Anthony Richardson the next Josh Allen? QB evaluator Greg Cosell weighs in
The Carolina Panthers weren’t going to wait around for a quarterback to fall to them in the NFL draft.
With free agency starting this week and some seasoned passers in play, the Panthers have opted to start fresh with a rookie. They struck a deal with the Chicago Bears on Friday, trading up to the No. 1 spot in next month’s draft to grab a top-tier quarterback prospect.
The big question: Which quarterback will it be?
The general consensus is the top four consist of Alabama’s Bryce Young, Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud, Kentucky’s Will Levis and Florida’s Anthony Richardson, although that pecking order is in the eye of the beholder.
Several teams are in need at the position, and there is likely to be a game of musical quarterbacks involving such household names as Aaron Rodgers, Jimmy Garoppolo, Baker Mayfield and maybe Lamar Jackson, even though the most likely scenario has him returning to the Baltimore Ravens.
In terms of the rookies-to-be, widely respected quarterback evaluator Greg Cosell has taken a hard look at all of them. Cosell doesn’t work for a specific team — he has been at NFL Films for 43 years — but is in constant communications with scouts, general managers and coaches who frequently ask for his observations and opinions.
Alabama’s Bryce Young, Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud, Florida’s Anthony Richardson, Kentucky’s Will Levis are top QB prospects in NFL draft, but where they go is a mystery.
As he has done in years past, Cosell opened his notebook for the Los Angeles Times and detailed what he likes and doesn’t like about the quarterbacks who figure to be selected at or near the top of the draft.
He began with the 6-foot-4, 244-pound Richardson, who ran a scorching 4.43-second 40-yard dash and set a modern combine record for quarterbacks in the vertical leap (40½ inches) and tied the modern mark in the broad jump (10-9). He’s a physical specimen who has been compared to Cam Newton, who was taken first overall by the Panthers in 2011.
Richardson was the full-time starter for one year at Florida, throwing for 17 touchdowns — he ran for nine more — with nine interceptions and a ho-hum completion rate of 53.8%.
“We’ve reached a point — and I disagree with this — where people say a quarterback has ‘great traits’ because he can throw it hard and run fast,” said Cosell, producer and analyst on ESPN’s “NFL Matchup.”
“If you talk to quarterback coaches, those two things would not be at the top of their list. They would talk about the more fine, subtle, nuanced traits of someone like a Joe Burrow [of the Cincinnati Bengals]. Being able to throw a ball through a wall and running fast, hey, that’s fine. They’re not saying that’s bad, but it’s not the definition of great quarterback traits.
“Richardson might become a great player — we all hope he does — but at this point there’s no real nuance to his game and he’s markedly inaccurate. His ball placement is so erratic and inconsistent you just don’t know. He misses many easy throws.”
Then again, the same was said of Josh Allen when he was coming out of Wyoming in 2018. His career completion rate there was 56.2%, yet he has flourished since Buffalo selected him with the seventh pick. He has completed 62.5% of his passes in the NFL and is regarded as one of the league’s best quarterbacks.
“I spoke to a coach about Josh Allen and he said, ‘Hey, I knew he had a lot of issues coming out of Wyoming, but then I spent a half-hour with him and I came away knowing that he was going to be a great player just because of the kid,’” Cosell said.
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“Josh Allen has a certain mentality, just like [Philadelphia’s] Jalen Hurts has a certain mentality. That’s what you hope for. If Anthony Richardson has that mentality, maybe he gets there. And in four years we may be talking about one of the great quarterbacks in the league, just like we do with Josh Allen.”
Cosell said there are elements of Young’s game that truly set him apart.
“He has unbelievable spatial awareness,” he said of the 2021 Heisman Trophy winner. “He’s phenomenal at navigating bodies and space, and he has a great feel for where people are. He’s not a big-armed kid. He’s not a power thrower in any sense of the imagination, but he finds space to make throws.”
Perhaps most impressive? The space between his ears.
“He’s really intelligent,” Cosell said. “He’s a kid who will step right in wherever he’s drafted and he will learn that offense and be able to play on Day 1 with a very defined, clear understanding of the offense. He’s that kid.”
The knock on Young is his size. He was measured at the combine as 5-10 and 204 pounds, but he’s believed to play at a considerably lighter weight.
“I was told by someone who knows that he played in the national championship game a year ago at 169 pounds,” Cosell said. “We’ve accepted outliers in height, but those guys are 210 and solid. [Arizona’s] Kyler Murray is solid, and so is [Denver’s] Russell Wilson. Bryce Young is not going to weigh 210.
“People say, ‘He’s been small all his life.’ Well, yes, he has. His game is tailored to compensate for that because of his great spatial awareness and his ability to feel and see. But you’re still playing at the highest level with bigger bodies and faster athletes.”
Of the top four quarterbacks, it’s Ohio State’s Stroud who has the classic combination of size — 6-3, 214 pounds — and passing accuracy.
“He’s a natural thrower of the football,” Cosell said. “He’s predominantly a pocket player. We saw in the [CFP semifinal] game against Georgia that he did move around and make throws that a lot of people were uncertain he could make.
“He’s got the ability to throw with pace and touch, to make those throws that need to be layered and feathered. That’s being a passer. Being a passer is not throwing the ball through a wall. He makes the right kind of throws to the right receivers at the right times. Not every throw is a bullet. He throws easy. He doesn’t have a gun, but he can make every throw.”
The way Cosell sees it, the most significant downside of Stroud are elements that are beyond his control.
“There will be people — and it’s probably valid — who will question the Ohio State part,” Cosell said. “Because at Ohio State, for the most part, you’re in clean and secure pockets. Not a lot of contested pockets. Receivers are open and you can play comfortably. We’ve seen Ohio State quarterbacks get to the league and struggle a little bit.”
As for Levis, Cosell likes what he saw from him in 2021 much more than last season. That’s when Levis was playing under Liam Coen, Kentucky’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach who left to become offensive coordinator of the Rams last season. Coen since has returned to resume his old job at Kentucky.
“Levis can play with rhythm, with timing,” Cosell said. “He’s got a compact, effortless, twitchy delivery. The ball comes out. And he looked very comfortable and smooth in 2021.
“In 2022, with a new offensive coordinator, an offensive line that wasn’t very good, injuries at wide receiver, it was just a struggle all season. Levis did not look comfortable, … But the traits don’t change, and he has pretty high-level traits.
“He’s a little stiff in his lower body. He does not have great pocket movement and that’s something he needs to work on. You can run designed runs with him because he’s big, physical and competitive. But he’s not necessarily a second-reaction player from the pocket.”
Are there a lot of good quarterback prospects this year, or just a lot of teams that need quarterbacks and are poised to take them early in the draft?
“More the latter,” Cosell said. “I don’t think there’s a quarterback in this draft that you would say is transcendent or special. I think they all possess certain things that you feel good about and feel you can coach and develop. Then the hope is that they get there.”
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