Analyzing QB-WR Tandems From the 2023 NFL Draft: Anthony Richardson and Josh Downs the New Explosive Combo?

Bryce Young and Jonathan Mingo. Anthony Richardson and Josh Downs. How will these new QB-WR tandems from the 2023 NFL Draft materialize on the football field?

The 2023 NFL Draft changed the offensive outlook for countless NFL teams. Which new QB-WR tandems bring the most intrigue heading into the new year? Here’s a look at some of the most exciting duos to make their debut.

Analyzing Newly-Made QB-WR Tandems From the 2023 NFL Draft

Carolina Panthers: Bryce Young and Jonathan Mingo

The name of the game is RPOs and screens here. Bryce Young has an incredibly quick release and incredibly consistent situational ball placement on short throws, and Jonathan Mingo comes from an RPO-heavy offense where his RAC ability was one of his defining traits. Carolina will scheme him the ball on quick slants and designed screens.

Beyond those initial concepts, however, expect Mingo to also provide value with his vertical presence. At 6’2″, 226 pounds, he has elite explosiveness in the open field, and he also has the speed to stretch the seam and elongate the field, opening up windows for Young in the short and intermediate passing game. Mingo’s presence is just as important as his usage.

Houston Texans: C.J. Stroud and Tank Dell

Often, for young quarterbacks, it’s important to have a versatile receiving threat who can stress defenses out of the slot with his vertical speed, as well as separate in the short range and provide a safety valve over the middle of the field. Tank Dell profiles well as that kind of threat for C.J. Stroud, especially with Nico Collins and Robert Woods outside.

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The question is ultimately how many slot reps Dell will see with John Metchie III returning to the fold. But Stroud and Dell have already established a degree of chemistry, and Stroud can capitalize on Dell’s easy separation ability with his high-end natural accuracy and situational ball placement.

North Carolina Tar Heels wide receiver Josh Downs (11) catches a touchdown pass in the fourth quarter at Kenan Memorial Stadium.
Oct 29, 2022; Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels wide receiver Josh Downs (11) catches a touchdown pass in the fourth quarter at Kenan Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Indianapolis Colts: Anthony Richardson and Josh Downs

There are many exciting QB-WR tandems produced as a result of the 2023 NFL Draft, but this one is my favorite. Anthony Richardson is a rocket-armed signal-caller with effortless velocity, and Josh Downs is a dynamic slot WR who can put DBs on a string with his route running, as well as take short passes for RAC and extend beyond his frame.

That last part is the most important part for Richardson, who still needs to improve his accuracy. Downs had one of the highest contested-catch conversion rates in 2022, despite being only 5’9″, 171 pounds. Not only is he a dynamic threat in the short range, but he’s also able to adjust for high throws and haul in deep passes with steely coordination.

Veteran QBs With New Go-To Threats

Los Angeles Chargers: Justin Herbert and Quentin Johnston

The Los Angeles Chargers needed a new dynamic WR1 candidate, and they got it with Quentin Johnston. Johnston doesn’t quite have the elite speed that some coveted, but at 6’3″, 206 pounds, he’s a looming size threat with high-end RAC ability and the wingspan to hawk over undersized defensive backs.

Johnston’s dual-sided RAC and elevation ability will help Justin Herbert keep things moving, but don’t be surprised when Johnston displays a greater route-running arsenal in L.A. The TCU offense didn’t always advertise the full extent of his tools — a full release package, hip sink, and sharp decelerative capacity — but he can separate well for his size.

Baltimore Ravens: Lamar Jackson and Zay Flowers

This was the most important WR acquisition of the offseason for the Baltimore Ravens. Rashod Bateman is still in-house, but there remains uncertainty with him. And while Odell Beckham Jr. is a quality complementary threat, that’s where he maxes out at this stage of his career. Zay Flowers is the versatile, dynamic piece that completes this unit.

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Flowers has the explosiveness, speed, and energized athleticism to provide value both as a RAC threat in the short range and a coverage destroyer deep. His ability to manipulate blind spots and find open windows will be of benefit to Lamar Jackson, but Todd Monken may also scheme the ball into Flowers’ hands in other ways.

Minnesota Vikings: Kirk Cousins and Jordan Addison

Jordan Addison won’t necessarily be the new go-to threat in the Vikings’ offense as long as Justin Jefferson is still around. But the Vikings were in dire need of a complementary threat to Jefferson, and Jordan Addison fits especially well with the ways he can build around Jefferson’s game.

Addison is a little lighter than preferred, but he has one of the most diverse established route trees coming out of college. He’s explosive enough, fast enough, and can also be used underneath as a RAC threat — something that should help Kirk Cousins keep a rhythm in 2023.

Other Tandems To Watch

Seattle Seahawks: Geno Smith and Jaxon Smith-Njigba

Fantasy football players won’t like this pairing as much, as DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett may siphon many of Jaxon Smith-Njigba’s targets early on. But Smith-Njigba is a perfect fit for Seattle’s offense as a slot technician with plus RAC ability and conversion skills. Geno Smith was incredibly efficient in 2022, and Smith-Njigba only helps with that.

Green Bay Packers: Jordan Love and Jayden Reed

Being as young and inexperienced as he is, Jordan Love needs a receiver who can reliably separate and convert at the catch point. Jayden Reed performs both of those functions well, and he also has the vertical speed to stress defenses downfield, as well as serve as a RAC threat. His stylistic tendencies could earn him volume earlier rather than later.

Cleveland Browns: Deshaun Watson and Cedric Tillman

Don’t be surprised if Cedric Tillman soon becomes the Browns’ primary boundary threat opposite Amari Cooper.

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Tillman has a complete skill set at 6’3″, 215 pounds. He can separate independently and play on schedule for Deshaun Watson, but he also has the ability to convert on 50/50 balls when plays go off-script.

New York Giants: Daniel Jones and Jalin Hyatt

This will be an intriguing match to watch. Daniel Jones had a low average depth of target (ADOT) of 6.4 yards in 2022 and was one of the league’s least prolific when it came to generating passing plays of 20+ yards. Jalin Hyatt has the treacherous 60-yard speed to unlock Jones’ arm, and the Giants have the RAC threats underneath to complement him.

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