In high school, Todd led Davidson High School in Mobile, Alabama to the state championship in football. Individually, Todd owned the state shot-put record at the time. He then went on to play for Bear Bryant at the University of Alabama, where he was a three year starter at quarterback. During his time at Alabama, the Crimson Tide ran the wishbone offense. In his sophomore year, Todd shared the quarterback position with Gary Rutledge. In a game against Virginia Tech, which the Tide won 77-6, Todd was one of four backs who ran for over 100 yards. The 1973 season concluded in the Sugar Bowl, with a 24-23 loss to Notre Dame. In that game, Todd caught a 25-yard touchdown pass.
In 1974, injuries plagued Todd. The Tide went on to have a rematch with Notre Dame, this time in the Orange Bowl. Todd threw for Alabama's only touchdown in the fourth quarter and helped convert two points, but the Tide lost 13-11. In the Sugar Bowl at the end of the 1975 season, his college career ended in New Orleans against Penn State. Todd threw for over 200 yards, and led Alabama to its first bowl victory in eight years. Alabama never lost an SEC game while Richard Todd was the starting quarterback.
The New York Jets drafted Todd in the first round of the 1976 Draft. The intention was for Todd to replace another Alabama legend, Joe Namath. Todd stated that playing on the same team with Namath was "a dream come true." After the 1976 season Namath was released, and Todd, who was 23 years old, was named the starter.
In his first five seasons, he threw more interceptions than touchdowns and was booed by fans and the press. He is also known for an incident in which he shoved reporter Steve Serby into a locker after Serby supported backup quarterback Matt Robinson instead of him. In a 1980 game against the San Francisco 49ers in which the Jets were so far behind they were never really in it, Todd set an NFL record with 42 completions by continually throwing under a prevent zone defense. (The record would stand until Drew Bledsoe completed 45 passes in a single game during the 1994 season.) The Niners won the game 37-27; Todd finished the year with 30 interceptions as the Jets finished 4-12. Late in the 1980 season Todd's Jets hosted the winless New Orleans Saints; Todd completed only 10 of 27 passes and was intercepted twice as the Saints grabbed a 21-20 win, their only win of the 1980 season. That year, he set an NFL record for throwing an interception in 15 games in one season.
In 1981, he led the Walt Michaels coached Jets to their first winning record (10-5-1) since 1969, thanks in part to a defense nicknamed "New York Sack Exchange." In the AFC Wild Card Playoff game against the Buffalo Bills, he led a comeback after the team had fallen behind 24-0, but fell short as a late pass was intercepted near the Bills' end zone. The following year, he led the Jets back to the playoffs. New York defeated the defending AFC Champion Cincinnati Bengals 44-17, then the Los Angeles Raiders 17-14, and faced Miami in the AFC Championship Game. The game was played in the mud after the Dolphins did not cover the field during a rainstorm. Todd threw five interceptions in the game, and the Jets lost 14-0. His final year with New York saw a change at head coach. Walt Michaels was replaced with offensive coordinator Joe Walton. The result was a 7-9 season, and Todd was traded to the New Orleans Saints.
In New Orleans, Todd only played two seasons, as he replaced another aging, interception prone (and former Super Bowl winning) Alabama legend at quarterback, Kenny Stabler. His first year with the Saints was the worst year of his career, throwing 19 interceptions to just 11 touchdowns. 1985 saw the Saints go 5-11, which included changes in coaching and ownership, and Todd losing playing time to Louisiana native Bobby Hebert, who came from the USFL, where he won a championship with the Michigan Panthers.
Todd finished his career with 1,610 of 2,967 completions for 20,610 yards and 124 touchdowns, with 161 interceptions. He also rushed for 932 yards and 14 touchdowns.