Fantasy Court: The Case For Anthony Richardson in 2023 (Fantasy Football)

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This article is part of the annual Fantasy Court series. Be sure to check out The Case Against Anthony Richardson by Joe Beldner for the opposing view.

Be sure to check out where Anthony Richardson is ranked in Andy, Mike, and Jason’s 2023 QB Rankings.

Opening Statement

Rookie quarterbacks have a reputation for struggling to put up consistent fantasy points. The learning curves, growing pains, and next-level NFL game speed can make for a protracted transition from collegiate to professional signal caller. This explains why fantasy managers have so much trepidation in taking a rookie quarterback in fantasy drafts.  

I’m here today to tell you that Anthony Richardson is different. He was the third quarterback selected in the 2023 NFL draft but is easily the first rookie quarterback off the board in fantasy drafts. Even with his average draft position (ADP) as QB12, he is still being undervalued by fantasy drafters.

Let me explain, as I make the case for drafting Richardson in fantasy football in 2023.

The Elite of the Elite Athlete

Richardson is the most athletic quarterback to enter the NFL. That isn’t hyperbole. He literally has the highest Relative Athletic Score (RAS) of all time.

Now, Richardson’s athleticism is amplified when you consider his size.

So he’s bigger and faster than Derrick Henry. That’s insane, but he is playing quarterback, after all. Can he throw a football?

In short, YES. One more tweet (X?) to display just how freaky athletic of a quarterback Richardson is.

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That ball traveled 70 yards in the air. Then, after throwing a ball further than most humans can even fathom, he casually hits a backflip that somebody his size has no business doing.

Rushing QBs are Still a Fantasy Football Cheat Code

Richardson’s all-world athleticism matters because it represents less what he can do in the passing game and more what he can do on the ground. Before examining why his rushing is vital to scoring fantasy points, let’s zoom out. 

The following table includes the rookie season of all 20 quarterbacks since 2011 selected in the top 10 of the NFL draft that started at least 10 games as a rookie, sorted by fantasy points/game.

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Player Season Pick Starts FP/Game Season Finish
Cam Newton 2011 1 16 23.1 QB3
Justin Herbert 2020 6 15 22.2 QB9
Robert Griffin III 2012 2 15 21.2 QB4
Kyler Murray 2019 1 16 17.8 QB12
Marcus Mariota 2015 2 12 17.5 QB18
Joe Burrow 2020 1 10 17.4 QB18
Josh Allen 2018 7 11 17.3 QB19
Andrew Luck 2012 1 16 17.3 QB9
Jameis Winston 2015 1 16 17.2 QB19
Baker Mayfield 2018 1 13 17.2 QB20
Daniel Jones 2019 6 12 16.5 QB16
Carson Wentz 2016 2 16 13.3 QB28
Sam Darnold 2018 3 13 13.0 QB34
Blake Bortles 2014 3 13 12.0 QB30
Trevor Lawrence 2021 1 17 11.7 QB37
Zach Wilson 2021 2 13 11.7 QB37
Ryan Tannehill 2012 8 16 11.4 QB30
Mitch Trubisky 2017 2 12 11.2 QB38
Josh Rosen 2018 10 13 8.1 QB44
Blaine Gabbert 2011 10 14 7.8 QB43

I’ll admit, this is a very top-heavy list. Only three of these quarterbacks averaged 20+ fantasy points/game. But wait, let’s filter it a little further. The following table reduces the list to include only the quarterbacks that rushed at least 80 times in their rookie season.

Player Season Pick Starts Rush Attempts FP/Game Season Finish
Cam Newton 2011 1 16 126 23.08 QB3
Robert Griffin III 2012 2 15 120 21.17 QB4
Kyler Murray 2019 1 16 93 17.83 QB12
Josh Allen 2018 7 11 89 17.34 QB19

That looks more promising. Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III, and Kyler Murray all finished as top 12 quarterbacks as rookies. Josh Allen looks like a blemish, but recall that he missed four games in the middle of his rookie season with an elbow injury. Upon his return, he averaged 24.2 fantasy points/game over his last six games, which came during the heart of the fantasy playoffs.

There are some other names that I need to bring up: Lamar Jackson, Jalen Hurts, and Justin Fields. These quarterbacks were not top 10 picks in the NFL draft, and they all started their careers as backups. However, they each took over the job in their second seasons, had over 100 rush attempts, and finished as a top 10 fantasy quarterback. Jackson finished as the QB1 when he broke fantasy football with his MVP season in 2019. Hurts was the QB9 when he got the starting job in Philly in 2021. Just last season, Fields finished as QB6 in his first season as a starter.

So, what does this mean for Richardson? Given his draft capital and the camp reports, it’s highly probable that we see him as the starter for the Colts in Week 1. Given his athleticism and collegiate profile, he could be north of 80 rush attempts by Week 10. If he gets the starting job and rushes at least 80 times, he will likely pay off the cost of his ADP.

The Perfect Setup

All the historical numbers above make a strong statistical case for Richardson, but how does that fit with his team context and supporting cast? 

Let’s start with coaching. The Colts hired Shane Steichen as head coach this offseason, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a better coach to help mold Richardson and design an offense for him. He was the offensive coordinator for the Chargers in 2020 when Justin Herbert exploded as a rookie. In case you’ve already forgotten, Herbert was one of just three quarterbacks in the table above who averaged 20+ fantasy points/game as a rookie.

Then Steichen moved on to Philadelphia, where he helped transform second-year quarterback Jalen Hurts into one of the best fantasy quarterbacks in the league, finishing as QB9. He stuck with Philly in 2022, when Hurts continued to develop. He finished as the QB3 and led the Eagles to the Super Bowl on the back of an MVP-caliber season.

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The offensive unit in Indy has been underrated this offseason. For the past few seasons, the Colts have felt like they were just a quarterback away from being a great offense. Unfortunately, the quarterbacks they rolled with were largely over the hill and washed-up veterans Philip Rivers, Carson Wentz, and Matt Ryan. Those guys didn’t work out. Enter Richardson.

Indy’s offensive line has been one of the most solid in the league, led by All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson. Jonathan Taylor is one of the top running back talents in the NFL who is just one season removed from finishing as the RB1. Ideally, JT resolves his contract dispute and plays the entire season, but even if he doesn’t, that would only mean more carries and goal-line work for Richardson.

Michael Pittman Jr. is primed for a bounce-back season, especially if, as Steichen did with the Eagles, he designs an RPO-heavy offense. (For more on why, check out this study by JJ Zachariason.) Deep threat Alec Pierce and rookie Josh Downs are also intriguing weapons for Richardson that could make this offense even more explosive.

Closing Argument

As usual, I’ll be concise in closing. I’ve laid out clear evidence in favor of drafting Anthony Richardson. There is historical, statistical data that tells us Richardson’s floor is a top 12 quarterback if he starts the season and rushes 80+ times in a season, both of which are overwhelmingly likely. He has the ideal head coach in Shane Steichen to develop Richardson’s game and design an effective offense around him. Given these facts and his otherworldly athleticism, the sky is the ceiling for Anthony Richardson.


JoeyW says:

Nice info, I’d love to see a fantasy court on Garrett Wilson.

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