If you were Kirby Smart on January 9, 2023 and you had the ability to start ANY college quarterback in the country that night vs TCU in the College Football Playoff National Championship game, who would you pick? Would you pick, Bryce Young, or BJ Stroud, or Anthony Richardson? They turned out to be the top three Quarterbacks chosen in the 2023 NFL draft.

Or, would you pick Stetson Bennett? The guy who walked-on to your program at UGA and then left to find some playing time at Junior College. The guy who came back to UGA for his love of the Bulldog Nation. The guy who was first noticed by your staff while playing a rather convincing Baker Mayfield on the Georgia scout team prior to Georgia’s 54-48 win over Oklahoma in the 2018 Rose Bowl. Fast forward, would you pick the quarterback who had not only won, but was awarded the MVP trophy in your program’s last three College Football Playoff victories, including last year’s national championship win over Alabama?

I’m guessing that given the option, Kirby would ride the hoss that got him there… and as we all know, Bennett did start that game. He led his team to 589 yards of offense including his 18/25 for 304 yards and 4 TDs in the 65-7 mauling of TCU at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles. (More on that later)

Yes, “The Mailman” from Blackshear, Georgia had quite the unexpected career at UGA completing 601 of 924 (65%) for 8,429 yds and 66 TDs with only 21 Ints. He also rushed for 530 yds and 14 TDs in his college career. But, there is a hitch. He’s “only” 5’11 and 190 lbs. “Marginal,” by NFL standards. There are currently only two starting NFL Quarterbacks under 6 feet tall: Kyler Murray (Cardinals) and Russell Wilson (Broncos).

Anthony Richardson

I can’t speak for Kirby, but, I’m guessing he would not have answered the above question with: Anthony Richardson? Earlier in the season Kirby’s Dawgs had beaten their arch-rival Gators in Jacksonville 42-20. Anthony Richardson had a rather pedestrian game with 18/37 for 271yds and 1TD. He also rushed for a mere 19 yards on 11 carries. In fairness to Richardson, his entire team was out-matched by the athleticism and speed of the Georgia defense. No one was going to single-handedly win this game. Moreover, Florida was (yet again) rebuilding under a new coach.

But, my, how times and fortunes have changed? Anthony Richardson was a 4 star highly recruited HS Quarterback out of Eastside HS in Gainesville,FL. Even though he missed most of his senior year to injury he still amassed 37 TD passes (vs 19 INTs) for 4,633 yds and he ran for another 1,633 yards (6.5 ave) and 41 TDs. So, he actually ran for more TDs than passing. He said no to offers from the likes of Alabama and Georgia and stayed home in Gainesville. After a redshirt year Richardson played only four games in 2020 and saw action in 8 games but only started one in 2021. The Florida program was under the stress of the transition from the Dan Mullen years to a new coach, Billy Napier, in 2022. But, 2022 would be the year Anthony Richardson would progress under the run heavy Gator offense. Florida would finish with only a 6-6 record, but rank 1st in rushing in the SEC. And Anthony was a big part of that, contributing 654 yds on the ground with 9 scores. More impressively, the QB had TD runs of 45, 60, 73, 80, and 81 yards. He also passed for 2,599 yds with 17 TD and 9 pesky Ints. But, it should be noted, he had only 13 starts to his entire college career. Not much of a data set by most standards.

The NFL Combine

As both these Quarterbacks approached preparations for the NFL draft, neither was ranked at the top on any of the mock draft boards. In fact, Richardson was projected as the 14th ranked QB by the NFL Network. And Bennett was projected as round 6 or 7 and possibly to end up as an undrafted free agent. All of this, of course, was BEFORE the world turned upside down. It was all PRE-NFL Combine. And, as it turned out, Anthony Richardson OWNED the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. All he did was run a 4.43 forty, a 40.5 inch vertical , and a 10’ 9” inch broad jump, the longest in NFL Combine history. All this to go along with his 6’4” 244 lb chiseled frame. He quickly rose to a top 3 QB pick and high 1st round rating. BTW, fastest Combine QB ever? Michael Vick at 4.33.

Bennett, for his part, had a very good combine, running a very respectable 4.63 forty and displaying surprising arm strength and accuracy. But of course, nothing like Richardson. Nor did Bryce Young or CJ Stroud approach Richardson’s “Athletic” grades at the combine.

But, here’s where it gets interesting: The NFL Combine combines two score categories: Production Score and Athleticism Score. The Production score is based on the players’ actual on-field production over his college career. The Athleticism score is based solely on the combine drills. Here’s a quick snapshot:

Production Score Athleticism Total score

Bryce Young:

  • Production Score – 99
  • Athleticism – 82
  • Total score – 92

CJ Stroud:

  • Production Score – 97
  • Athleticism – 73
  • Total score – 85

Anthony Richardson:

  • Production Score – 70
  • Athleticism – 99
  • Total score – 82

Stetson Bennett:

  • Production Score – 81
  • Athleticism – 72
  • Total score – 76

Anthony Richardson’s Production Score actually ranked 11th out of all the Quarterbacks while Stetson Bennett’s ranked 4th. But as we know, Anthony’s Athleticism at 99 blew away the field and vaulted him to the 3rd Quarterback and 4th overall pick in the first round going to the Quarterback-starved Indianapolis Colts. The big question for the Colts: Did Anthony Richardson all-of-a-sudden become a much better Quarterback since the end of last season? No, of course not. However, his athleticism score has greatly enhanced his value. But wasn’t that athleticism already on the field during the 2022 season? Isn’t it on tape in the games? Yup. But the NFL, or at least the Colts, are now looking at Richardson through a different lens. The truth is that some NFL teams lean hard on the game tape, while others like the up-close-and-personal evaluation of the Combine and the campus pro days. Additionally, there are NFL teams who weigh Production Scores higher than Athletic Scores and vice versa. This is why draft rooms and team scouting is kept confidential. There is a wide range of how to interpret data and how to evaluate the intangibles.

Game Film vs. Drills

While Bryce Young is about the same size as Stetson Bennett, his Production Score is off the charts. There is widespread agreement that his decision-making, his vision of passing lanes, calmness in and outside the pocket, accuracy and big game competitiveness are off the charts. His football IQ is big time; that’s obvious in his 27 game films as a starter. He went 24-3. And BTW, CJ Stroud earned his Production Score of 97 over 25 games as a Buckeye starter going 21-4. Both are substantial data sets.

Betting on Athleticism vs Production at the Quarterback position is high risk. Richardson does not display many of the Bryce Young traits in his limited game film; At least not yet. He is competitive and will take on would-be tacklers. But with just those 13 starts there are questions about his areas of development including poor pocket footwork, inconsistent passing rhythm, doesn’t use eyes to open lanes, and needs to develop more touch in the short game. One thing is certain: he will get his chance to develop. High first rounders are an investment that need to mature while on the field and not on the sidelines. The Colts will need to protect his confidence while refining his skill set under fire.

As for Stetson Bennett? He also moved up after the combine, and this after he embarrassed himself socially more than once. But he has several factors that just may help him on his NFL journey. First, Stetson was 29-3 as a starter at UGA and MVP of two National Championship games. He has big game experience second to none. Next, he will not be thrust into the fire like the high first rounders. He will sit and wait and watch. Let’s hope he does it quietly. There is a good chance he will also be mentored by the incumbent LA Rams QB, Mathew Stafford, a former Georgia bulldog himself. Stafford is a former #1 pick in the draft and has had a brilliant career including the Rams’ Super Bowl win in 2021. Stafford is a class act and I can’t think of a better big brother for Bennett. Finally, Stetson Bennett has possibly one more bit of magic on his side. Recall my opening question? Who would Kirby Smart start in the national championship game in Sofi Stadium in Los Angeles? Well, Sofi is Bennett’s new home field with the Rams. He’s got great game film in his new House!

The story for Bryce Young, CJ Stroud, Anthony Richardson and Stetson Bennett is just starting its NFL chapter and we probably won’t see a final grade on any of these QBs for at least a few more years. But we do know they are all here for different reasons. In the Final Analysis It will be very interesting to see how Production Scores hold up vs the Athletic scores.

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