It took less than ten days after Best Ball Mania IV launched for Anthony Richardson’s ADP to climb to the point where he was a top-ten quarterback being drafted inside the top 90 picks. The wider public has learned by now that dual threats can be worth paying up for, but are we going to experience another Trey Lance-type rug pull or is Richardson different? Using historical data, let's take a look at the arguments for, and against, Anthony Richardson as the QB10.
Richardson was strongly rumored to be in danger of slipping down the NFL draft as we got closer to the big day, but then the Colts made the sensible choice and drafted Richardson with the fourth overall pick instead of taking Will Levis. If Richardson had fallen, it would have been a lot easier to fade him in fantasy for 2023, but instead, he lands in a very favorable situation with head coach, Shane Steichen, who said recently he believes Richardson needs to learn from playing time more than anything else, which after working with Justin Herbert and Jalen Hurts in the last few years bodes well for Richardson. Richardson’s competition for starts is part man, part meme, Gardner Minshew, who completed 57% of his passes in 2022, which was the 65th worst among quarterbacks.
If Anthony Richardson does get on the field early, it’s worth considering what it may look like for a player who is widely accepted as talented, but with room to grow from a mechanics and accuracy angle. In Richardson’s final year with the Florida Gators, he averaged 8.5 rush attempts per game which would have put him behind only Jalen Hurts, Justin Fields and Lamar Jackson last season. Since the start of the year 2000 season there have been 104 instances of a quarterback rushing for an average of 5.0 attempts per game and 44 (41.9%) of those players had an average points per game of 18 or higher, which is equivalent to QB11 in 2022 quarterback scoring, right about where Richardson is being drafted. 46.6% of quarterbacks who averaged 5.0 or more rush attempts had at least seven top twelve weekly performances per season, which for best ball is something we care deeply about.
While looking back over two decades gives us a great bird's eye view it’s worth considering that the league has changed somewhat in that time and the types of quarterbacks have also changed, so if we adjust things to view since the start of the 2018 season, there have been 39 quarterbacks who averaged 5.0 rushing attempts per game. Of that 39, 64% finished as a top twelve quarterback in points per game with 46% finishing top twelve in total points scored. Looking at things from a weekly perspective shows us that 46% of these quarterbacks were a top-twelve option in seven or more games, and 50% of them averaged a top-twelve performance rate of 50% or greater.
In Justin Herbert’s 2020 rookie season under Shane Steichen as offensive coordinator he averaged 3.5 rush attempts per game, and Jalen Hurts averaged 9.3 in 2021 under Steichen, and 11.1 in 2022, so it’s fair to say that Steichen isn’t afraid to let a quarterback run as much as their ability will let them.
We’ve established that if a quarterback is rushing for 5.0 attempts per game or more then there it’s very realistic they can be a top twelve quarterback that week, but it’s also worth diving into the throwing numbers to see how Richardson would need to stand up in that area of the game to be able to be a top option.
22 of the 38 quarterbacks in this sample since 2018 averaged less than 220 passing yards per game, with 21 attempting less than 30 passes per game and 22 completing less than 20 attempts per game. Passing volume simply wasn’t prohibitive for fantasy value, as was evidenced by Justin Fields, who in 2022 rushed 160 times for 1143 yards and eight touchdowns on his way to becoming the QB5 in points per game, despite completing only 12.8 passes per game. Fields averaged a whopping 10.7 rush attempts per game, which would be a step up for Richardson who averaged 8.5 in 2022.
The biggest knock on Richardson is that his mechanics aren’t consistent, when you watch the tape he seems to get muddled in his footwork at times and this leads to occasional wildly inaccurate passes and a 53% completion record in his final season in college. With big-bodied NFL-caliber receivers like Michael Pittman and Alec Pierce, it’s fair to suggest that they should be able to help Richardson out somewhat, and the Colts also boast an athletic tight end room of Kylen Granson, Jelani Woods and Mo Alie-Cox, who should also be upgrades on the pass-catchers Richardson had in college. Accuracy isn’t always correctable and it’s rare to see players take the type of leap that Josh Allen did from his 2019 season average of 58.8% to last year's 63.4%, but it’s fair to think Richardson can see his completion percentage get close to 58% and hover around that mark. Tim Tebow managed to average 16.6 fantasy points per game, despite completing 48% of his 20.8 pass attempts per game in 2011, and should always act as a reminder that dual threats have a way of accumulating fantasy points that pocket passers struggle to rival.
With Richardson being drafted as the QB10 on Underdog it’s worth considering what we need from him to succeed in 2023. In the table below we can see all of the quarterbacks to finish as QB10 since 2018, providing a baseline of expectations for Richardson.
The average points needed to be QB10 or higher have fluctuated over the last five years, but if we use 19.54 as an average and consider that to be Richardson’s target we can filter quarterback performances over the last five years to see what it might look like. Among quarterbacks with 5.0 rush attempts or more, who finished top ten in the last five years, they averaged 656 rushing yards, six rushing touchdowns and 240.8 passing yards with 1.7 passing touchdowns. It seems likely that if Richardson succeeds in his rookie year his rushing total might be higher, and his passing total lower.
In terms of other dual threats in their first seasons, there have been 16 quarterbacks who averaged 5.0 rush attempts in their rookie season, since the start of the millennium. Of those 16, eleven were first-round selections and five of them went on to be a top-twelve option in their first season. Six if we include Lamar Jackson who started from Week 10 onwards. For the rest of the 2018 season, Jackson was QB7 in points per game and threw 5 touchdowns total, never throwing for more than 205 passing yards in the 7 games played.
ADP suggests the public is confident in Richardson’s chances to start the majority of games, but it’s also a belief in the massive spike weeks that can come from dual threats, which is largely difficult for pocket passers to match without a huge amount of passing touchdowns. In 2022 there were 27 instances of a quarterback scoring more than 30.0 points during the fantasy season and of those 27 instances, 18 featured a quarterback rushing for five or more attempts and 16 of those performances involved a quarterback rushing for 39 yards or more. In 2022 as a whole there were 80 instances of quarterbacks rushing for 39 yards or more and 66% of them resulted in top twelve weekly finishes. If Richardson can rush for 39 yards or more per game, there’s a very good chance he’ll be a top-twelve quarterback that week.
It’s entirely fair to suggest that Richardson’s ADP is getting a little higher than might be reasonable, but it’s also entirely fair to suggest that if Richardson plays to even his median outcomes, he might still tick all the boxes needed to be a top twelve quarterback.