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Why the Lions should draft Anthony Richardson

The Lions can secure their long-term future at quarterback with the most intriguing prospect in this draft

Syndication: Gator Sports Doug Engle / USA TODAY NETWORK

Anthony Richardson may very well be the most intriguing and most curious prospect of the 2023 NFL Draft. Writing about him is already treacherous. On first jump he fits a neat stereotype: the upside prospect, the athletic quarterback who excels at measurables, possessing the cannon arm and lightning legs, with just enough statistical nags from his college stat sheets to wring so many hands in fits and starts.

Richardson is more than this. The Gainesville native possesses instincts befitting a professional quarterback and has flashed them in his 13 college starts. His work ethic is excellent, and he possesses not just physical attributes but the mental awareness that could potentially allow him to command the field in the NFL.

Also, yes, he’s absolutely the physical monster everyone’s told you he is. The Detroit Lions would do well to draft him, and they have the ability to do so; to ride the risks and cost should he prove to be the prospect many believe him to be.


The case for quarterback in Detroit

Before we discuss Richardson himself, there is a rather large issue to be discussed: the matter of taking a quarterback in the first place. In discussing Richardson, it inevitably comes to the front: “the Lions already have Jared Goff, why take a quarterback?”

Something we must be clear on: at this stage in his career, Goff is a short-term solution in a long-term project for the Detroit Lions. Goff currently has two years remaining on his current contract, which was already restructured in the past. Should Goff continue to play at his current performance, he will command a respectable amount of money on the NFL market; there is no indication this amount will be reduced for some conceivable “discount” owed to the Lions, nor does Goff have any reason to do so for the team.

This is important, and it’s not to be dismissed easily. The Lions are currently spending roughly 19 percent of their salary cap on their offensive line, the core of their identity. They invested heavily into a new-look pass rush, with defensive ends who always come at a premium when their contracts come due. A new contract, expanded money for Goff would be considerably more than his roughly 15 percent of the cap; at that point, the Lions front office has to start making hard, correct choices on where it can shed talent.

There is a simple answer here, and it’s one that’s been replicated across the league: selecting a rookie quarterback with 4-5 years of salary control, fishing for the right guy to be long-tenured; a true franchise in himself.

None of what is written so far concerns itself with Goff’s on-field performance and quite frankly I’m not interested in arguing over what he has done in two years in Detroit; with one season under Ben Johnson and another under Anthony Lynn of nearly diametric opposition.

(There’s also a matter that some believe that Goff would be “lost” if a successor was drafted while he was still on the roster and under contract. Holding this belief is insulting to Goff, and to all NFL players, for it cleaves to a worldview that these players would rather act like school children than professionals in a competitive work environment. It deserves no consideration.)

Ultimately, the Lions are capable of the opportunity cost required to draft a quarterback. With two first-round picks this year, Detroit can still acquire a starter in another position of need on the first night. There is no reach at No. 6 in the draft for quarterback; there is no position being overly neglected in favor of selecting Detroit’s future under center.

A matter of experience

There’s a common misconception that Richardson is a “raw” talent. That word is used to describe quarterback talent that comes into the league with physical attributes but lacks the decision-making or accuracy necessary to succeed at the professional level.

But this is misleading in the case of Richardson. To call him raw would indicate he’s had some sort of core untapped. It’s being slowly released, with more and more reps and work. But he hasn’t had a lot of them.

Richardson started 13 games and dropped back 455 times in college. At Florida, there was a decided dearth of talent; it’s not hard to argue that Richardson may have been the best athlete on the field for the Gators by a wide margin.

The arrival of Richardson at Florida was already something of a sensation. Well heralded from high school, Richardson entered 2021 after a redshirt year as the backup to Emory Jones, but quickly found favor among the coaching staff for his superior output. Jones would enter the transfer portal in 2022, leaving Richardson as the uncontested starter.

Florida’s offense was not a simple one. The Gators employed shifts and motions and asked Richardson to make full-field progression reads—things accepted as standard for the NFL, but not always in action at the college level.

But it’s that progression that fuels the hope that Richardson can become an elite talent in the NFL. Working with private quarterback coach Will Hewlett, Richardson has shown progress throughout the entire draft process, even in Indianapolis for individual drills.

Where the real magic happens

The thing about Richardson, what has made his proponents speak so well of him, is not just a matter of his physical prowess or his cannon arm. It’s the little things; not intangibles, but the football IQ that he has shown that allows him to make plays.

In an early season upset over Utah, Richardson ran play-action: after looking downfield, he drew three defenders in coverage to fall to the right side of the field, and then when his protection broke down Richardson was able to run clean and free to the left, beating the last man for a touchdown.

This is a small sample of his command of the field that he flashes. Richardson is excellent at avoiding sacks, extending plays and reading the field. His awareness of how the field of play develops is where his greatest promise lies; all it takes is time for him to hone it.

The kind of personality the Campbell Lions want

Richardson’s tour in front of written media—complete with his own perspective in the Player’s Tribune—has focused on his work ethic. The phrase that has been repeated over and over from Richardson himself, to those who question his value, is to watch how hard he works and practices.

This is a universal facet to his interviews. He bristles with confidence, understands the questions he has to answer for the league, and responds the same way: to declare his commitment to this work, to learn, adapt, reevaluate, and overcome.

Has that not been the sort of personality that the Detroit Lions, under head coach Dan Campbell, has prioritized? This is what the Lions have desired in their men: lean, hungry, capable of withstanding hardships and willing to grow and work hard. They wanted Amon-Ra St. Brown catching balls from the Juggs machine at midnight; Richardson professes that he possesses these same attributes.

I think there’s a nagging in my mind when I see a quote like Richardson’s in GQ Sports, where he declares he will be a Hall of Famer, one that I have to walk through and temper. Confidence, swaggering confidence earns scorn, ridicule and a call from the braying beast of humility. But even in setting lofty expectations, there is the acknowledgement that he will face a long road and he commits to the road. This is not arrogance; this is a dream, one you want to walk and reach your hand out for and do whatever you can to take it.

Jesus, mate. Tell me that’s not a Dan Campbell man. You can’t.

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