobility was a boost for the offense. A quarterback draw was a weapon on the goal line, and the Colts created explosive plays in the high red zone and the open field.

On pass plays, Richardson was not a scrambler looking to run. His official scramble rate was 7.1 percent, below the “running” quarterbacks like Lamar Jackson (12.1 percent) and Justin Fields (9.4). It was also below mobile quarterbacks like Josh Allen (7.7) and Patrick Mahomes (7.6).

Even if Richardson was moving out of the pocket, his focus came downfield, looking for a throw. He made some checkdowns and big throws when on the move. He was seventh in EPA per play when outside of the pocket.

Accuracy vs Big Plays

A valid criticism of Richardson’s play is his accuracy. Even in the small sample from 2023, there were scattered throws that missed the target. Richardson completed fewer than 60 percent of his passes, and 14.3 percent of his throws were considered inaccurate, the ninth-highest rate in the league.

However, those are some of the growing pains that could improve with more playing time. Richardson isn’t forcing plays just to force them, and he often understands the progressions and where the ball should go on a given play. His misses usually weren’t dangerous, ending with a 1.2 percent interception rate.

The ability to search for the big play also paid off on the high end. Only Brock Purdy had a higher percentage of completions resulting in a first down or touchdown at 62 percent. Purdy was at 62.3 percent, while C.J. Stroud was third at 58.9 percent.

There are also throws available to Richardson that are only on the table for a select few quarterbacks in the league. His willingness to take those shots raises the ceiling of Richardson’s production, and he only needs a few of them to hit.

Even players like Mahomes and Allen — and perhaps Matthew Stafford is a better comp for Richardson — are not the most consistently accurate players on a down-to-down basis. Still, they make up for it with high-level plays.

They have gotten to the top tier of quarterbacking by supplementing those plays with improvements in the short area to have easier answers within the offense's rhythm. That’s likely Richardson’s next step.

Indianapolis Colts head coach Shane Steichen looks on from the sideline during the first half against the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium. Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Steichen’s Scheme

Even if Richardson only played a handful of snaps, it’s easy to be optimistic about his future in Indianapolis because of what’s around him. That starts with coach Shane Steichen.

Steichen designed an offense that would help Richardson transition to the NFL at the start of the season and then revamped it to fit Gardner Minshew once Richardson got hurt. As that offense developed, the Colts found their stride, and they played for the AFC South title in the season's final game.

Minshew is a player who does his best work in the quick game and throwing to the short area of the field. That’s what the Colts offense was with him at quarterback — a fairly stark difference from how Richardson ran the offense to start the season.

No quarterback threw a higher rate of throws between 1-10 air yards than Minshew last season, as Steichen worked the offense around his strengths. Making that switch and still having an offense that finished 16th in EPA per play is a testament to what Steichen did as an offensive designer and play-caller.

That should give some optimism about what the head coach and quarterback can do this season. It should also be noted that Richardson played one snap with Jonathan Taylor. Then, add Adonai Mitchell's explosive element to a receiving corps of Michael Pittman and Josh Downs, along with big, athletic tight ends. 

There’s a lot of talent in Richardson, and it’s already flashed on the NFL level. With more playing time and an offense around him that should be dynamic enough to play and adjust to his strengths, the upside for Indianapolis' offense could be on the brink of being unleashed.