OPINION: Stern: Colts' Anthony Richardson must alter game for NFL success


There's no question Colts rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson has all the tools for success in the NFL. But in order to have a long career as a pro, he'll need to drastically alter his style of play to adapt to the physicality and brand of smash-mouth football. Otherwise, the 2023 first-round pick will risk having his tenure cut short by a slew of injuries.

In the Colts' first attempt to develop a quarterback since Andrew Luck retired in 2019, the early results have been eerily similar. A talented player with plenty of upside, who takes way too many hits to stay on the field and have any type of sustained success. Luck's abrupt retirement impelled Colts owner Jim Irsay to go the veteran route with Philip Rivers, Carson Wentz, and Matt Ryan under center, before the franchise drafted Richardson fourth overall this past April.

Richardson's pro debut was impressive, as he offered dual-threat elements in the two games he started and finished. But the running aspect of his game is cause for concern. In both contests, he recorded 10 carries apiece and took some big hits from defenders that ultimately caused a season-ending injury to his throwing shoulder. He might've been able to simulate pro environments by playing at Florida against top competition in the powerful SEC, but players are much bigger and stronger at the pro level.

Inviting contact and trying to make plays in the open field simply won't cut it with the big boys. Now, this isn't to say Richardson needs to drastically alter his way of business. Spontaneous playmaking ability is part of his game and he'd risk becoming the next Robert Griffin III if he tried to convert to being a pocket passer. But checking the ball down to a safety valve, sliding, getting out of bounds, and throwing the ball away need to become bigger parts of his game.

With time missed due to a concussion and now a shoulder injury, Richardson had to learn some hard lessons about the league's brutality. But, the lessons should serve as more of a wake-up call that represents reason to change his style, rather than a deterrent for playing the game his way.

If Colts fans were given the chance to sign up for Cam Newton's career when the team took Richardson, many would've done it. Every prospect has a NFL comparison, and Newton was outstanding for the first five years of his career before wearing down. Longevity is important for teams needing consistency at the game's most important position, as they don't want to continuously go through the hassle of cycling through quarterbacks. Plus, it's very difficult to win games without one.

If Richardson is able to give the Colts what Newton gave the Panthers, they might be satisfied. However his current trajectory indicates he won't be able to last as long, or at all. There’s been much debate about quarterback types from the 2023 draft, and which teams made the right decisions in hindsight. Indianapolis knew the downsides associated with Richardson, and his early production made the decision look wise. But watching the Jags and Texans fight for AFC South control with youngsters Trevor Lawrence and C.J. Stroud would be tougher if Richardson can't play.

The good news? Richardson isn't the first guy to endure growing pains that landed him on the injured list as fans contemplated his future in the league. Tua Tagovailoa suffered a series of concussions last year that sidelined him from the Dolphins' playoff loss, and he left many fans questioning how he'd be able to continue his career.

Tagovailoa took jiu-jitsu lessons during the offseason to learn how to fall in a less violent manner, and now he leads the league in passing yards while the Dolphins stand as a serious championship contender at 5-1. Concerns about head injuries still exist, but Tagovailoa's done his part to alter his style of play and drown out the negativity from fans and analysts.

Tagovailoa's the first person Richardson should seek advice from, in regard to dealing with the pressure and making much-needed alterations. He’s a former SEC quarterback who went through the ringer following maligned injuries and bounced back stronger than before. For Richardson, looking in the mirror and acknowledging his initial shortcomings will be the first step in moving forward. The contrasting responses to getting hurt out of the gate offer a blueprint for what he should and shouldn't do. Ultimately, he's going to have to be the one who makes some major changes.

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