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Could Anthony Richardson make sense for Baltimore?

The 21-year-old has elite level talent that needs a touch of whittling.

Syndication: Ocala StarBanner Doug Engle / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Baltimore Ravens are slated to make the 22nd pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. With that in mind, Baltimore has three areas of uncertainty offensively. First, they’re in the process of interviewing potential offensive coordinators after parting ways with Greg Roman. They will likely bring that situation to a conclusion in the next week or so. The Ravens also have discussed how they will need to revamp their wide receiver room after seeing injuries leave their pass catching cupboard bare. Their biggest uncertainty is more of a sticky situation — quarterback Lamar Jackson’s contract situation. The Ravens have key decisions to make.

That sparks another uncertainty. If the Ravens can’t agree on a deal with Lamar Jackson. . . how do they proceed? Several NFL Draft pundits have hinted at one rookie to develop behind Jackson. Both hosts of NFL Network’s ‘Move the Sticks’ podcast have the Ravens taking University of Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson. Daniel Jeremiah wrote

I’m throwing a dart with this selection. The Ravens have yet to ink Lamar Jackson to an extension, and Richardson would be a high-upside, developmental project for the organization. Baltimore’s brass was steadfast this week in its desire to build around Jackson for the future. But if contract talks don’t progress in a positive direction in the coming months, they could apply the franchise tag on the former MVP, buying time for Richardson to eventually be ready to play.

His co-host Bucky Brooks added similarly.

Head coach John Harbaugh said last week that the Ravens are committed to keeping Lamar Jackson in Baltimore. But if the two sides can’t reach a long-term deal and the Ravens decide to start preparing for an alternate future at the position, the Florida standout could be an option despite his shortcomings as a passer.

Brooks also suggested that the Ravens could “graduate” Lamar Jackson and draft current Bears quarterback Justin Fields prior to the 2021 NFL Draft. Brooks stated

“This is something that the Baltimore Ravens have always done,” Brooks said. “They have always done a great job of putting themselves in position to nab blue-chip players that may fall down the board. Particularly, in the first round. Now you are looking at a Baltimore Ravens team that has two first-round picks at the bottom of the board. They have two third-rounders and two fourth-rounders. They are currently in a situation where they are dealing with Lamar Jackson. Do they give him the fifth-year option or do they extend him on a long-term deal?

“They could take a collegiate approach to the quarterback position,” Brooks said. “They cash in on a blue-chip and take Justin Fields and then maybe they operate as a college team. One quarterback graduates and the other steps in the starter’s role. You now have the opportunity to keep a starting quarterback on a young deal to build up the rest of the assets and play smash-mouth football.” Brooks suggested that the Ravens could take a look at Fields if he is still available late in the first round of the draft.

Richardson draws comparisons to Fields as a prospect in many ways. His plus-plus arm talent was awe inspiring on a weekly basis, even in games where he struggled. The 21-year-old’s ability as a runner is downright dangerous with elements of speed, power, vision and lateral twitchiness. The one-year starter worked some pro-style concepts at times, able to work triangle reads over the middle of the field. It is impossible not to watch his game and feel the talent that he possesses both as a passer as well as a dynamic runner.

Richardson, like many other ridiculously talented athletes that play quarterback, needs refinement to develop consistency within his footwork. Richardson needs to work on his ability to navigate the pocket more consistently. When he hit the top of his 3-step drop backs, hitched, then got the ball out, it was a thing of beauty. There are few, if any limitations to his game, he simply needs reps, work and experience in a pro-style offense and doing things such as executing a true pre-snap cadence.

However, Richardson isn’t some brow-furrowing project just because he needs work. He regularly took command of the offense pre-snap and appeared to change protections, shift formations and check in-and-out of plays throughout his one full season as a starter. While there were a few ‘doy-doy’ moments such as interception-worthy passes underneath and mistakes made, his errors don’t stand out anymore than the more ‘developed’ passers like Bryce Young or C.J. Stroud. In fact, according to PFF, Richardson had 13 ‘turnover worthy plays’ on 378 drop backs. In comparison with the other top QB prospects, his 3.3% turnover worthy play rate ranked second to Young (2.0%) and ahead of both Stroud (3.6%) and Will Levis (3.6%).

Something that separates Richardson from Brooks’ comparison of Fields is that Richardson was willing to give up on plays more frequently. Doing so prevented sacks and to mitigated mistakes for the first year starter. Richardson allowed only 9.3% of pressures to turn into sacks, the 6th lowest figure among qualified passers, while throwing the ball away on 6.6% of his drop-backs, the highest figure in the FBS. Fields had 23.4% and 22.3% of pressures turn into sacks over his two years starting at Ohio State.

To summarize Richardson’s game, he has, dare to say, Aaron Rodgers-like ability to flick his wrist and push the ball downfield with velocity and touch. While still proving to be raw in terms of footwork and as a developing processor. That sounds like quite a few other quarterbacks that have sustained some level of success in the NFL over the last few years. The Gators also weren’t a heavy RPO team, nor did they have an NFL caliber receiving corps who made life easy. Only one Florida receiver forced more than three missed tackles after the catch, while none ranked in the top 100 FBS receivers in terms of yards after the catch per reception.

Pertaining to the Ravens and Jackson’s situation, things don’t exactly line up well for the scenarios that Brooks and Jeremiah put together. If Jackson is to play on the franchise tag, the Ravens will barely be left with two shekels to rub together in terms of cap space. Baltimore also doesn’t have a second round pick. Bringing in Richardson would be a punt to the future much like the Packers did by selecting Jordan Love in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft.

Further, if the Ravens planned to draft a quarterback like Richardson, why move on from Greg Roman? Keeping a sturdy and intricate ground game in place would help to bring continuity around a young quarterback that won’t be ready on day one, or perhaps even year one. Based on the interviews that Baltimore has conducted, requested or rumored to partake in, they seem to be examining more wide zone/boot offenses stemming from the Shanahan/McVay offensive school of thought. Richardson, like Jackson, operated exclusively out of the shotgun and pistol in college.

The Ravens offense has — both schematically and in terms of personnel — severely lacked any consistent quick game. Jackson has been pushing the ball downfield at a high clip, often near the league lead in aDOT as well as air yards past the sticks per attempt. On the verge of potentially adding new pass game personnel and vastly expanding their quick game, it doesn’t quite make sense to draft a quarterback who had limited quick game experience in college to back up Jackson while learning a new offense, minimizing cap space and adding tension to Jackson’s contract situation.

Perhaps this scenario would work more smoothly if the Ravens were to trade away Jackson for several first and second round picks then aimed to retain many key elements of Greg Roman’s run game, but speculating to that degree requires quite a bit of guesswork. While Richardson is an extremely talented player, learning from the bench for a large portion of his rookie year would allow him to refine his footwork and develop mentally to the point where a team feels comfortable trotting him out if the Ravens do, in fact, aim to develop more quick game into their offense. Perhaps the only rookie quarterback to truly look the part as a rookie over a full season in the last half decade is Justin Herbert.

Throwing a one-year starter who needs work into the fire isn’t a recipe for success and not one I would anticipate the Ravens banking on. In the end, the hope is that Richardson could end up having a Lamar Jackson-like impact as a playmaking quarterback. The advantage would be the ample cap space that would leave room for Baltimore to attempt to stock the rest of the cupboards until they’re brimful and that Richardson can ease in like Jalen Hurts has in Philadelphia. Bringing in a veteran quarterback like Jacoby Brissett who has played in multiple offensive systems and retaining Tyler Huntley who understands the previous system would likely benefit the Ravens in the immediate as well as help to develop a rookie of the Ravens choose that path. The risk is wasting a season or two and needing to find a quarterback again, a path Baltimore has been down before and not felt in well over a decade.

While moving on from Lamar Jackson might not make sense, if they do, Richardson is an intriguing option who could very well light up the league with some elbow grease.