Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson throwing a pass at the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine. Richardson is one of the top quarterback prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft. Mar 4, 2023; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson (QB11) participates in drills at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

No position in sports is harder to evaluate than quarterback. NFL teams spend a ton of money, time, and resources trying to find the guy to lead their team for a decade. It’s one thing for knuckleheads like us to playfully speculate on who will be the next franchise quarterback. It’s another for general managers who know a lot more than we do to make decisions on players who will ultimately determine their fate.

There have been so many advancements when it comes to assessment. And yet, it seems like teams are no better at picking quarterbacks. How do you explain Mr. Irrelevant Brock Purdy out-performing Kenny Pickett, the first passer taken in the 2022 NFL Draft? It’s just one season, and perhaps, Pickett will become a star, but it’s jarring that the people paid to make those choices could look so wrong early.

This year is supposed to be a far better quarterback draft than last year. Four are expected to be selected in the first round as opposed to just one. The most intriguing are SEC quarterbacks Anthony Richardson (Florida) and Will Levis (Kentucky). They might possess the most talent in the group.

If physical skills were the only thing that mattered, this process would be so much simpler. But the nuances of what it takes to be a successful quarterback aren’t so easily measured. If they were, teams would be a lot better at evaluating quarterbacks. For the second straight season, there’s no clear-cut top overall pick. When that happens, mistakes can be made.

Maybe Richardson will be No. 1. Maybe Levis. Or “safer” choices like Bryce Young or C.J. Stroud will go first. Who knows. What seems obvious is that Richardson and Levis have the highest ceiling, and they also have the greatest bust potential. They could either make a general manager look like a genius or get that general manager fired.

Let’s look at Richardson first. He’s huge (6-foot-4, 244 pounds). He’s fast (4.43 speed). He’s athletic (a quarterback combine-record vertical jump of 40.5 inches). Those are crazy numbers for any prospect, and insane for a quarterback. Richardson was a big winner at the NFL Scouting Combine. However, if he’s such a marvel, why wasn’t he more productive in college?

NFL general managers are supposed to look beyond statistics and project what a player will become in the pros. That said, Richardson was 11th in the SEC in passing QBR and was second-worst in completion percentage (53.82). The Gators (6-7, 3-5) ended the season on a three-game losing streak, including a defeat at Vanderbilt. Was this Richardson’s fault? Did he not receive proper coaching? Could it be that the talent around him wasn’t the right mix?

So many questions.

Levis is another guy who fascinates teams because of his arm. His zip on the football has been talked about for years, and he had the chance to show it off at the Combine. In the NFL, quarterbacks must fit throws in very narrow windows. The difference between a touchdown and an interception can be inches, and arm strength can help get the ball to places where only a receiver can catch it.

As legendary as his arm is, Levis had a somewhat disappointing 2022. His numbers were decent—fifth in the SEC in QBR and seventh in completion percentage (65.37)—but he didn’t take a big step forward for the Wildcats (7-6, 3-5). There’s a tangible reason for his numbers. He was sacked 36 times, second-most in the league. Perhaps with the right support system and better protection, he’ll blossom.

It’s so easy in hindsight to look back at drafts and laugh at the mistakes. But deciding in real-time is extraordinarily difficult. Armed with hindsight, we giggle at the fact that Patrick Mahomes was the 10th overall pick in 2017 and the second quarterback taken behind Mitchell Trubisky, who was selected No. 2.

But maybe Mahomes doesn’t become a two-time MVP and two-time Super Bowl champion if he doesn’t go to the Kansas City Chiefs. He sat for a season, Andy Reid developed him, and Mahomes made major strides on his own. The draft is just the beginning.

How teams nurture Richardson and Levis will be equally important.

About Michael Grant

Born in Jamaica. Grew up in New York City. Lives in Louisville, Ky. Sports writer. Not related to Ulysses S. Grant.