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2023 Rookie Review: 2 big things the Colts learned about Anthony Richardson last season

While Richardson appeared in just four games, the Colts discovered plenty of encouraging things about their rookie quarterback in 2023. 

2023 Statistics

  • 4 games (4 starts)
  • 50 completions/87 attempts (59.5%)
  • 577 passing yards
  • 3 passing touchdowns
  • 1 interception
  • 87.3 passer rating
  • 25 rushing attempts
  • 136 rushing yards
  • 5.4 rushing yards/attempt
  • 4 rushing touchdowns

The Big Picture

Even though Anthony Richardson started just four games before sustaining a season-ending shoulder injury in Week 5, the Colts came away from 2023 encouraged in their young quarterback for a few reasons. Most importantly, as general manager Chris Ballard said: "This guy is a passer."

The Colts, throughout the pre-draft process, believed Richardson's low completion percentage at Florida (54.7 percent) was somewhat of a mirage. They saw on his college tape good pocket presence – his ability to navigate pressure and keep his eyes downfield – but needed to see that translate to the NFL, where navigating rapidly-collapsing, rarely-perfect pockets is a must. 

That ability indeed translated – like on this throw:

Ballard admitted in January he was a little surprised with how good a passer Richardson proved to be as a rookie. Couple that with his top-tier natural talent, and the Colts came away optimistic about where Richardson's career is going. 

"I mean, this guy is a legitimate passer, and I believe that," Ballard said. "I think he's going to continue to get better and improve the more he plays. But Anthony can play from the pocket and throw the ball accurately. Now he just needs to play. I think sitting, it's unfortunate but there is always a little light. The ability to be able to sit and watch is going to be beneficial for him going forward."

Of note, only four of the last 27 quarterbacks selected in the first round of an NFL Draft (2016-2023) started 100 percent of their rookie year games (Mac Jones, Trevor Lawrence, Kyler Murray and Carson Wentz). Of those 27 quarterbacks, 14 started at least 12 games while nine started fewer than half their team's games (Jared Goff, Dwyane Haskins, Lamar Jackson, Deshaun Watson, Anthony Richardson, Trey Lance, Paxton Lynch, Jordan Love and Patrick Mahomes). 

The point here isn't to draw conclusions based on guys who have or haven't started as rookies – it's more that either path doesn't guarantee future success or future failure. 

Of course, the Colts' plan for 2023 was for Richardson to start all 17 games. Richardson said after the season he won't change his playing style but is focusing on understanding when to slide or go out of bounds going forward. 

"I'm a big physical guy. I love to play physical. People don't really expect that from QBs," Richardson said. "There is a time and a place to be physical. I love playing physical. That's my nature, but now that people see me and they kind of fear of quarterbacks getting injured the way I did – but like you said, I don't think I played reckless. I think I play the right way and it was unfortunate I got injured, but I can't really change the way I play. I just have to be a little smarter when the time does come."

While the Colts are encouraged by what Richardson did in 2023, the organization collectively recognizes there will still be growing pains as he enters Year 2 in the NFL in 2024. But that brings us to another big thing the Colts learned about Richardson over the last 10 months: He can handle the spotlight of being a highly-drafted NFL starting quarterback. 

Back in July, Ballard previewed what he would be looking for from Richardson over the course of his rookie season in terms of handling that spotlight. 

"He's very stable in that he doesn't get too high, doesn't get too low. Now, until you get into the fire, you don't really know," Ballard said. "Look, the pressure on that position – we all know, especially when you draft one high, he's automatically stamped as the automatic savior before he's even played a down. Him and I have had long talks about being able to handle the highs and lows of the position because you have to. You all know how it is. Even the established ones that will have down moments – all of a sudden the world says they're done. It's a week-to-week league. That's just what our league is.

"So, how you perform from week to week is pretty much what people are going to write and you've got to be able to handle that. You've got to be able to handle the good and the bad, and take both in stride."

Six months later, Ballard said he saw Richardson indeed handle the ups and downs of his rookie season with a level head. 

"He's got a good, humble nature about him," Ballard said. "The spotlight is a tough thing to navigate. It is. I've always said, they're going to write a lot of great things about you that probably isn't true and they're going to write a bunch of (expletive) about you that isn't true. It's usually somewhere in the middle. Being able to balance your ego and understand that even when it's as good as it can be, there is still a long fall when you don't handle it right. Also, when it gets really hard, knowing it's not the end of the world.

"He's got a great way about him. He's got a really humble spirit which I appreciate. He doesn't have any arrogance about him. He's similar to Andrew (Luck) in that way. Andrew was that way. Remember what I would tell you, Andrew wanted to be one of the 53. He understood the role of the quarterback and where he stood in the pecking order, but he wanted to be one of the 53 and I see a lot of that with Anthony. That's a good thing."

While Richardson's rookie year didn't go according to plan – again, the plan was for him to start the entire year – the Colts did exit it believing in the foundation he laid both on and off the field. Next up: Building on that foundation, not just with Richardson but with the roster surrounding him. 

"We have more flexibility right now than we've had the last few years, (and) a little bit of that is we're not paying a quarterback big money anymore," Ballard said. "We're going to have some more flexibility. We'll always be prudent but we'll be as aggressive as we need to be in free agency with players that we think can help us. It's always dicey. I think you all know this, you all see this. You're watching the league. With free agency, it's not just about – it's the fit of the player in to the locker room and then whatever you're paying that player, that he can earn and is worth the amount of money you're paying him. So, it's a fine line."

Season Highlights

View the best photos from Anthony Richardson's rookie season with the Indianapolis Colts.

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