Why Florida’s Anthony Richardson is college football’s fastest-rising quarterback

There are those quarterbacks in every draft class who seem to come out of nowhere to rise to first-round consideration. In 2021, Pitt’s Kenny Pickett threw 42 touchdowns and just seven interceptions — through his first four years combined with the Panthers, he had thrown 39 touchdowns and 25 picks. The past didn’t matter; Pickett’s most recent oeuvre had the Steelers taking him with the 20th overall pick when he would have been a mid-round prospect at best before that.

As we get into the 2022 college football season, we have to turn our eyes to Anthony Richardson of the Florida Gators as the most likely out-of-nowhere prospect who could have NFL scouts freaking out when it’s draft time. A four-star recruit and the fifth-ranked dual-threat quarterback in the country coming out of Eastside High School in Gainesville, Richardson committed to the Gators and spent most of his true freshman and sophomore seasons sitting behind Kyle Trask. He attempted just 66 passes, completing 39 for 559 yards, seven touchdowns, and six interceptions. Richardson was more dynamic as a runner, gaining 462 yards and scoring three touchdowns on 58 carries.

But once Trask left for the NFL, it was hard to know how Richardson would respond to the increased responsibility.

It took one game for that story to write itself. The Gators upset seventh-ranked Utah 29-26 in a game that came down to the wire, and Richardson was the star of the whole thing. He completed 17 of 24 passes for 168 yards and no touchdowns, but he was saving those for the ground game. Richardson ran the ball 11 times for 106 yards and three touchdowns against an utterly overwhelmed Utes defense, and Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham saw it coming — comparing Richardson to Cam Newton, another NCAA late bloomer who did well in the NFL.

“You have to account for the QB in the run game every single down,” Whittingham said the Monday before Saturday’s game. “The guy reportedly has 4.3 speed. At that size, it’s incredible. It’s Cam Newton-ish type of numbers with his physical stature and his ability to run. That’s something that the defensive staff is well aware of and that’s gotta be taken into account in virtually everything you do.

“The quarterback is outstanding. I know there’s not a big body of work, but some people are projecting him as a top-10 pick this coming draft. He’s obviously got a ton of ability. A big kid. 6-4, 240-pounds, and really fast. He’s going to be a handful for us.”

Whittingham said pretty much the same thing after the game. And he was able to confirm Richardson’s track speed.

“He ran for over 100 yards and there were some damaging runs in the first half and the touchdown run in the second. He is going to get his. The guy is like 6’4″ and 240 and runs like a 4.3, so there is no way to keep him bottled up. He did the damage at key points and times in the game and he is a terrific player.”

Richardson had already shown enough running ability to be on any opposing coach’s radar. But it was the ways in which he got things done in the passing game that could have Richardson rocketing up everybody’s boards.

Timing and anticipation.

(Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

Richardson didn’t have any deep completions against Utah — he attempted one throw of 20 or more air yards, and he didn’t complete it. But he did well in the 10-19-yard range, and this 14-yard throw to receiver Ricky Pearsall with 2:52 left in the first half was an excellent example of a quarterback anticipating where he receiver would be, throwing to a tight spot, and nailing the required velocity and location.

Making tight-window throws.

(Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

This 16-yard pass to Pearsall with nine seconds left in the third quarter showed that Richardson has no issue firing schemed throws into tight windows. He’s got linebacker Mohamoud Diabate (No. 3) to deal with dropping into coverage and following his target, but when Richardson sees Diabate breaking to Pearsall a hair late, he’s able to fire the ball in there for the successful play on the quick comeback part of the route.

Winning as a runner.

(Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

And as Whittingham said, Richardson is a real problem as a runner — he has size (6-foot-4, 232 pounds), agility, power, and speed in the open field. This 45-yard run proves the theory — whether scrambling after he steps up in the pocket, or working through defenses on designed runs, Richardson has this in his arsenal in a Cam Newton/Josh Allen sense.

And this fake jump pass for a two-point conversion showed just how well Richardson can use his legs to keep himself alive as a passer — and with an evil play-fake to boot.

Saturday's showdown will tell us even more.

(Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

We’ll next see Richardson against another formidable opponent when the Gators take on the 20th-ranked Kentucky Wildcats at 7:00 p.m. EST. Kentucky has Will Levis, a quarterback who came into this season already considered a first-round prospect, and a defense that can present different problems.

If Richardson is able to pass this test as well as he did against what Utah threw at him, you’ll hear the first-round roar around his name become much louder.

Story originally appeared on Touchdown Wire