Former NFL WR: 'Accuracy is like height: You're probably not going to gain any more of it'
Steve Smith Sr. had some interesting comments on Anthony Richardson and accuracy: Seaside Joe 1471
Steve Smith, Sr. played 16 seasons in the NFL, beginning in 2001 and ending in 2017, so he was able to live through multiple eras of the pro passing game and what could be considered “good accuracy” for quarterbacks. When Smith led the NFL in catches, yards, and touchdowns and won Comeback Player of the Year in 2005, Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme’s 60.2% completion rate was just above league average.
That same number in 2022 would rank between Justin Fields and Baker Mayfield for 32nd. A similar completion rate that got a Carolina quarterback to the Super Bowl in 2003 got a Carolina quarterback cut midseason in 2022.
In 2011, Smith’s 12th season with the Panthers, he played a pivotal role in getting rookie quarterback Cam Newton assimilated to the NFL. Cam completed 60% of his passes as a rookie, a serviceable mark, especially for a quarterback who rushed for 706 yards and 14 touchdowns that year. And he owes Smith a lot of credit for what success he did have as a passer because Cam always struggled with accuracy beyond a certain mark on the field.
As Carolina’s number one receiver in 2011, Smith caught 79 of 129 targets (61% catch rate) and gained 1,394 yards and 10.8 yards per target.
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You see it all the time with young athletes: “Oh if he’s only doing ‘THIS’ early in his career, then with time, coaching, and development, he’ll soon be doing ‘THAT’ in the future! Players *always* get better! I’ve forgotten every example that could be used as a counter-point!”
Newton’s accuracy was always an issue and it’s important to point out that the 60% completion rate that he had as a rookie would be the second-best mark of any season he had with the Panthers from 2011-2017, with the best rate being 61.7% in 2013…Smith’s final season in Carolina and the last time Cam had a wide receiver who could significantly elevate his game as a passer.
Here were some notes on Newton’s accuracy coming out of Auburn as the top-ranked draft prospect in 2011, despite playing only one season of college football after two seasons on the bench at Florida, one transfer year, and 280 pass attempts as the Heisman-winning national champion in 2010:
Accuracy: Newton has good accuracy to hit open receivers in the short and intermediate area. He completed 66 percent of his passes as a junior in an offense that gave him a lot of open windows. Still, it's clear he has good accuracy up to 20 yards. Has a tendency to overthrow on the deep ball. Did a nice job throughout the season hitting passes near the sideline against over-the-top coverage.
His B/R scouting report reads a lot like the current Florida quarterback, as if we’ve forgotten that the “modern quarterback” has been the same prototype for at least 20 years:
Now what a lot of NFL Scouts worry about with Newton is his pocket-passing. Newton showed in the BCS game that there are times where he has very poor accuracy. Newton shows good accuracy in a 10-15 yard range, but with his great arm lacks accuracy on the deep ball (as we all saw in the championship match).
From Newton's junior season at Auburn, he looks like a top-notch quarterback. If Newton can maintain good accuracy and good decision-making, Newton could be a dominant quarterback. However if Newton shows poor accuracy like in the BCS game, he will be just another draft bust.
NFL Mocks notes poor accuracy, football work, touch, and consistency:
Newton has inconsistent accuracy across the different levels of the passing game. While he has the capability to deliver a catchable short pass he routinely throws the ball behind his receiver. The fact that he doesn’t get the ball out in front limits the receiver’s ability to produce yards after the catch. In the intermediate throwing game we have the same story; his passes on the skinny post are regularly behind the target resulting in stopped routes. The biggest concern I had was his ability to deliver a catchable bucket pass. He struggled to get adequate loft on the football which resulted in balls being either over or under thrown. Auburn attempted to utilize Newton’s athletic ability by rolling him out but he struggled to deliver an accurate football while on the move. All sense of proper footwork went out the window while Newton was on the move.
So, digest the fact that Cam Newton had one (mega-successful) season in college in which he went 185/280 (66%), 2,854 yards, 10.2 Y/A, 30 TD, 7 INT, 1,473 rushing yards, 20 TD on a 14-0 team AND he did so with mediocre coaching and no legitimate NFL teammates on offense.
BUT as a draft quarterback prospect, the two major red flags were his accuracy and whether he was going to struggle with consuming an NFL playbook and being able to go through his progressions, read and beat NFL defenses after playing in a limited offensive scheme at Auburn:
This is the area of Newton’s game I feel he will really struggle with during his transition to the NFL. Auburn’s offensive system doesn’t translate to the NFL which will force Newton to basically start from scratch. The film I watched showed me that Newton was a 1st read quarterback that struggled to go across the field with his progressions. A lot of this was a direct result of his superior athletic ability which allowed him to create with his feet.
It’s impressive to re-live Cam’s dominant 2010 college season, he really does look superhuman compared to everyone else on the field. But I was also always worried that without being a dominant pocket presence who could throw accurate passes to all levels of the field, to lead receivers (I mean literally to lead them on his throws to put them in a position to gain yards after the catch), and to beat defenses with his arm after he stopped being able to take over games as the best athlete on the field, that his career would burn hot and fade fast.
These were concerns that draft analysts had in 2011 with Cam Newton. These are concerns that draft analysts have today with Anthony Richardson, the "Cam Newton” comp of 2023. The two are so similar, in fact, that perhaps the most notable difference is that Richardson never had any success in college.
Take Newton’s 66% completion rate, 10.2 Y/A, 30 TD, 1,500 rushing yards, 20 TD, and compare it to Richardson:
176-of-327, 54%, 2,549 yards, 7.8 Y/A, 17 TD, 9 INT, 654 rushing, 9 TD
To say that Richardson is the next Cam Newton certainly could be construed as a compliment. It could be. But Cam’s physicality and athleticism powered him from dominance for one year in college to what is realistically an eight-year career in the NFL that had “inconsistent value”, at-best.
One of the reasons for that inconsistency was how obvious it was that Cam’s accuracy, anticipation, touch, and reads never significantly improved.
It’s notable that Steve Smith was there for Cam’s first three seasons, then requested to be released so he could go to another team because in his words he “wanted to win”, and on his podcast recently alluded to his belief—right after bringing up Anthony Richardson—that quarterbacks rarely, if ever, improve upon their accuracy.
“Would you like to know one thing with a quarterback that can be too late to learn? Accuracy. If you are not accurate, if you’re 23-24 years old…at some point, accuracy is like height: You’re probably not going to gain any more of it.”
Smith doesn’t directly reference Cam Newton when he makes that statement, but we do know that Cam is by far the most notable and talented quarterback that Smith ever played with in the NFL. Smith’s experience as an NFL receiver was heavily tied to Cam and it’s no secret that Cam’s accuracy was an issue in the league that never got better:
The only two times in his entire career in which Cam posted an above-average completion percentage were in 2018 (when the team got Christian McCaffrey and Norv Turner designed an offense in which the RB got 42 more targets than any other player) and in 2020 when he played for Bill Belichick and the offense was again limited and designed for a short passing game.
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In neither season was Cam’s accuracy really “better” than the evaluations he had coming out of college in 2011.
Smith also didn’t directly reference Richardson when he made that statement…he just so happened to bring that up IMMEDIATELY after bringing up Anthony Richardson and he goes onto say a lot more:
“There are some things you’re just stuck in. They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Yes, you can. But there are some things they’re just not going to get and I think that’s one of them with quarterbacks. Accuracy. If you’re not accurate, it’s going to be tough to overcome as a quarterback. It generally just doesn’t happen. It hasn’t happened normally…I’m probably wrong. I’m also saying there’s a high probability you don’t gain accuracy if you’re that inaccurate coming out of college and that’s one of your bad attributes.”
Smith does talk directly about Richardson’s limitations in this quote:
“His feet, kinda sketchy. Doesn’t have quiet feet all the time. His athleticism is extremely attractive. But I’m also rigid on him because opening week he played University of Utah (Smith’s alma mater) and he balled. Then a couple of weeks later…He didn’t! I was like, ‘What’s going on?’ I think that has to do with he just hasn’t been a starter for a long time. I think with the right coaching staff and some patience he could develop into a pretty good quarterback. But he’s gotta have the right combination of patience with a QB coach, the offense, you gotta be able to patient.”
Smith gives examples of Danny Wuerffel and Tim Couch as star college QBs who didn’t translate to the NFL. “Couch, I believe they said he had 15-20 plays in college. That playbook expanded, his game did not. If you have shortcomings in college that are big shortcomings, they don’t get better in the pros.” Smith then brings up Tim Tebow, a third Florida quarterback alreadey being mentioned here, in addition to Richardson and Newton.
I’m not saying that Smith desperately wanted to say he was talking about Cam Newton because how could I make that assumption? But doesn’t it feel like that? If EVERYONE in the world is making that Richardson-to-Cam comparison, why wouldn’t Cam’s former number one receiver make that comparison?
Really the only element of Richardson as a prospect that doesn’t fit into the quote or the Cam box is that he’s 21, not 23. The theory that those two years make a difference in a prospect’s life is still only a theory, we can’t say for certain if it does matter or if it doesn’t. We also haven’t heard any Anthony Richardson believer or expert come out and directly tell us why some of his peers don’t have such concerning accuracy issues 3-4 years out of high school but he still “sky mailed” quite a few passes every game last season.
And finally, instead of being told these useless “general takes” that certain quarterback prospects (or prospects at any position) “just need more development time” to fix issues that are preventing them from playing in the NFL this year, when will we get more specific explanations of what QBs like Richardson were not doing for the past three years that will happen in the NFL? Did Bryce Young practice differently and more often? Did C.J. Stroud have better quarterback coaches in high school?
But to merely say, “This quarterback was only bad in college because he was inaccurate and with more time he will obviously become more accurate,” why is it obvious that it’s possible? Why is it obvious that it’s probable?
Yes, we saw Josh Allen’s accuracy improve dramatically—as did his supporting cast—from 2018 to 2019 to 2020. He’s also had a significantly below-average completion percentage in four of his five NFL seasons, including in the last two years.
The question on Richardson shouldn’t be, “How good of a quarterback will he be if his accuracy improves?” The question with almost any quarterback prospect should be, “How good of a quarterback will he be if his accuracy never improves?” The odds say that’s what’s more likely.
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I don't see why you couldn't get taller; just have your leg bones replaced with those of a very tall death row inmate.
Great article! The Panthers went to the SB with Newton. Allen should have! So plenty of precedence settinng up stage for Richardson to be drafted high and succeed.
I feel like Richardson may have the opposite problem of Newton. In the few videos I watched (JT Sullivan and etc), it seems like Richardson struggled with the intermediate but stood out with the deep balls. Again, I know very little about this subject.
I just know that I dont like his and R Wilson’s brand of football - up and down and not a rhythmic passer like Geno Smith who can access the entire field. Just a matter of taste.
Also, Hawks would have to overhaul the offensive coaching staff if they draft him. Thats a lot of the organizational upheaval.
Just hope that someone will trade up with us to get him. This draft looks absymal at the top.