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Panthers head coach Frank Reich: Florida's Anthony Richardson has 'top-of-the draft' plays

The Carolina Panthers, owners of the first pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, have one more quarterback pro-day stop remaining among the passers they're considering drafting. And if their coach's comments about this final QB are any indication, Panthers fans might want to get to know him even better right now.

Florida's Anthony Richardson takes the stage at the Gators' pro day on Thursday, which NFL+ will have live coverage of, beginning at 11:30 a.m. ET. Richardson was a standout at the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine and again will get a chance to impress the Panthers and the NFL's other 31 teams down in Gainesville.

But if we can take Panthers head coach Frank Reich at face value, he's already been plenty impressed.

"He's an exciting player," Reich said Tuesday at the Annual League Meeting in Phoenix, via "Even before the combine, watching his tape, there are plays and throws all over the tape that scream top-of-the draft pick."

So are we witnessing a Cam Newton-like rise from Richardson? The similarities are nearly unavoidable.

Both are rare, elite, jumbo-sized athletes for the position. Each possess unusual arm talent and top-tier running ability. Both also will enter the NFL with small sample sizes -- 292 FBS pass attempts for Newton, 393 for Richardson.

Now both could be No. 1 overall picks of the Panthers. The difference is that Newton was the author of one of the greatest individual seasons in college football history. We can't say that for Richardson, even with a similar type of skill set.

Of course, this also could be a red herring by the Panthers. They haven't ruled out the idea of trading back down, even though they made the leap from the ninth overall pick to No. 1 less than a month ago. So it's possible the Panthers might feel they can drum up some trade interest by hyping up Richardson.

Then again, it's entirely possible that Reich is speaking candidly and simply is starting to condition Carolina fans for the idea that their top pick might be someone not named Bryce Young or C.J. Stroud.

Since the trade up, the prevailing wisdom has been that one of those more established passers was the most likely option. There's some sense to the idea. After all, would the team really make that costly a move if it didn't have at least one QB they were ready to select?

The Panthers have gallivanted around the country on their pro-day tour with a large traveling party, including owner David Tepper. In an era when some teams are cutting back on their postseason travel, the Panthers seem to be flaunting their interest in every single reasonable first-round QB prospect. It's hard to imagine that they're evaluating all four on even footing; there had to be a pecking order coming in.

But it's also entirely possible that the Panthers had a strong enough grade on Young or Stroud (or Kentucky's Will Levis) going into the pro-day process and that they have been buying time, knowing that they were fascinated by a prospect such as Richardson but needed to do more work to be convinced.

It certainly sounds like Reich is convinced of something with Richardson, even if coaches have been known to be cagey this time of year. But perhaps Richardson's potential really is that good, and Reich wasn't scared to let the cat out of the bag.

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