1. I don’t want to get on a soapbox, but …

It’s inevitable. When there’s an illogical reason for infatuation, it’s typically followed by condemnation.

Somebody has to take the fall for the dichotomy that is Anthony Richardson at Florida vs. Anthony Richardson at the NFL Combine.

Get ready, Billy Napier. You’re now the problem.

You’re the reason Anthony Richardson looked like Superman at the NFL Combine last weekend, but played like Clark Kent for much of the 2022 college football season.

You’re the safe fallback for all of those NFL personnel people, television analysts and the mock draft parade who can’t explain it. They see a player who is everything any franchise could ever want at the most important position on the field.

The arm talent, the 4.4 40 speed and the athleticism, all rolled up in the edge rusher frame (6-5, 248 pounds). They watched him set Combine records for quarterbacks in vertical jump (40.5 inches) and broad jump (10 feet, 9 inches).

They sat down and interviewed him, and saw a grounded, focused, respectful young man. They watched him on the grease board dissecting plays, answering what happens when the backside safety moves here, or what to do with protection when there’s an overload on the strong side of the line but the weak side corner is showing blitz.

They threw every combination route and coverage at him. Every blitz package, every zone coverage.

They asked questions about his personal life, about growing up in Gainesville with a single mom and how he helped raise his younger brother.

And Richardson, by all accounts, crushed the week in Indianapolis. This, of course, leaves the biggest question of all hanging there like a late throw over the middle — just waiting to be exposed.

How did all of that somehow translate to 17 TDs, 9 INTs, and a completion percentage of 53.8 in 2022?

“The environment, the system, the talent around him, the development,” an NFL scout told me Sunday. “There are any number of reasons why it didn’t work.”

At the top of the list — fair or not — will be Napier. He’s the easy target right now, the only thing that makes sense in their close-minded world of underwear Olympics.

There must be a reason Richardson was the most inefficient starter in the best conference in college football.

There must be a reason he didn’t lead his team to 1 win over of its 4 rivals, or that he played so poorly in a loss to SEC tomato can Vanderbilt, the Florida staff contemplated benching him — even though they knew there was nothing behind him.

There must have been a reason he threw a final, Hail Mary heave in a loss to Vanderbilt clear out of the end zone and into the stands. Or he threw a 4th-and-12 attempt in the final minute against Florida State — with Florida at the positive 25 and trailing by 7, and tight end Jonathan Odom wide open beyond the sticks — 15-feet over the head of his receiver.

It has to be coaching. Because they’re watching him in Indianapolis, and they’re seeing this rare talent up close and personal.

“I don’t know how you can’t ask that at this point,” another NFL scout told me Sunday.

Here’s how: Watch the tape.

2. Believe your eyes, not your heart

This is what the NFL Draft does to NFL personnel. This is the risk/reward, the ego driving the reckless narrative of seeing what’s not there.

Every coach and every general manager thinks they can fix players. If players have the right football makeup and right physical tools, they can be transformed into NFL players.

Even at the most important, demanding position in all of sports.

When I asked a 3rd scout Sunday how he aligns Richardson’s record performance at the Combine with the reality of what played out on the field in Gainesville, he said, “The greatest quarterback in the history of our league didn’t play until his junior season at Michigan.”

There you have it. We’ve now brought Tom Brady, the best player in NFL history, into this argument.

Saying Brady didn’t play until his senior season is code for Michigan coach Lloyd Carr didn’t know what the heck he had, and/or didn’t know how to coach him.

The difference is Brady won 10 games as a junior starter, then battled Drew Henson for time during his senior year, won the job outright midway through the season, and led Michigan to 10 wins again.

That’s not the only nonsense I’ve heard from scouts this season. One told me, “(Patrick) Mahomes and (Josh) Allen were raw in college, and they were developed in our league.”

Another scout told me Richardson reminded him of Dak Prescott, a supreme athlete who needed work as a thrower. Prescott, everyone, was a 3-year starter at Mississippi State and in 2014 led his woefully overmatched team to the No. 1 ranking in the Playoff poll — and had a career TD/INT ratio of 70/23.

Please, stop this nonsense.

The NFL does what it does in the draft because NFL personnel believe they are better talent evaluators — and more important, better talent developers.

It begins with the Combine, an archaic measuring tool that players have 3 months to train for, and uses no critical on-field thinking in the face of pressure.

The Combine convinces franchises to believe their eyes in a fanciful world, while disbelieving what they see on the field — in games, in real time.

They know that entire concept is utterly ridiculous, so there has to be a boogeyman.

That boogeyman, over the next 7 weeks until the draft, will be Napier.

3. The AR evolution, The Epilogue

If the NFL is going to blame Napier, they may as well blame Dan Mullen, too.

May as well blame the guy who, in his college career, has developed Josh Harris (set records at Bowling Green), Alex Smith (No. 1 overall pick at Utah), Chris Leak (set Florida records), Tim Tebow (2-time national champion and Heisman Trophy winner), Prescott and Kyle Trask (Florida single season record holder).

Because Mullen couldn’t make it work with Richardson, either. Emory Jones played so poorly as a starter at Florida in 2021, a majority of the Power 5 backups could’ve done enough to start games for the Gators that season.

Richardson never did, but was given his 1 start in 2021 after Mullen tried everything with Jones before starting Richardson against the best defense in college football.

Needless to say, the 34-7 loss to Georgia was brutal, Richardson imploding in a string of turnovers near the end of the 2nd quarter. He never started again in 2021 but did play well at times in a backup role.

For those who are looking for some kind of conspiracy reason, understand that Mullen was in danger of losing his job for much of the 2021 season. The only way he could keep it was to win, and his best chance at winning the lesser of two problems (Jones).

So the idea of blaming Napier may not be all that accurate. Napier, at least, got occasional strong performances from Richardson: the Utah, Tennessee and Texas A&M games, to be specific.

But that doesn’t mean you won’t hear that narrative for the next 7 weeks. It doesn’t mean that NFL personnel, and TV analysts and the mock draft parade won’t use Napier and his development of Richardson as the reason things will be different in the NFL.

All while avoiding the 1 credo every NFL personnel evaluator and scout lives and breathes by: Your tape is your resume.

Anthony Richardson’s resume is out there for all to see. You can blame Napier — or you can believe your eyes.

4. Moving up

At the other end of the quarterback debate at the Combine is Georgia’s Stetson Bennett.

A 2-time national champion, a quarterback who played in the same league as Richardson and performed at a significantly higher level, Bennett was in a similar, highly-analyzed scenario as Richardson.

Only with completely opposite criticism.

The Combine for Bennett was about his arm strength, his height and weight, and were his sterling performances in big games more about the talent around him — or his ability to make plays?

And more distressing to many in the league: his off-field decisions. Not just for the highly-publicized public intoxication in January, but his decision to opt out of the Senior Bowl and Shrine Bowl — where NFL personnel could’ve watched and worked with him up close, and watched him perform against college football’s best.

Bennett said at the Combine that he wants to focus on individual training in Dallas, and that’s why he skipped the 2 postseason talent evaluation bowl games.

He showed out in the individual drills, and his arm strength wasn’t the question many believed it could be. He threw 2 perfect deep balls during drills that had the crowd in Indianapolis buzzing, and also throwing the ball 59 mph in the fastest pass drill — among the top throws of all quarterbacks.

“I’ve been very consistent about his eval,” an NFL scout told me. “I think he’s going to play in this league. He’ll be someone’s No. 2. He’s not the biggest guy, but he knows the position and will make plays. He’s a Gardner Minshew-type guy. He’s not going to wow you, but he’ll be effective when needed.”

5. The Weekly 5

Auburn’s national championship odds, and 5 things the Tigers needs to reach the Playoff:

1. Buy-in from everyone. Most uber-successful 1st-year transitions include no push back from players and administration. It’s vital to quick turnarounds, and it must begin Day 1.

2. New coach Hugh Freeze and OC/QBs coach Philip Montgomery need a transformation at the quarterback spot. Freeze did it with Liberty QB (and Auburn transfer) Malik Willis. Can he do it with talented but raw Auburn QB Robby Ashford?

3. A career year from RB Jarquez Hunter, in what will likely be his last season at Auburn. A powerful, strong and fast runner, watch him develop in the pass game, too.

4. The offensive line, a significant question over the past 2 years, needs impact seasons from transfers OTs Dillon Wade (Tulsa) and Gunner Britton (WKU), and C Avery Jones (ECU).

5. Auburn must double its turnovers gained from 2022. The Tigers were last in the SEC with 13 turnovers gained, and lost 22 (-9 turnover ratio).

6. Your tape is your resume

An NFL scout analyzes a draft-eligible SEC player. This week: South Carolina DT Zacch Pickens.

“He’s a interesting eval. He hasn’t filled out that frame. I think there’s more he can handle. He’s 6-4, and he weighed in at 291 pounds. If he can bulk up to 305, and still have that quickness, you might have something there. He has that suddenness and quick hands, those 2 critical things you need in the play to play war on the inside. The problem is he can get swallowed. Our interior (offensive linemen) adjust quickly, use their bulk in a confined space — especially against the guys that play with that elevated pad level like he does.”

7. Powered Up

This week’s Power Poll, and 1 big thing: The permanent opponent that would be best for TV, but likely won’t happen.

1. Georgia: Alabama. The SEC’s most dominant programs in the past decade, and along with LSU and Florida, in the past 2 decades. A natural fit.

2. Alabama: Georgia. Auburn and Tennessee are locks. LSU, historically, is a rival; Georgia is not.

3. Tennessee: Florida. There’s no team the Vols fan base hates more. Makes for great TV theater.

4. LSU: Florida. You’d be shocked what most former LSU players say is their No. 1 rival. It’s not Alabama, it’s Florida.

5. Texas A&M: Oklahoma. A former Big 12 rival, but the SEC can’t load Texas A&M with Texas and Oklahoma.

6. Kentucky: Ole Miss. All but 2 of the 9 games in the 2000s have been exciting, competitive games. One of the underrated rivalries in the league.

7. Ole Miss: Texas A&M. Since Aggies entered the league in 2012, the teams have played 6 1-possession games — including 4 3-point games.

8. South Carolina: Georgia. A natural border state rivalry, with huge recruiting implications.

9. Arkansas: Texas A&M. Aggies have owned the series since they arrived in 2012, but the games have been phenomenal — including 6 1-possession games.

10. Mississippi State: Texas. The Bulldogs will more than likely lose Alabama and LSU — and be left with Texas A&M as their only annual game vs. an SEC blue-blood.

11. Florida: Texas. Two of the biggest brands in college sports. The decision will likely be Oklahoma over Texas.

12. Missouri: Texas. When Missouri has had it rolling over the years, it’s because of elite Texas high school talent (see: Chase Daniel, James Franklin, Michael Sam).

13. Auburn: LSU. An epic SEC rivalry that likely gets shoved to every other year because of the budding LSU-Texas A&M rivalry.

14. Vanderbilt: Florida. Nirvana for Vandy (and TV) is every game with the intensity of Florida or Tennessee.

8. Ask and you shall receive

Matt: What are the biggest problems with the new clock changes in college football, and how much will they affect the game? — Timothy Horner, Columbus, Ohio.


The NCAA oversight committee will vote April 20 in 4 rules changes, and it looks like 3 have the best chance to make it:

  • No back-to-back timeouts.
  • No untimed downs at the end of the 1st and 3rd quarters.
  • Running clock after first downs gained, except inside 2 minutes to play at the end of the 1st and 2nd halves.

The first 2 rule changes will have next to no impact on the game itself. The concept of “icing” a kicker with back-to-back timeouts will end, but that never really made much of a difference, anyway.

The rule that will change the game is the running clock after first downs gained. While teams will still have the ability to use the clock stoppage (until the ball is placed in play) as part of their 2-minute drill, this new rule will absolutely cut into a team’s ability to chase points.

It will also allow teams to run clock while protecting 2nd-half leads.

I’m not a fan of this rule because the clock stoppage after first downs until the ball is placed in play has always been the 1 thing that separated the NFL from the college game. If a team is down 2 touchdowns with less than 4 minutes to play in the NFL, the odds of winning are slim.

If a team was down 2 touchdowns in college football with less than 4 minutes to play, the odds of winning are much greater. The rule made the game more exciting, and the chances greater for memorable endings.

Instead, the Football Rules Committee says the new clock rules will shave about 10 plays from a typical game. While that doesn’t seem like a lot, think about 10 plays — 10 plays — in the structure of a team desperately chasing points.

9. Numbers

7.11. NFL franchises have moved all in on the breakdowns of the NFL NextGen statistical analysis, which include traits, skill level, potential for growth and even toughness.

The top 5 players after the Combine and their grades: Georgia DT Jalen Carter (7.11), Alabama Edge Will Anderson (7.02), Alabama QB Bryce Young (6.82), Texas RB Bijan Robinson (6.80) and Texas Tech Edge Tyree Wilson (6.77).

The 9/10ths of a percentage lead for Carter over No. 2 Anderson is 1 of 3 significant drops the rankings of more than 300 players:

The breakdown of the grades: 8.0 (perfect prospect), 7.3-7.5 (perennial All-Pro), 7.0-7.1 (Pro Bowl talent), 6.7-6.9 (Year 1 starter), 6.5-6.6 (boom or bust potential).

10. Quote to note

Auburn coach Hugh Freeze: “It’s a mental grind. It takes mental toughness. That doesn’t come natural to a lot of people. Not just football players, but to a lot of people. The No.1 thing that I want to get out of spring ball would be that we understand that the little things truly are the main thing.”