Matt Waldman shares thoughts on old-school GM-think in relation to Anthony Richardson as well as Richardson’s RSP Pre-Draft NFL Scouting Report at Footballguys.com.
Author’s Note: I’m sharing a taste of this article at Footballguys.com. You can read the entire piece (free) here.
Absurd: Allowing The Business of Football to Override the Craft of Scouting
Former NFL executive Michael Lombardi is a good place to begin. He built his career on the NFL’s executive paradigm.
Anthony Richardson's draft stock just keeps rising. But to think he deserves to be taken in the top 5 isn't just absurd – it's absurd-squared.
Check out #GMShuffle at https://t.co/b4sYN4CC91 pic.twitter.com/aO4N11O3Np
— Michael Lombardi (@mlombardiNFL) April 7, 2023
The paradigm is flawed in cover-your-assets thinking — guard rails for quarterbacking that reduce risk. Running a football team is a business. Playing, coaching, and scouting football is a craft.
It’s not much different than the movies. Director Mel Brooks is a master of slapstick comedy. He was also the producer of one of the most disturbing and saddest movies I’ve ever seen, David Lynch’s “The Elephant Man,” based on the life of Joseph Merrick.
Film School Rejects retells the conflict between the craftsmen and the businessmen over the direction of the film:
.After The Elephant Man was finished, Brooks and Lynch screened it for the film’s distributor, Paramount Pictures. The story goes that the studio wanted to cut “the more surreal sequences.” Brooks had none of that. “We screened the film for you to bring you up to date as to the status of that venture,” he responded. “Do not misconstrue this as our soliciting the input of raging primitives.”
Rules or Guidelines?
This conflict between business and craft exists in pro football, especially when the decision is drafting a first-round quarterback. The craft of scouting a quarterback involves film study, analytical research, workouts, and astute interviewing skills. For many teams, the business of valuing rookie quarterbacks revolves around arbitrary guardrails that Bill Parcells created long ago that need to evolve:
- Minimum of three years as a starter.
- A college senior.
- A college graduate.
- 30 starts.
- 23 wins.
- Deliver a 2-1 TD-to-INT ratio.
- Minimum of a 60 percent completion rate.
These rules are worthwhile guard rails to reduce risk. A head coach like Parcells can also do a convincing job of explaining why each rule has value. But they should be called guidelines rather than rules.
These guidelines appeal to the K.I.S.S. Method of executive leadership in most business circles. If you’ve noticed, most NFL executives value players as first-round prospects based on a lot more than how well a player performs on tape. They want resume bullet points that are easily digestible for the media and public that communicate they are making a logical decision:
- Box score statistical production.
- Winning program.
- Reputed program.
- Reliabilty-good health.
- Looks the part (physical dimensions and, historically, skin color).
- Standardized test smarts, which, if you watch the college admissions scandal are biased toward wealth and privilege and not intelligence translatable to the field.
All of this is about saving face. Missing on a quarterback who hits all the K.I.S.S. Method or Parcells bullet points can be explained away better than deviating from the guidelines.
Breaking rules implies negative consequences. Yet, here is just a short list of quarterbacks that did not meet all of the criteria of the rules. Some came close; some were missing several criteria:
- Cam Newton
- Patrick Mahomes II
- Trevor Lawrence
- Andrew Luck
- Matt Ryan
- Tom Brady
- Joe Flacco
- Aaron Rodgers
- Ben Roethlisberger
There are several more I could have mentioned. Parcells’s “rules” are meant to be broken. I prefer to use the term guidelines because the closer the player is to fulfilling every guideline, the safer his prospects will be. These guidelines appeal to a head coach like Bill Parcells whose hands-on work with players and scheme was with the defensive side of the ball.
Its simplicity appeals to football executives because it feels like timeless football wisdom. However, football and the analysis of the game have evolved since the Parcells era. There’s a lot more information available for teams to contextualize box score data. How well teams use this information is a different story, but we know they can now examine accuracy independent of completion percentage and touchdown-to-interception ratios.
Lamar Jackson’s and Baker Mayfield’s completion percentages were pre-draft points of analysis that I railed against. The prevailing points of view were that Jackson was a raw passer and Mayfield was the next coming of Drew Brees, Russell Wilson, and Brett Favre in one.
Because we can examine accuracy independent of the box scores—and I did—the truth revealed that Jackson’s accuracy was actually an asset in the middle of the field, whereas Mayfield’s was often a liability. The safest prospects, according to Parcells’ guidelines, won’t inexorably wreck your team’s performance, but it doesn’t mean players not meeting every guideline aren’t worth a franchise-caliber investment.
This idea is absurd because it eliminates valuable context for the sake of simplistic thinking disguised as insight — especially when there are opportunities to contextualize the boxscore data further.
Anthony Richardson's catchable ball rate is fascinating.
Of the 91 charted QBs, only 1 (Marino) had a higher drop rate by his WRs.
The only QB better at avoiding sacks was Philip Rivers.
Had 5th least attempts under 10 yards.
Overall accuracy resembles Geno, Kyler, Pickett pic.twitter.com/qNSPkK7pJj
— Ian (@NFLFilmStudy) April 6, 2023
This analysis above was in line with my charting of Richardson’s games. The box-score accuracy percentage looks bad, but Richardson threw realistically catchable passes at a much higher rate.
This is an example of why prospects who don’t meet some of Parcells’ guidelines should have compensatory factors that are compelling enough to override these guardrails. Richardson has uncommon combinations of skills and traits in one player and they are compelling compensatory factors:
- Mobility and mature-economical pocket management.
- A big arm and wise pass placement.
- The ability to buy time and manipulate defenses from a static pocket position.
- Big-play acceleration and stamina to maintain his top speed as a runner.
- Power to break tackles and short-area movement to defeat pursuit angles.
- Elite instinctual learning.
Let’s return to Lombardi for a moment. A former executive who began his career as a scout, Lombardi was known for the 49ers’ selection of Charles Haley, a Hall of Fame defensive end. Great pick, but not remotely related to quarterbacking.
Absurdity-Squared: Failure to Identify Advanced Quarterbacking Skills
A comprehensive look at Lombardi’s resume from scout to personnel director to executive reveals that he has only been an integral part of drafting a first-round quarterback twice in his career: JaMarcus Russell in 2007 and Johnny Manziel in 2014. While colossal mistakes for various reasons, the process is more important than the results.
Steven Ruiz wrote a scathing take-down on Lombardi’s guidelines for drafting quarterbacks, which details the K.I.S.S., bullet-point C.Y.A. mentality of an executive who never had success with scouting or drafting a quarterback as part of a team. It also notes Lombardi having a history of bad calls on Donovan McNabb, Cam Newton, and Ryan Tannehill.
I’m all for learning from mistakes. I’ve had bad calls, and I’ll continue to have them in the future. That said, it’s absurd-squared that Lombardi cites the film as an argument against Richardson.
Regardless of their athletic ability, the best quarterbacks win from the pocket, and Richardson is arguably the best in this class at managing a pocket. You’re going to hear differently from some in the public analysis sphere, but they’re some of the same analysts who had reservations about Jackson’s pocket management.
Scouting football games against a defined list of criteria and grading system is different than casual watching and occasional note-taking — even if you’re skilled with Xs and Os or played the game.
Richardson’s biggest issue with pass placement is throws that sail due to his foot placement during his release motion. This is a correctable tweak because it’s a singular part of the release process.
The most egregious mistakes Richardson has made with pass placement were the result of Hero Ball—trying to deliver a big play under heavy pressure where getting the ball off is as much of a chore as earning good placement. I’ve seen countless instances of top prospects making egregious errors due to Hero Ball, including Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Stafford, and Patrick Mahomes II as collegians.
These lapses or displays of unrefined execution are all things we have seen quarterbacks improve upon with daily work/maintenance of their craft. This includes the names mentioned above.
Because Richardson has far fewer starts than these three, he’s getting double-dinged for his mistakes and learning curve. What isn’t discussed as often are the number of opportunities Richardson has had to make significant gaffes last year and, instead, executed like a veteran college star who should acclimate quickly to the NFL. While growth isn’t linear, and you’ll see isolated lapses later in the year, his rapid improvement has been impressive.
Moreover, Richardson has skills that are much harder to teach. In multiple games—and often repeatedly in each game—Richardson combined his efficient pocket management, manipulation of middle-of-the-field defenders, and advanced pass placement into tight windows that protected his receivers.
It’s difficult to teach each of these specific skills separately. The fact that Richardson combines them and generates productive outcomes is uncommon. This requires integrating three demanding skills and applying them with expertise—often in unrehearsed situations. He’s a quarterback who can place the ball in windows where only his receiver can earn the ball, and that window was something the quarterback manipulated open while efficiently maneuvering away from pressure in a crowded and leaky pocket.
These skills are not only far more advanced than the quarterback prospect superficially compared to Richardson but also more advanced than most quarterback prospects entering the NFL.
Absurdity-Cubed: Seeing Malik Willis In Richardson’s film
The idea that Lombardi leans so hard on Who Moved My Cheese maxims, didn’t see the advanced quarterbacking in Richardson’s game when studying the film, and invoked Malik Willis as a point of comparison is absurdity-cubed.
The truest value of Lombardi’s perspective is how much they are representative of NFL executives who override sound evaluation processes with simplistic rules designed for gatekeeping and people-pleasing. Corporate media also mimics this perspective, and this quarterback evaluation paradigm is why Anthony Richardson’s value is polarizing.
The faction of Richardson evaluators who get it is those who understand that processing confidence — the awareness, accuracy, speed, and certainty of identifying the open receiver and getting the ball out — takes precedence over box-score accuracy, wins, and how well a quarterback demonstrates X and O’s knowledge on a whiteboard.
If an evaluator’s predominant point of comparison for Richardson is Willis, they’re understanding of quarterbacking is too superficial for scouting talent at the position. Willis’ decision-making flaws were pervasive throughout his game:
- Identifying coverage
- Identifying favorable leverage
- Pocket management and movement
- Scrambling decisions
- Hero-Ball decisions
- A lack of advanced manipulation skills
The only flaws Richardson has in common with Willis are Hero-Ball and coverage identification. Both shortcomings have more to do with playing experience. He reads leverage much better than Willis, and he’s a far more mature pocket player and scrambler.
Last year, Willis’ supporters in the media made superficial comparisons between Willis and Josh Allen. Willis’ skills and style belong more in the spectrum of Michael Vick and Lamar Jackson. However, Jackson is at the far end of the spectrum, Vick is behind Jackson, and Willis is a low-end developmental version of Vick.
The 2023 RSP Scouting Report on Richardson
For the rest of the article and the complete scouting report on Richardson from the 2023 Rookie Scouting Portfolio, click this link.
For the complete RSP, which includes reports like this for 149 more prospects at QB, RB, WR, and TE keep click here. Now in its 18th year of publication, the RSP is one of the two most purchased independent scouting guides by NFL scouts and personnel management, according to SMU’s Director of Recruiting, Alex Brown.
It’s also the only one of the two guides that also considers a fantasy audience that includes a Post-Draft guide with a tiered cheat sheet of over 200 players and used ADP data to calculate a sweet spot for where to maximize value relative to my post-draft views on prospects.
You get the RSP here. When the Post-Draft is ready, I’ll email you and you can download it from the same site.