On more than one occasion in his rookie debut, Colts’ quarterback Anthony Richardson was noticeably hurt after getting tackled when he chose to run the football. Somehow, this topic has been largely glossed over in this week’s game coverage.
In the first quarter, after a 12-yard run, Richardson returned to the huddle limping. The good news? The drive led to a touchdown, capped off by a Richardson 2-yard run. But the Jaguars' defense noticed, and there is no way to know how much he was impacted by that initial injury for the rest of the game.
On the final drive, Richardson was trying to get the Colts back into the end zone for an opportunity to cut into the lead. He ran up the middle on consecutive plays and spent over a minute down on the field, getting attention from trainers before ultimately walking to the sideline and giving Gardner Minshew the final snap.
It is encouraging that Richardson did not land on the injury report this week, but there is no question that Colts fans noticed and likely started having flashbacks to Andrew Luck.
It has long been understood that Luck’s most significant struggle as a mobile quarterback was his desire to get every inch out of the play when he ran. He wasn’t particularly good at sliding and more often sought - or at least didn’t avoid - contact. Anthony Richardson needs to learn from Luck and make protecting himself a priority, especially at this point in his career, in the season, and at this stage in the Colts' rebuild.
Former head coach Chuck Pagano discussed Richardson and Luck in a recent interview on the Pat McAfee show and made it clear that more should have been done to protect Luck and that Richardson needs not to relive the same mistakes.
Former #Colts HC Chuck Pagano on Anthony Richardson:— Noah Compton (@nerlens_) September 14, 2023
“I didn’t do a good enough job with Andrew [Luck] early on… but he’s [AR] gotta learn to take care of himself. If nothing’s there, nothing’s there. You’re not disrespecting your teammates or the game. We need you healthy.” pic.twitter.com/h7KqMxFjb2
Fans will have to hope that the coaching staff can help instill into Richardson the instincts for self-preservation that never got through to Luck. Peyton Manning looked silly hundreds of times in his career by falling to the ground to avoid taking sacks, and he wasn’t immune to the impact of injuries, but long careers are more likely when the quarterback is taking fewer hits.
There is some good news for fans who are concerned that mobile quarterbacks are more likely to get hurt or have shorter careers. Dr. Edwin Porras analyzed injury history at the quarterback position back in 2021, and the findings were surprising.
While I’ll leave readers to visit Dr. Porras’ story to see the numerical breakdown, a few conclusions were drawn that would apply as it relates to projecting mobile quarterback injury rates and career lengths.
Dr. Porras can find no direct correlation between passer mobility and an increased likelihood of injury. He broke down his analysis by looking at where the injuries occurred - in the pocket or out, the type of quarterback - pocket or mobile, and the injury. The excerpt below is analyzing data from 2016-2019.
What matters even more than the amount of season ending injuries is the qualitative perspective - the “how?”. In that same time period, here is the list of players whose season came to an end taking a hit while in the pocket:
Tony Romo again
Alex Smith again
Here’s the list of players whose season ended due to contact while scrambling/evading the pocket:
Aaron Rodgers again
Tony Romo (Poor Tony…)
During the period, injuries happened more often in the pocket than outside, and those injured outside of the pocket often weren’t considered “mobile.” Most of them were more likely pocket passers leaving the pocket and getting hurt.
Dr. Porras responds to obvious objections where mobile quarterbacks have been injured by examining the nature of the injury, the specific attributes and history of a player, and the type of hits (or not) mobile players take.
There will be detractors to this philosophy who will list case studies like Robert Griffin III and Cam Newton. For the entire summary and misconception, read this. Otherwise, just know that Newton’s shoulder injury came while trying to make a tackle after an interception and the foot injury was non-contact on this play. As for RGIII, he already had a history of ACL tears and wonky (that’s the scientific term) motor patterns. His rushing style was reckless which is a threshold that is difficult to meet by my standards. As for the outlier of all outliers Lamar Jackson it’s reasonable to believe that the unprecedented exposures as a QB will lead to injury. Or is it? In 2019, L-Jax ran the ball 157 times not including kneels. Here’s how that breaks down on contact vs. no contact:
Tackled - 85
Ran out of bounds - 47
Slid - 15
“Shoe lace” tackled - 6
Untouched into the endzone - 4
In summary, a defender made contact with Lamar just 54% of the time. Even though athlete exposures do lead to greater risk, the quality of the hits matter as well. A sitting duck is more likely to end up in a cloud of feathers than a ball carrier bracing themselves for contact. The narrative that QB’s are somehow fragile is way off base anyway.
Before you check out the rest of the story, perhaps there will be some relief in knowing that plenty of mobile quarterbacks have had long NFL careers.
If you’re an NFL fan worried about your rushing QB’s career longevity, consider this list of the most mobile QBs in NFL history and their career length:
Randall Cunningham — 15 seasons (ACL injury in the pocket)
Michael Vick — 13 seasons (primarily non-contact injuries)
Steve Young — 15 seasons (final concussion in the pocket)
Kordell Stewart — 15 seasons
Donavan McNabb — 13 seasons (ankle fracture on a sack, ribs on a TD run)
John Elway — 16 seasons
Steve McNair — 14 seasons
So, it all comes back down to the quarterback protecting himself. Simply running the football or scrambling doesn’t mean a mobile quarterback is more likely to get hurt than a pocket passer, but there is no question that avoiding big hits or putting oneself in a position to take unnecessary hits will increase a player’s chances of getting hurt - whether they’re in the pocket or on the run.
Let’s hope Shane Steichen and his staff can develop these self-preservation instincts in Richardson, unlike Chuck Pagano and his staff with Andrew Luck.