Draft season is here. With it comes prediction, speculation, and the time for decisions. Some teams will dramatically improve with a top prospect or a hidden gem, while others will swing and miss by drafting a bust. Here, I look at two draft picks that may not deliver their hype and the causal link to both of their draft stocks.
Florida QB Anthony Richardson
As far as the raw talent is concerned, Richardson has everything an NFL scout could want. He has an explosive arm with plenty of pop and exceptional speed. He can execute designed runs at a high level and get out of pressure situations. Every so often, he’ll make throws that defy logic with pressure in his face, and his highlight tape contains some serious moments of brilliance.
However, for every logic-defying throw, there’s one with a clean pocket that misses wildly. For every brilliant scramble, there’s a time when he will hold onto the ball much longer than he needs to. He did impress in the combine… with no defenders to stop him. His stat line from last season was an improvement over the previous two and at first glance, 2549 yards (over 3000 total), 17 touchdowns (26 total) to nine interceptions isn’t bad at all.
However, if three of the worst pass defenses he played (Vanderbilt, FCS Eastern Washington, Tennessee) are taken out of the equation, he has a mere 1456 yards. That’s just over 161 per game (under 220 total), with 6.3 yards per attempt – even with those games he has just 7.8 – and 51.5% completion. Richardson had only four games all season exceeding 60% completion and had a whopping seven games with less than 200 yards passing.
The stats are backed up by the tape, where it is clear that against balanced defenses with good secondaries, he was lost, and couldn’t make the big throws. His mechanics were phenomenal in the combine, but when it came to in-game situations, they were much sloppier. This wasn’t due to a lack of talent around him – Florida brings in some of the country’s best recruits year after year. Richardson simply didn’t show the ability to rise above, or at times, even to the occasion, and Florida’s 6-6 record was clearly demonstrative.
Winning isn’t everything when looking at a quarterback, but when portions of losses can be directly attributed to poor throws by him, there is caution there. Richardson certainly has latent potential and could succeed in the NFL with significant improvement and proper development, but his tape shows some serious red flags that NFL scouts don’t seem to be taking enough heed of. Most draft projections have Anthony going in the top five, which, to me, seems hasty.
Kentucky QB Will Levis
Levis is more of your traditional pocket passer. He has easy power in his arm, throws a tight, controlled spiral, and has a quick release. He can complete throws at all ranges, and in the right situation, nails check-downs and deep throws alike. For a pocket passer, he has surprising speed and can get going in the QB run game.
Levis’s issue is that these strengths really only show themselves in clean pockets. Granted, Kentucky’s offensive line had its struggles, but, if he’s drafted top five, he won’t get many clean pockets in the NFL. Despite having such an excellent arm, his stats last year were quite pedestrian. He did complete the ball decently at just over 65% but only threw for just over 2400 yards, for 19 TD and 10 interceptions.
On the tape, it was clear that he looked less confident than last year (when he also put up a much more impressive stat line). Often, against better defenses, he either rushed his throws too much or put himself in a precarious position by holding on to the ball. While when he was able to take a full stance, his throws were excellent, he struggled to throw well on the run. Furthermore, he very often held on to the ball too long, and despite his decent running ability, he got sacked a whopping 36 times in 2022. As a result, despite high preseason expectations, Levis’s Kentucky squad limped to a 7-5 record last season
In a league where talented pocket passers are a dime a dozen, it’s hard to see Levis living up to his draft stock without a tremendous improvement.
The Common Link To Their Draft Stock
We journey back to the 2018 NFL Draft, where a prospect who didn’t exactly ooze high profile wins and had troubles in terms of accuracy and occasional hits of turnovers came into the fray. His exceptional arm and surprising athleticism (sensing a theme?) got him drafted quite early. He struggled early and is now one of the best in the league. Josh Allen’s success in the NFL has led to a relentless search to find his second coming. And admittedly, he is an example of how diamonds in the rough can be found, and with the right coaching in Brian Daboll as well as his own tenacity, he elevated tremendously.
The “Josh Allen” syndrome, as I call it, shows a simple statistical logical fallacy: overfitting based on an outlier. While Allen is an indicator that scouts need to consider latent talent and look beyond college numbers, highly touted prospects like Sam Darnold and Christian Hackenberg who were also lauded for their natural talent are proof that flaws shown in college play cannot be ignored. Not everyone will have the situation around them that Allen did, not does everyone have his grit, persistence and desire to improve. Allen’s turnover problem has gone away for the most part, but there is no guarantee that Richardson or Levis will stop making mistakes.
It will be interesting to see what comes of their careers, something that could heavily depend on where they are drafted. At the very least, NFL scouts need to think critically about whether those two can elevate their franchises.
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