Myles Garrett was “built in a lab.” Anthony Richardson is the closest thing we’ve seen to Garrett at quarterback. The question is if you could build the perfect player for their position from scratch, what would they look like? Joe Milton III makes the case for being a player that abuts that Create-a-Player mold. But quarterbacking is a skill game. Does Milton have that side?
Is Joe Milton III an NFL Player?
The short answer is no.
Josh Heupel’s offense already makes the evaluation process difficult. The structure and concepts he runs at Tennessee are a far cry from NFL structures. In Tennessee’s offense, the answers are on the back of the test, and nothing is keeping you from flipping the page over and cheating.
The offense maximizes the use of space to create throwing lanes that won’t exist at the next level. It allows the quarterback to lock onto the first read in the progression for ages as they uncover in the intermediate areas of the field.
Hendon Hooker operated this offense like it was second nature. He threw with anticipation, consistently made the right decision, and operated like a pro within the pocket as a passer. Even with Heupel’s funky painting, it was easy to tell he had an NFL skill set. Milton does not.
There is a massive difference between being a quarterback and being a combination of a great athlete and a functional passer. Arkansas QB KJ Jefferson comes to mind there, and who could forget about Buffalo legend Tyree Jackson? Jefferson has completed 65% or more of his passes in each of the past three seasons, is a massive 6’3″, 240 pounds, and happens to be a great athlete.
But quarterbacking is a skill, not an athletic profile. Milton hasn’t shown the requisite skill set that would make a passer successful at the next level.
What Makes Milton and Anthony Richardson So Different?
Anthony Richardson measured 6’4 2/8″, 244 pounds, and ran a 4.43 40-yard dash, and he jumped better than any quarterback in NFL Combine history.
Milton is listed at 6’5″, 235 pounds, and he can absolutely scoot when given a runway. Milton doesn’t have Richardson’s 0-60 acceleration, but he has great long speed. And for as unbelievable as Richardson’s arm is, Milton might have even more in the tank.
So how did Richardson command top-five draft capital while Milton is probably a seventh-round dart throw at best? Richardson had accuracy concerns too, after all.
Age is one factor, but it is likely the most minor in differentiating the two players. Richardson was very young — Milton is over two years older than him.
It’s important to note that Milton has been usurped by the likes of Cade McNamara at Michigan and then Hooker at Tennessee. Although Hooker is an NFL player, he’s not a blue-chip talent. It took Milton six years to secure a starting role in college, and he only got the job because Hooker went to the NFL.
However, the most significant differences are easily observable on-field tasks. Richardson had some inconsistent lower-body mechanics that led to off-target passes, which is something that continued as a rookie before he lost his season to an injury. Milton is scattershot to the intermediate levels of the field in clean pockets with his sequencing in check. He possesses general inaccuracies, which almost never fix themselves.
Richarson was also a much different runner. Despite his 240-pound frame, he was incredibly agile, creative, and powerful as a runner. Milton is big and powerful, but he’s not nearly as creative or dangerous on the hoof.
But the biggest difference comes on the operational side of things. Richardson displayed a high-level processing ability in his first year as a collegiate starter and an innate ability to make micro-adjustments against pressure to create throwing hallways as pressure bore down on him. If he’d consistently shown that, he would have been the top pick.
Milton is a see-it, throw-it, and touchdown-to-checkdown passer. Heupel’s offense gets the ball out of his hands immediately or looks to attack streaking wide receivers downfield. Milton has shown he can throw moonballs into a bucket 65 yards downfield, but that’s the distinction between passing and quarterbacking.
Joe Milton is a Dude Perfect ass QB
— JP Acosta (@acosta32_jp) November 11, 2023
We’ve spent hundreds of words here describing what JP Acosta so succinctly describes. Milton is the definition of flash over substance.
According to the NFL Mock Draft Database, Milton peaked at No. 13 on the charts on Aug. 1, during the summer scouting process where amateurs get to ogle over height/weight/speed anomalies while ignoring their significant flaws in the hopes that they magically turn the corner in a single season.
It doesn’t help that X (formerly Twitter) accounts like NFL Rookie Watch got 1.8 million impressions on erroneous reports that multiple NFL scouts believed Milton was the next Richardson. Do yourself a favor and follow real people with real accounts and real knowledge about the game instead of aggregator accounts.
By Sept. 11, he was bordering the top 100. By the end of October, he was near 200.
Milton is clearly not an NFL starter, nor could he survive in a backup role any time soon. It would likely take years of development to realize whatever operational potential he has. Considering he’s in his sixth college season already, that development is less likely.
There’s no hurt in spending a seventh-round pick on him or making him an undrafted free agent. His physical profile alone makes him tantalizing. But developing in the shadows isn’t something we should count on. It would be more surprising to see him ever take a live NFL snap than not based on what we’ve seen from him as a college player.
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