Anthony Richardson respects tradition, embraces expectations and aspires to history.
At Florida, he followed a long line of quarterback greats but left too soon to join their ranks. The No. 4 overall pick in the NFL draft, Richardson now heads to the Indianapolis Colts, whose tradition of signal callers is as storied as that of any franchise, up there with Green Bay, San Francisco and Dallas.
The most intriguing and athletic prospect in the draft is not intimidated. During the NFL Scouting Combine in his new city, Richardson told reporters, “I want to be a legend,” a phrase he also had stitched on the inside of his suit jacket Thursday night in Kansas City.
The Colts’ brass and fans hope Richardson is up to the challenge and can follow in the footsteps of legends Johnny Unitas and Peyton Manning, not to mention former No. 1 pick Andrew Luck, who suddenly retired in 2019 after seven seasons. If Richardson can perform even like a young Bert Jones, the 1976 NFL most valuable player, before injuries beset the “Ruston Rifle,” the Colts’ bold move will have paid off.
Indianapolis bet on 6-foot-4, 244-pound Richardson’s potential, not his spotty production in college.
Richardson vowed to deliver.
“I’m not an average quarterback, and I can do things other QBs can’t do,” he said Thursday night. “So I definitely take pride in that. And then I’m also willing to learn. I’m willing to be just as good or, if not, better than all these quarterbacks in the draft or all the quarterbacks in the league.”
Richardson set a standard for the position during the lead-up to the draft, running the 40-yard dash in 4.43 seconds at the combine and posting a record 40.5 inches in the vertical leap. During the Gators’ Pro Day, he effortlessly threw 65-yard passes and uncorked a couple covering 75.
Those physical traits translated to performance sporadically in 2022, his one season as a college starter, culminating with a 9-of-27 passing effort during a 45-38 loss Nov. 25 at rival Florida State. Yet the Colts weighed his singular skill set against concerns about his inconsistency.
Indianapolis offers a favorable situation. As offensive coordinator with the Philadelphia Eagles, first-year head coach Shane Steichen turned Jalen Hurts into an MVP candidate in 2022.
“The development of players comes with more experience,” Steichen said. “When you play more, that’s how you develop. With him playing and his experience as a player and getting more reps, practice reps, game reps, that’s how you develop.”
Richardson’s new team has a track record there.
Unitas was a 23-year-old rookie who threw 9 touchdown and 10 interceptions in 1956 before evolving into the best passer of his day. Manning threw a league-high 28 interceptions as a rookie in 1998.
Each found his footing during record-setting careers.
Unitas retired in 1973 with a then-record 290 touchdown passes during a time when few quarterbacks regularly threw for 20 in a season. In the era of high-octane offenses, Manning tallied 539 scoring throws, the record when he retired in 2016.
“Having that whole franchise trusting in me and believing in me, that means a lot to me,” Richardson said. “I’m just ready to carry the torch.”
Richardson struggled to do so in Gainesville. He threw for 17 scores and ran for 9 in 2022 as a redshirt sophomore for a 6-7 team.
If he succeeds in the NFL, those numbers will become mere footnotes. As it stands, Richardson’s career at UF pales in comparison to many who came before him, including Heisman winners Steve Spurrier, Danny Wuerffel and Tim Tebow.
Richardson, a former high school star in Gainesville, even wore Tebow’s No. 15 as a nod to the standard of excellence set by those before him.
On Thursday night, Richardson became the ninth Gators quarterback drafted overall and fifth taken in the first round, the last one being Tebow, the No. 25 pick in 2010 by Denver. Richardson was drafted higher than any UF quarterback since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger and the highest ever other than Spurrier, whom San Francisco picked No. 3 in 1967.
John Reaves (No. 14, 1972), Kerwin Bell (No. 180, 1988), Wuerffel (No. 99, 1997), Jesse Palmer (No. 125, 2001), Rex Grossman (No. 22, 2003) and Kyle Trask (No. 64, 2021) were other UF quarterbacks drafted.
Richardson arrives in Indianapolis chasing history again, but the stakes are even higher. As the No. 4 overall pick, he is due $36,874,031, including a $23,817,477 signing bonus.
When the Colts contacted Richardson, he said, it was not a surprise given positive conversations with Steichen and general manager Chris Ballard. Even so, the moment was emotion-filled.
“They gave me the call and I celebrated with my family and tears just started rolling down,” Richardson said.
This article first appeared on OrlandoSentinel.com. Email Edgar Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @osgators.