INDIANAPOLIS — The bystander couldn’t help but notice the young man with the huge frame and gigantic shoulders, the one towering over everyone in his orbit.
Finally, curiosity got the best of this visitor to the Indiana Convention Center.
“So, what position do you play?” the man asked Anthony Richardson, aware the NFL scouting combine had taken over downtown Indianapolis.
“What position do you think I play?” Richardson playfully responded.
The man gave a logical, if incorrect, response.
“You look like a linebacker,” he said, “maybe a lineman.”
A sly smile overtook Richardson’s face. He’s clearly had this conversation before.
“Actually, I’m a quarterback,” the 6-foot-4, 244-pound prospect from the University of Florida said.
“Quarterback?” the stunned inquisitor replied. “Wow.”
This scene was a small glimpse of what Richardson hopes will ultimately be the story of his combine. Richardson, who ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper had going No. 9 to the Seattle Seahawks via a projected trade in his latest mock draft, had generated significant interest from multiple teams with top-10 selections before the combine, but his goal was to keep the surprises coming, to make everyone want a closer look.
With Richardson’s college experience limited to 13 starts, and his 53.8% completion rate last season ranked 105th out of 113 FBS quarterbacks, his inconsistency sparked a range of opinions about his NFL future. But given the way Richardson dominated the combine with record performances for a quarterback in the vertical jump (40.5 inches) and broad jump (10 feet, 9 inches), and considering how he connected with coaches, scouts and execs from NFL teams in interviews, it is difficult to argue he was anything but successful in this endeavor.
Richardson, one of this year’s most electrifying NFL draft prospects, offered an exclusive peek behind the scenes during his combine experience. What followed was five exhausting days of the most grueling job interview you can imagine, capped by an exhilarating ending.
“Throughout this whole process, my main thing was to grow,” he said. “And I feel like I’ve been doing that. I think I showed that to everybody here. I don’t even care what everybody else says. It’s about what those 32 teams think. And just one of them has to like me.”
IT WAS 11 P.M. on Wednesday. At this moment, Richardson was just a tired 20-year-old who could only think about climbing into bed.
He had been going nonstop since Tuesday morning, when he was summoned by a 5 a.m. wakeup call in Jacksonville, Florida, for an early flight to Indy. From there, it was on to orientation and wall-to-wall team interviews that ended at 11:30 p.m. On Wednesday, it was more of the same, combined with the daily workout to keep him tuned for the on-field testing at week’s end.
As Richardson trudged the final city block to the players’ hotel, the weight of the week was becoming obvious.
“Man,” he said, “I’m gonna sleep good tonight.”
Taxing as they might be, the interviews became one of the memorable aspects of the combine for Richardson. They are also hugely important because of Richardson’s relative inexperience. If he’s picked in the first round, he would tie Mitch Trubisky for the fewest college starts by a first-round QB since 2002. At least 20 teams formally met with him in Indianapolis — including one which also traveled for an on-site meeting in Florida — to try to get more detail.
A cool moment came when Richardson met with the Seahawks. Richardson said he felt an instant rapport with energetic coach Pete Carroll.
“He had this big smile on his face,” Richardson recalled. “We shook hands, and something about it was just different. You only see these guys on TV. And now I’m in their presence and they’re right there talking to me. And they’re interested in me. That makes you feel good.”
Hearing Richardson say he embraced the interviews was notable. He is quiet by nature and not especially expressive off the field.
“I didn’t want him to shy away from telling his story,” his agent, Deiric Jackson, said. “That’s a part of who he is. That’s a benefit, not a negative.”
Richardson’s mother, LaShawnda Lane, juggled multiple jobs to support Richardson and his younger brother Corey Carter. Richardson did his part, too. He often was late to practice at Eastside High in Gainesville, Florida, because his priority was making sure Carter got home safely from school. The mode of transport: on the handlebars of Richardson’s bike.
“We stayed in a different apartment every year,” Richardson said of his early childhood, which was spent in Miami. “We didn’t really have any solid foundation until we moved to Gainesville [when Richardson was 10].”
Even after the family relocated, Richardson embraced his caretaker role with his brother.
“I had to grow up fast,” Richardson said during a podium session, growing emotional describing his relationship with Carter.
These are the experiences that helped shape Richardson, which is why they are so worth sharing with others.
“I really tried to be myself,” Richardson said. “I tried not to sugarcoat anything. I wanted them to know who I was and where I come from. Because that’s why I’m in the position I’m in now.”
Said Jackson: “I think all of that drove him because of who he’s doing all this for.”
Richardson admitted to initially being nervous about the interviews, but that doesn’t seem to have held him back.
ESPN senior reporter Jeremy Fowler said Sunday that Richardson’s interviews with teams were impressive, and he was comfortable in front of coaches and execs. ESPN draft analyst Matt Miller said last week a handful of scouts said Richardson had the best quarterback interview of the entire 2023 class.
THURSDAY CONSISTED LARGELY of the standard medical exam, an hours-long string of tests that addressed every conceivable aspect of the body.
“I had to sit on that [exam] table for like three hours,” Richardson said. “It was crazy, man. I heard guys saying they were checking them for injuries they had in middle school. Middle school?”
The usual aptitude and psychological tests were also administered. One of them, the S2 cognition test, can leave your head spinning.
“They want to see how fast you can recall things and notice certain things,” Richardson said. “On one of the [questions], you had to look at six balls that they highlighted and they move all over the screen. You had to pick out the balls and highlight them. I’m like, ‘How can I focus on six balls at once?'”
This is the typical combine experience. There’s so much to process, but Richardson kept it all in perspective. In the end, he knows being here is a precursor to the realization of a lifelong goal.
“Since sixth grade, I’ve wanted to play in the NFL,” he said. “And I’m blessed enough to be here.”
“I don’t even care what everybody else says. It’s about what those 32 teams think. And just one of them has to like me.”
Next up was a lighter moment. Richardson sat down to film a segment with former NFL coach Steve Mariucci for NFL Network.
It was both a conversation and a test of his quarterback recall. After a little back and forth, Mariucci headed over to the whiteboard and sketched out a play he ran while coaching the San Francisco 49ers. After about five more minutes of chatting, Mariucci hit Richardson with the curveball.
“Do you remember my play?” he asked as he handed Richardson the dry erase marker.
Richardson proceeded to draw it up to near perfection. He missed one small detail: The quarterback was in the shotgun in Richardson’s formation, as opposed to under center. Close enough.
After some down time and dinner, Richardson headed back to the field to work on drills. At 10 p.m., he was still at it and would undergo massage therapy before the night was over, part of the necessary body maintenance ahead of the big day on Saturday.
“You’re tired and you’re grinding the whole time,” Richardson said of the week. “But you just can’t show that you’re tired. You just gotta keep going.”
IT WAS FRIDAY afternoon, about 24 hours until showtime. Saturday’s on-field drills were imminent.
Time to rest? Hardly.
Richardson and his camp headed offsite to an indoor facility to do some throwing drills. His private quarterback coach, Denny Thompson, had a coaching friend round up some local high school prospects to catch passes from Richardson.
After a series of exercises, Richardson was ready to let it rip. If there’s one thing Richardson can do, it’s sling the football with authority. Initially, the kids weren’t ready for the heat.
“Honestly, it’s like that for everybody,” Richardson said.
By the time Richardson got warmed up, he’s delivering balls 70-plus yards through the air. The young receivers got more of a workout than they were banking on.
Anthony Richardson letting it FLY. @GatorsFB
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📱: Stream on NFL+ pic.twitter.com/mRi0vkL7X6
— NFL (@NFL) March 4, 2023
“Every day, he kind of does something that I sit back and just enjoy,” said Will Hewlett, who works alongside Thompson at 6 Points, a quarterback training facility. “It’s like, ‘Oh, haven’t seen that before.'”
Then Tom Gormely, a sports performance expert, took over. Gormely’s job was to squeeze every ounce of output from Richardson. They worked with weighted balls, performed a variety of stretches, worked on his broad-jump technique and put the finishing touches on his 40-yard dash preparation.
When it was all over, Richardson found a spot and lay on the floor while scrolling on his phone. It was a chance to get off his feet, and Richardson took full advantage.
“Once they get here, it’s 6:45 or 7 a.m. through 11 p.m., basically, every day,” Gormely said. ” … And there’s that whole cognitive fatigue and just [physical] fatigue. And then in between there, we’re trying to fit in making sure his body’s ramped up, making sure his tissue’s prepared, making sure we’re getting enough stimulus inside the body.
“That’s what people don’t see behind the scenes.”
THE STADIUM WAS buzzing on Saturday. The quarterbacks were on deck and Richardson was warming up.
As he went through his process, Richardson began to assume his on-field persona. His swagger was starting to show as he bobbed his head to the music blaring through his headphones.
Jackson knew that look.
“Man, he’s locked in,” Richardson’s agent said. “I’ve been watching him.”
First up: the broad jump. Richardson crushed it. Soon, it was time for the vertical jump. Jackson got the official number via a text message from a scout who had a better vantage point.
The anticipation built as attention turned to the 40-yard dash. Judging by the splits Richardson was timed at during Friday’s workout, his team expected him to run under 4.5 seconds.
Richardson did that — and then some.
As Richardson’s long strides carried him through the finish line, his time quickly flashed on the video board: 4.44 seconds. The time was later adjusted to 4.43 seconds, the fastest by a quarterback in 10 years.
“Yes!” Jackson’s partner, Melvin Bratton, bellowed. “Yes!”
Richardson entered the combine with so many questions. Even he admitted his mechanics need further refinement, something you’d expect for a player with his limited experience. He’s specifically concentrating on using his hips better when throwing the ball. But the sheer athletic dominance he displayed makes him hard to ignore.
Anthony Richardson caps off his phenomenal day with a back flip. 😮 @GatorsFB
📺: #NFLCombine on @nflnetwork
📱: Stream on NFL+ pic.twitter.com/ASBFRZA1gE
— NFL (@NFL) March 4, 2023
During the throwing drills, Richardson had a couple of misfires, but he generally looked the part. And when it came time to deliver the deep balls, Richardson effortlessly pushed the ball downfield, his powerful throws eliciting a loud reaction from the crowd.
One fan seated near Richardson’s camp was awestruck.
“Oh my god!” the man said as one of Richardson’s deep balls cut through the air.
When it was all over, Richardson let his excitement show. As the group of quarterbacks broke their final huddle, he launched into a backflip. He didn’t quite stick the landing, but it was an exclamation point nonetheless.
“Great day!” Brown said. “Great day!”
Richardson headed to the sideline and grabbed his gym bag. He found his phone and made a video call to his family back home. There was just one problem: He couldn’t hear anything.
“Everybody was just screaming,” he said. “Everyone was there. All my friends and family.”
Then, Richardson offered a reminder of his youth. He dug in his bag and grabbed a pack of sour gummy worms. If this young man has a vice, this might just be it.
“Man,” Brown said, “he loves candy.”
Brown, a former Gators team captain in the early 2000s and a former high school teammate of Jackson’s, was a member of the Florida football support staff until recently. Before games, Richardson would hand him a pack of Skittles to stick in his pocket, allowing Richardson to nibble on a few during stoppages in play.
But don’t let the candy fool you. Richardson came here to address some serious business, and he believes he did that.
Like that curious bystander earlier in the week, Richardson now has NFL teams taking a closer look. And during a long and tiring few days in Indianapolis, the young quarterback gave them quite an eyeful.