During the first round of the NFL draft, Florida coach Billy Napier will be with his former quarterback as an invited guest in Kansas City on Thursday night, when the player who may just be the future of the position at the pro level walks across the stage. If signal-caller Anthony Richardson meets his potential, he will maximize his skill set.
“When a player on your team is going to be a first-round pick, it’s hard to argue with them or convince them to come back,” Napier says. “Anthony would have benefited from another year of college football, but that doesn’t change the traits, the upside, the potential. I think most of the teams in the league feel how I feel, and that is this guy’s a freak of nature, a generational talent. And he basically set a precedent at the combine, destroying every measurable known to man for the quarterback position.”
When Florida has posted wins over its relatively recent history as a power program, it has done so with high-flying offenses, from Steve Spurrier’s Fun ’n’ Gun to Urban Meyer’s smashmouth spread. The Gators also did so with particular kinds of clean-cut, Heisman-winning quarterbacks, from Spurrier himself back in the 1960s to Danny Wuerffel to Tim Tebow.
But since Tebow, the program has spent most of the past 13 years in the offensive wilderness. Of the seasons of 15 players who have started at the position, Richardson’s year as a permanent starter is second in production only to Kyle Trask’s 2020. Florida, like any power program, has had its fair share of talented prospects and ones that got away (Cam Newton, Jacoby Brissett, who transferred, and Feleipe Franks and Will Grier, who were highly touted recruits and didn’t quite pan out).
Richardson is different. He was highly rated as a recruit, but nowhere near can’t-miss status. Napier says Richardson received feedback from 10 teams that viewed him as a first-round pick. In the end, he left UF for the same reason so many around the program would have liked him to stay: his unreal potential.
“Early on, maybe Anthony felt like he was going to go and declare, and then after meeting [with me] I think that he kind of was back on the fence,” Napier says. “Then ultimately he did exactly what he should have done: weighed on the advisory committee, multiple Zooms, phone calls with general managers throughout the NFL.
“Once the player makes a decision, we’ve established a great relationship, we trust each other, so you fully support that and try to prepare him for what’s next. And that’s an entire process within itself. I would say, so far, Anthony Richardson, from declaring to the draft, has increased his value and executed his plan pretty well. Hopefully Thursday goes well. And look, if the guy gets drafted in the first round, it’s a win-win, right? I mean, talking about life-changing.”
Napier says Richardson bet on himself, and the quarterback is about to cash out. The NFL is getting a play-caller with high levels of athleticism and pocket savvy with room for improvement around his mechanics and consistency. Hopefully for Richardson, that will come with time.