QB Richardson headlines Colts' lauded draft class

·5 min read

Apr. 30—INDIANAPOLIS — Jim Irsay was uncharacteristically subdued Saturday at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center.

There were no grand proclamations about multiple Lombardi Trophies or imminent gold jacket ceremonies.

Instead, the Indianapolis Colts owner mainly toed the company line and attempted to manage expectations for former Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson — taken with the fourth overall pick in the first round of the NFL Draft on Thursday night.

Still, Irsay made it clear he's fully on board with arguably the franchise's most important selection since 2012.

"We kind of felt like, if we'd had the first pick in the draft, we'd probably take (Richardson)," Irsay said. "That's how much we liked him."

General manager Chris Ballard drew widespread praise in the immediate aftermath of the draft, with national analysts giving Indianapolis strong grades for its highly athletic 12-man class.

Those instant reactions carry little importance in a business that needs three to five years to properly gauge draft success, but they are an indication of the excitement building in the wake of the Colts' selections.

Indianapolis added a pair of potential starters in Friday's second (Kansas State cornerback and Warren Central product JuJu Brents) and third rounds (North Carolina wide receiver Josh Downs), and Saturday's haul of nine selections in Rounds 4-7 added depth and competition to the roster.

Notable picks included BYU offensive tackle Blake Freeland and Northwestern defensive tackle Adetomiwa Adebawore in the fourth round and South Carolina cornerback Darius Rush, California safety Daniel Scott, Miami (Florida) tight end Will Mallory and Northwestern running back Evan Hulls in the fifth round.

But the ultimate judgement for this draft class will rest largely on the powerful right arm of Richardson.

He spoke Thursday night on a video conference call from the draft in Kansas City, Missouri, and in person Friday afternoon at the team facility.

In both instances, Richardson presented a humble-yet-confident mindset and a desire to join a quarterback lineage that includes Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck.

"I'm here for a reason," Richardson said. "I work hard. I put the work in, and obviously, I showcased that I can be a huge talent. There's a lot of things I can clean up. Growing up, I always thought about Tom Brady and the way he worked. He has seven rings. People say he's the greatest, but I've always heard he's constantly trying to get better day by day, and I thought about that like how can a guy that great try and get better every single day?

"I haven't done the things he's done, and I'm like, 'OK, I can definitely get better. If that guy is getting better, I can get better myself.' So, it's just a balance of knowing how confident you are in yourself but also being smart enough to understand that you can get better and you're that person."

Ballard said he knew Richardson would be the team's pick a month ago, following private workouts in Gainesville, Florida, and Indianapolis. Irsay said he first started leaning in the 20-year-old's direction as far back as February, and the idea was cemented in his mind when first-year head coach Shane Steichen agreed about the fit.

Chief personnel executive Morocco Brown sent Ballard glowing texts from Florida's practices highlighting Richardson's potential as far back as August.

"Actually, I sent Chris — just to be funny I was like, 'Man you could charge admission to watch this guy throw if we was like going to practice,'" Brown said. "It would be like a circus just watching him throw. Then his body — it looked like he had the body like a defensive end and just how he moved. You keep watching. I know he struggled early in the year, but you still saw the flashes and then he started to steady his play out. It just takes time."

Not everyone was sold quickly.

Assistant GM Ed Dodds admits he struggled with Richardson's limited resume. The quarterback made just 13 career starts at Florida and posted a 6-6 record with a 53.8% completion rate in his only full season as a starter last fall.

There's never been a prospect quite like him with elite athletic traits and so few on-field reps to dissect.

Dodds needed to be convinced, and as the process wore on Richardson personally won him over.

"He was here for a whole day," Dodds said. "We were with him down there, and every time I spent time around him, you just like him. He's just a good guy. If he makes a mistake, it's not because he's doing something wrong or tried — it's just, he didn't know. That's where you're like, 'Alright, he'll listen.' He wants to be good, and you just like being around him."

Steichen told Dodds early in the process to approach the draft like a marriage proposal. Who do you want to spend the next decade of your life with?

Dodds is old school and prefers full game tapes to highlight-reel cutups. But the team's video of Richardson's passes under pressure convinced Dodds the quarterback had one of the most important intangible traits — poise.

Steichen was an early fan.

His belief Richardson has what it takes to become a premier passer in the NFL alongside his elite running ability helped nail down the choice in Irsay's mind.

It's easy to watch Steichen's former quarterback with the Philadelphia Eagles — Jalen Hurts — and imagine the possibilities with Richardson in a similar scheme. But the Colts head coach cautions there is still plenty of work to be done both by the rookie quarterback and the team.

Richardson's makeup gives him confidence the quarterback will hold up his end of the bargain.

"I watched his press conference (Friday), the humility he had and the excitement he had — that's what you want in people," Steichen said. "I talked about it (Thursday night), the character part of it. This guy is a good dude, and when you're a good dude and have humility like that, I think you can become a really special player in this league."