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The NFL draft is just one week away, and while most prospects will be thrilled simply to be selected, the team who chooses them will have a significant impact on their future success. Landing in the right situation could be the impetus for a long and prosperous NFL career, while the opposite could set a path for an early exit out of the league. There are good situations for many of the draft’s high-profile prospects, and some that are not so good. Here are five of the most intriguing players in the draft, and the ideal landing spot for each.
Anthony Richardson (QB, Florida) — Indianapolis Colts
Richardson is a fascinating draft prospect. He wowed the football world at the NFL Combine with his size (6’4-245) and athleticism. Richardson looked like a linebacker playing quarterback while running the 40-yard dash in 4.43, registering a 40.5 inch vertical jump and broad jumping 10’9”. All ranked highest amongst quarterbacks who tested.
At the University of Florida, Richardson flashed skills commensurate to his physical gifts. He was an elusive runner with quick lateral movement. This made him a threat to either bowl defenders over or shake them out of their cleats. He displayed a cannon of an arm whose delivery was smooth and who could be efficient when in rhythm. When plays broke down and the pocket collapsed, Richardson was elusive yet composed, keeping his eyes downfield and making plays off-platform. Think college Cam Newton, but more developed as a passer.
The paragraph above would make Richardson the slam-dunk #1 pick in the draft if it didn’t come with caveats. But it does. Richardson is far from a finished product. He is just 21 years old, made only 14 starts at Florida and completed just 54% of his passes for his career. In five of his starts, he completed less than 50%, including a 9-27 performance against Florida State in his final college game.
The book on Richardson, then, is that while he is incredibly gifted and possesses a high ceiling, his floor is significantly lower than some of the draft’s more polished quarterbacks. This boom or bust potential means Richardson needs to land with a team who knows how to accentuate his strengths while developing his weaknesses. That team is the Indianapolis Colts.
Why the Colts? New head coach Shane Steichen was the offensive coordinator in Philadelphia the past two seasons, where he helped turn Jalen Hurts from a prospect with questions about whether he could become a legitimate NFL starter into the highest-paid player in football history. Steichen’s offense is heavy on pocket movement, RPOs and timing routes, which are all things Richardson does well. He will be able to lean on the running of Pro Bowl tailback Jonathan Taylor while helping Richardson develop the more nuanced aspects of his game. A Taylor/Richardson duo will make for one of the most imposing backfields in the league. And Indianapolis was respectable on defense last season, meaning Richardson shouldn’t have to win too many shoot-outs early on.
Richardson has a legitimate shot at landing in Indy, with the Colts picking fourth in Round 1 and the two QB-needy teams in front of them — Carolina and Houston — expected to take Bryce Young and C.J. Stroud. This is a pick that makes too much sense not to happen.
Darnell Washington (TE/Georgia) — Cincinnati Bengals
Washington is every bit the specimen at tight end that Richardson is at quarterback. At a massive 6’7-275, he is one of the most imposing players to man the position. Washington didn’t catch a ton of balls at Georgia, but that was in large part because the Bulldogs used a 12-personnel system that featured Brock Bowers as their primary receiving tight end. Washington demonstrated soft hands when he was thrown the football, and tackling him after the catch is a chore. As a blocker, his technique can be lazy at times, and he needs to play with better leverage. But when he squares up, he is a force who can relocate the edge of a defense.
Cincinnati is a perfect landing spot for Washington. The Bengals have an experienced line coach and run game coordinator in Frank Pollack who has done a great job bringing that unit along. They upgraded their line by signing Orlando Brown to a relatively cheap deal. Putting Washington next to Brown will be a problem for defenses in the run game. Cincinnati also lost tight end Hayden Hurst in free agency, so the need to add a top talent to the position group is there. Giving quarterback Joe Burrow a massive target like Washington to roam the middle of the field almost seems unfair when coupled with Cincy’s talent on the outside in Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd. If Washington makes it to the 28th pick , the Bengals should run his name to the podium.
Nolan Smith (Edge/Georgia) — Philadelphia Eagles
Smith is a 6’2-240 pound edge player who ran a 4.38 40-yard dash at the Combine and was mad because he ran too slow! It wasn’t long ago that 4.38s were reserved for elite receivers and defensive backs. Now, pass rushers are going sub-4.4. Speed kills, and in that sense, Smith is an assassin.
There are plenty of fast guys who don’t make it in the NFL, but Smith is unlikely to be one of them. He has a motor that matches his speed and was a highly productive player on college football’s most devastating defense the past two seasons. Smith is tough, and that toughness actually makes him a more accomplished run defender than pass rusher. Smith plays with great leverage and power and sets a hard edge no matter who’s blocking him. He can struggle at times to disengage from longer offensive tackles as a pass rusher, but with sub-4.4 speed, the right coaching staff will find a way to develop that aspect of his game.
An ideal landing spot for Smith is Philadelphia, where the Eagles have a need at edge. Philly currently lists journeyman Nicholas Morrow as the top weakside linebacker on their depth chart. Smith would immediately compete for reps there in their base 4-3 while sliding to the edge in their nickel package. Philly likes Georgia defenders — they drafted two of them last season in Jordan Davis and Nakobe Dean — and features a unit built on speed and power. Adding Smith would continue that trend.
Jack Campbell (LB/Iowa) — Pittsburgh Steelers
If nothing else, the name Jack Campbell resembles that of Jack Lambert too closely for the Steelers to ignore. But there are better reasons to pinpoint Pittsburgh as an ideal landing spot for the Iowa linebacker.
The Steelers have placed great emphasis this off-season on getting tougher and more physical at the linebacker position. They’ve replaced Myles Jack and Devin Bush — two players with better lateral movement than downhill aggression — with thumpers Cole Holcomb and Elandon Roberts. Pittsburgh plays so much sub-package defense these days that it feels their search for a do-it-all linebacker in the mold of Ryan Shazier is over. Now, they may be pivoting to solid run-stoppers while leaving the heavier lifting in coverage to their nickel defenders and box safeties.
Campbell fits this theme perfectly. His lateral movement is average, and though his pass coverage improved throughout his college career, he won’t shut down the league’s better tight ends. But at 6’5-250, Campbell is big and physical. He is violent at the point of attack and is a tackling machine. He is also smart. In addition to winning the Butkus Award as the nation’s best linebacker last season, he received the William V. Campbell award, otherwise known as the Academic Heisman. He was a team captain at Iowa and would likely assume the green dot in Pittsburgh as the quarterback of their linebacker corps.
Campbell would solidify the middle of the Steelers’ defense in a way they’ve lacked since the spinal injury that ended Shazier’s career in 2017. If the Steelers can get him at pick #49, he’d be a great addition to their defense.
Andrei Iosivas (WR/Princeton) — New England Patriots
It’s hard not to root for the small-school guys who have a shot to be drafted, and Iosivas is a great story. He is a Hawaii native who somehow went to Princeton — that’s right, Princeton, the Ivy League school in New Jersey — where he was a two-sport star in football and track. Iosivas was an All-American in the Heptathlon, which features a 60-metre sprint, a long jump, high jump, shot put, 60-metre hurdles, pole vault and 1,000-metre run. Grueling, to say the least.
Iosivas is not a novelty story, though. He’s a big receiver at 6’3-205 who ran an impressive 4.42/40 at the Combine after compiling 124 receptions for almost 2,000 yards in his Princeton career. His production and ability make him a legitimate draft prospect who should be taken on the third day, where smart teams can find quality sleepers.
New England is one such team, and Iosivas would be an intriguing talent for Bill Belichick. The Patriots have had a poor record of drafting wide receivers in recent years, but are in the process of remaking their receiving corps. They signed Juju Smith-Schuster to compliment Devante Parker but have little in the way of depth behind those two. Iosivas has been described as a player whose profile is comparable to Parker’s, and he could likely secure a role as Parker’s backup. Belichick likes smart players and hard workers, and Iosivas fits the bill in both regards.
This was the focus of “The Call Sheet” podcast, which can be heard in its entirety in the player below: