Former NFL player and scout Bucky Brooks knows the ins and outs of this league, providing keen insight in his notebook. Today's installment covers:
But first, a look at the challenges awaiting a talented but untested rookie QB ...
Anthony Richardson has been named the Indianapolis Colts' starting quarterback -- and executives, coaches and scouts around the NFL are surely hanging on the edge of their seats to find out what happens next.
If the ultra-athletic rookie, who surged up boards following a dazzling performance at the NFL Scouting Combine, makes good on his potential, Richardson's trajectory could revolutionize how quarterbacks are drafted.
As a former player, I shared the field with a pair of Hall of Fame quarterbacks (Jim Kelly and Brett Favre) and a former MVP (Rich Gannon). As an old-school scout, I worked under the disciples of a Hall of Fame executive (Ron Wolf). And I believe experience matters -- something that is particularly clear when examining the success of QBs who met a set of experience- and expertise-based criteria widely attributed to Bill Parcells:
- Be a three-year starter.
- Be a senior in college.
- Graduate from college.
- Start 30 games.
- Win 23 games.
- Post a 2:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
- Complete at least 60% of passes.
These guidelines might be too old-school for today's game, but they can help executives and scouts consider factors outside of arm talent, athleticism and physical dimensions.
Some would suggest it's difficult to hold the line on experience requirements for the current generation of quarterback prospects, given the constant turnover at the collegiate level. However, the quarterback situation in San Francisco has put the scouting world at a crossroads when it comes to quarterback evaluations.
After an illustrious tenure at Iowa State that featured 30 wins in 47 career starts, an 81:33 TD-to-INT ratio (2.45:1) and a 67.7% completion rate, Brock Purdy was selected by the 49ers with the last overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft -- and he went on to thrive, taking the NFL by storm when injuries pushed him onto the field last season.
After a brief (if successful) run at North Dakota State (17-0 as a starter, 30:1 TD-to-INT ratio, 65.4% completion rate), Trey Lance was selected third overall by San Francisco in the 2021 NFL Draft -- and he's struggled since, appearing overwhelmed by the speed and complexity of the pro game while being limited by injuries to four starts in eight appearances over the past two seasons.
Lance's difficulties could foreshadow the challenges that await Richardson as the Colts' new QB1. Richardson was a one-year starter at Florida (13 career starts), logging less-than-impressive numbers across the board (6-7 record, 24:15 TD-to-INT ratio, 54.7% completion rate) before Indianapolis selected him fourth overall in April's draft. But the 6-foot-4, 244-pounder is a rare specimen at the position with 4.43 speed and a 40.5-inch vertical jump, traits that would likely have made him a blue-chip prospect no matter where he lined up on the field.
I have compared the selection of Richardson as a raw prospect to the Milwaukee Bucks' decision to draft Giannis Antetokounmpo, an enormously talented but unskilled basketball prospect who developed into a two-time NBA MVP. While the gambit worked for the Bucks, to my mind, the Colts face long odds in attempting to turn an unproven prospect drafted on potential over production into a quarterback at the pro level.
In high school, it is common to put the best athlete at quarterback to give him a chance to make the most significant impact. With consistent touches as a runner and passer, a five-star athlete can change the game with a few improvisational plays that enable him to "out-athlete" an opponent.
As a pro, Richardson might rank as a rare athlete for a quarterback -- but the field will be littered with dynamic players on the defensive side of the ball. From the superhero-like pass rushers, chasing off the corners, to the Olympic-decathlete caliber freaks that populate NFL secondaries, defenses are loaded with athletes possessing similar physical dimensions and attributes.
With his athleticism potentially countered by the collective speed and explosiveness of his opponents, Richardson must whip defensive coordinators with his accuracy, ball placement and diagnostic skills. The rookie will have to win the pre- and post-snap phases to keep defensive play callers from relentlessly attacking the Colts' offense with various pressures and exotic looks.
In addition, Richardson must convince his teammates that he can lead them to victories without having a track record of winning games as a collegian. The Colts are counting on the rookie to learn how to play quarterback and win at the highest level.
Indianapolis head coach Shane Steichen will try to replicate the blueprint that worked well when he was serving as Jalen Hurts' offensive coordinator in Philadelphia, utilizing a mix of designed quarterback runs, RPOs, play-action passes and bootlegs that made it easy for the young quarterback to tally massive scrimmage yardage while hunting easy completions on the perimeter.
Steichen helped Hurts become a better passer by asking him to make throws within his wheelhouse, and he will attempt to make the game easy for Richardson by installing a passing game that plays to his strengths as a strong-armed thrower with exceptional athleticism and mobility. With Steichen likely employing some of the same tactics that helped Josh Allen flourish in Buffalo as a power-running quarterback, the Colts will implement some quarterback powers and counters to take advantage of their super-sized quarterback's talents as a runner.
As the coaching staff taps into its collective creativity to craft a scheme that helps Richardson thrive as an inexperienced signal-caller, the football world is paying close attention to see if utilizing a "Build-A-Bear" approach at quarterback is possible.
Three 1,000-yard receivers on one team?
If Trevor Lawrence joins the ranks of the NFL's elite quarterbacks in 2023, it will coincide with his talented collection of pass-catchers terrorizing opponents each week. The Jaguars boast arguably the deepest receiving corps in the league, with Calvin Ridley joining a group of playmakers boasting superb skills.
Although Christian Kirk, Zay Jones and Evan Engram fly under the radar on the national scene, the trio exploded under the tutelage of Doug Pederson a season ago. Kirk (1,108 receiving yards) and Engram (766) tallied career-high yardage totals, while Jones made key contributions as a WR3 in an offense that taxed opponents with crossing routes and bubble screens, accentuating each player's catch-and-run ability in space.
After adding a No. 1 receiver to the lineup in Ridley, the Jaguars can create and exploit mismatches at every turn. Moreover, the crew from Duval has a chance to feature three 1,000-yard receivers in a single season.
Over the course of NFL history, just five teams have accomplished the feat:
- Arizona Cardinals (2008): WR Larry Fitzgerald, WR Anquan Boldin, WR Steve Breaston
- Indianapolis Colts (2004): WR Reggie Wayne, WR Marvin Harrison, WR Brandon Stokley
- Atlanta Falcons (1995): RB/WR Eric Metcalf, WR Terrance Mathis, WR Bert Emanuel
- Washington (1989): WR Gary Clark, WR Art Monk, WR Ricky Sanders
- San Diego Chargers (1980): WR John Jefferson, TE Kellen Winslow, WR Charlie Joiner
The 2019 Los Angeles Chargers were 7 Austin Ekeler receiving yards short of joining the club, with Keenan Allen and Mike Williams posting 1,000-yard seasons on the perimeter. The Jaguars certainly have the quarterback, play-caller and weaponry to get it done with four pass-catchers who have the potential to explode for a 100-yard game at any moment.
Lawrence walks to the line knowing he has at least one favorable matchup. Ridley can beat defenders like a drum on an assortment of isolation routes on the outside. Kirk and Jones can wear out overmatched defenders in the slot on shallow crossers and option routes between the hashes. Engram can win his one-on-one battles in the slot or out wide against linebackers and safeties.
In addition, Pederson enters every contest knowing he should be able to identify mismatches to exploit via the pass. As a creative play-caller with plenty of play designs that create big opportunities for his best players, the Super Bowl-winning head coach must be like a kid in the candy store during game-planning sessions.
If he can guide the Philadelphia Eagles to a Super Bowl without a 1,000-yard receiver on the roster, imagine what he can do leading a Jaguars squad brimming with talent at quarterback and receiver. The results have already been displayed during training camp, as Lawrence has put on a series of impressive throwing exhibitions.
"I'll tell you what, he's throwing the ball the best I've seen him in the year and a half I've been with Trevor," Pederson said in a recent interview with SiriusXM NFL Radio. "And just really, the sky is the limit with this guy. And if we just continue to improve and just really keep those pieces around him healthy, this offense could really take off."
As an analyst on Jaguars preseason telecasts for the last few seasons, it is obvious to me that Lawrence has taken his game up a notch with help from his supporting cast's consistency, reliability and overall explosiveness. After surging into the top-10 quarterbacks conversation with his performance last season, Lawrence could crack the top five this season with Ridley joining the lineup.
Ridley's ability to win against one-on-one coverage and brackets will create plenty of room on the other side for Kirk, Jones and Engram to go to work. With Lawrence continuing to evolve as a passer while embracing Pederson's share-the-wealth approach, don't be surprised if the Jaguars make history as the sixth team with three 1,000-yard receivers in a single season while celebrating a second consecutive division title.
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