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Anthony Richardson, Josh Allen, and the danger of drafting inaccurate QBs

Syndication: The Indianapolis Star Doug Engle / USA TODAY NETWORK

In my recent piece on the value of drafting a quarterback, I was surprised to see that many readers suggested targeting Anthony Richardson in the first round. This was unexpected to me because I simply don’t see it with the former Florida Gators passer. To be fair, I thought the same thing about Josh Allen when he was coming out of Wyoming. Obviously, Allen has turned into one of the most explosive players in the NFL, but he didn’t start out that way. As you may recall, it took two full seasons for the former Cowboy to reach his current level of play. Here is a blurb from Allen’s scouting report leading up to the draft:

“Likely be the biggest boom-or-bust quarterback prospect in the draft. Allen’s size and arm talent are prototypical for early first-round picks, but it’s rare to find a quarterback with such a low college completion rate become a successful pro. Allen’s receivers struggled to separate, but there were plenty of times where his lack of anticipation and post-snap plan did him in. Allen can make some truly special throws, but his ability to improve the mental part of his game will determine whether he’s a good NFL starter or just another big, strong-armed guy.”

For comparison, here is a similar snippet on Richardson:

“Big and highly athletic arm talent specimen. Legitimately designed run game brilliance to his game. Scrambling is good, too. Reads field well for being a young QB but not an ultra-quick processor yet. When he’s patient, he will move from read to read across the entire field. At times vacates the pocket too early when it’s unnecessary. Somewhat raw prospect but has All-Pro upside.”

You can see some very similar statements, particularly around the “mental” or “processing” aspects of the game. Nobody doubted Allen’s arm and athleticism, and the same can be said for Richardson. However, I think we should look at Josh Allen as an outlier, and not the norm. As the report above noted, the current Buffalo Bills star had noted accuracy problems in college. In fact, he and Richardson’s stats in their final collegiate season are remarkably similar. You can ignore the Pro Football Focus grades if you want, but look at the Adjusted Completion percentage.

Only one quarterback has a worse Adj% than Anthony Richardson since 2016 (Hasaan Klugh), and no QB below the 70% mark has made a significant impact in the NFL, or even become a successful starter... with the exception of Josh Allen. Of course, you could point to the flip side of this argument; even a lot of accurate passers in college don’t translate to the NFL. Zach Wilson is a great example; he ranked 4th in his class — behind Justin Fields and Mac Jones. The jury may still be out on Fields and Jones, but at least they are expected to be the starter for the respective teams next season. I bring this up because I think it is important to acknowledge that there isn’t one particular stat that is predictive of success in the NFL for quarterbacks. However, lack of accuracy does seem to be fairly predictive of lack of success as a pro.

Josh Allen represents both the risk and reward of going after a “high upside” prospect who is still a work in progress. We will never know if he would have reached the same level of stardom in another situation, but we do know that he has become a game changing player with the Bills. Anthony Richardson could follow this trajectory as well, although that is a lot to bank on, particularly for a franchise like the Seattle Seahawks, which refuses to enter “rebuilding mode.”

A case could be made for drafting a developmental quarterback if the team is able to bring Geno Smith back next season; perhaps sitting behind 2022’s most accurate passer would be exactly what a young signal caller would need to develop the mechanics and diagnostics required to be a pro. However, this just seems like a lot to bank on, and even for his true believers out there, I think that most would agree that Anthony Richardson’s game needs some fine tuning before he becomes the face of a franchise. I wish him the best luck in his career and hope that he finds success in the NFL... I just don’t want the Seattle Seahawks to be the ones who decide to take on a project passer with one of their first round picks.

Which, by chance, also means I hope they don’t draft Will Levis.