Anthony Richardson played 173 snaps, attempted 84 passes and rushed 25 times over his rookie season. But even in that small sample size, the Colts came away from 2023 believing they know how to build around their starting quarterback in 2024 and beyond.
And while the Colts were certainly disappointed in outcome of the 2023 season – from Richardson's season-ending injury in Week 5 to Week 18's narrow loss to the Houston Texans – exiting last year with knowledge of what Richardson needs to succeed is a significant development.
"Until you're around somebody, no matter how brilliant people are in this league, the more you see and when you get to see them play, a light goes off — okay, this is what we need to do to get this guy going," general manager Chris Ballard said in November. "You anticipate and you project but until you are with them and live with them and watch them play daily, understanding what a player can and can't do – especially at the quarterback position – and how you got to build around it, I think we got a pretty good handle on him and what he can do and what we need to do to build around him."
We'll learn what exactly that building looks like once free agency begins in mid-March and the NFL Draft concludes April 27 (Ballard, too, stresses team building is a year-round thing, and there are always moves to be made between May and the regular season). But one thing Ballard mentioned in his end-of-the-season press conference was a focus on the Colts' offense becoming more explosive in 2024.
Some of that added explosiveness could come from the eminently-explosive Richardson returning to the field, especially alongside running back Jonathan Taylor for more than two plays. Ballard pointed to the Colts being top-10 in explosive plays when Richardson was on the field as a rookie, a stat largely the product of Richardson's arm talent and running ability.
"When he plays, people defend you a little differently," Ballard said. "I think we saw it already, it kind of naturally happens when he's in there, either with his feet or with his arm because of what he's able to do. Look, he's got a lot of work to do and there will be some moments next year where he'll still look like a rookie. It's going to happen. I think his ability to push the ball down the field and create allows for those explosive plays to happen."
But beyond just the Richardson-Taylor ground pairing, Ballard in January said there are opportunities to add explosiveness through free agency and the draft.
"I've got a pretty good handle on the NFL Draft and we do think it's going to be pretty good with some explosive guys and then working through free agency right now, we're just kind of finishing it up," Ballard said. "We do think there is going to be some opportunities to add some players to make us more explosive."
So much of the NFL is about context and fit, though. It's one thing to add explosive players; it's another to add the right explosive players for a specific offense and quarterback. And the Colts came way from 2023 not only optimistic about Richardson's future, but also armed with the knowledge of what they need to build around him going forward.
"Even with the injury to Anthony – like we don't know yet, but we're encouraged about what we saw," Ballard said. "Let's not go crown him. Let's not stamp him yet. I mean, we're not there. We've got a lot of work to do and he's got a lot of work to do, but it's encouraging."