Desmond Ridder will be the starting quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons to start the 2023 NFL season. This a huge opportunity for him as he will get a chance to prove that he can be a quality starter in the NFL.
However, there’s no guarantee that he will be great right away because he is young and doesn’t have high expectations due to the fact he was a third-round draft pick. Let’s look back at his college career and break down whether or not Desmond Ridder has what it takes to become a franchise quarterback in the NFL.
Desmond Ridder’s journey from Cincinnati to the NFL
Desmond Ridder arrived on campus at Cincinnati in 2017 as a three-star dual-threat quarterback. He didn’t play right away because he redshirted as a true freshman. He became the Bearcats’ full-time starter in 2018, though, and he played well, completing 62.4% of his passes and throwing for 2,445 yards, 20 touchdowns, and just five interceptions.
He was fairly efficient as a passer, ranking 34th in both yards per pass attempt and passer rating. His efficiency as a passer wasn’t elite by any means, but it was pretty good, especially for a redshirt freshman.
Ridder was very productive as a runner, too, recording 149 carries for 583 yards and five touchdowns. He was one of the more productive rushing quarterbacks in college football, ranking 14th in total rushing yards.
His sophomore season was quite similar to his freshman season, as he threw for 2,164 yards, 18 touchdowns, and nine interceptions and ran for 650 yards and five touchdowns. The counting stats were not much different, but his efficiency as a passer was much lower as his completion percentage fell from 62.4% to 55.1%, and his yards per pass attempt fell from 7.9 to 6.7.
It seems that the reason why his efficiency dipped is that he attempted more deep passes. His average depth of target increased, and this increase in difficult pass attempts makes his drop in efficiency somewhat understandable. However, his efficiency was a lot lower than you would expect. Because of this, it’s hard to know exactly why his efficiency dropped the way that it did.
After an underwhelming 2019 season, Desmond Ridder bounced back and had a terrific campaign during his junior season, completing 66.2% of his passes and throwing for 2,296 yards, 19 touchdowns, and six interceptions while rushing for 592 yards and a ridiculous 12 touchdowns.
His efficiency as a passer and runner was excellent, as he ranked 27th in yards per pass attempt, 21st in passer rating, and 4th in yards per carry. This season, he had career-best marks in each metric.
What makes this really impressive is Ridder did this in just ten games. He played 13 games in both of his first two seasons, so the fact that he produced at a higher level in 2020 is incredible.
While Ridder’s 2019 season was great, he would outdo himself just one year later. In 2021, he popped off, completing 64.9% of his passes and throwing for 3,334 yards, 30 touchdowns, and eight interceptions. He threw 20 touchdowns just once through his first three seasons, but evidently, he decided that he would turn into Taylor Swift in 2021 and enter his passing touchdowns era.
A big reason why his passing yards and passing touchdowns increased is because he was much more of a pocket passer. As a senior, Ridder attempted 387 passes, the most in his collegiate career. He also ran for just 355 yards, the lowest mark of his college career.
Although Ridder attempted the most passes of his career as a redshirt senior, his passing efficiency was the best it had ever been, as he ranked 23rd in yards per pass attempt and 13th in passer rating.
When Ridder began using his arm more, he blossomed into one of the best quarterbacks in college football. During his first three seasons at Cincinnati, he never had a PFF grade of 80 or higher. That changed during his final season, as he had a PFF grade of 90.7, which ranked 15th in the nation.
Not only that, he led the Cincinnati Bearcats to a 13-1 record as they made the college football playoff for the first time. Unfortunately, they lost in the semifinals to the mighty Alabama Crimson Tide, but it was still a remarkable season not only for Ridder but also for Cincinnati’s entire program.
After a productive four seasons at Cincinnati, Desmond Ridder entered the 2022 NFL Draft, and he was drafted in the third round by the Atlanta Falcons. Ridder spent most of his rookie season on the bench backing up Marcus Mariota before being named the starter for the last four games.
Now that we’ve broken down his journey from Cincinnati to the NFL, let’s further discuss his individual skillset and what his ultimate ceiling is.
Desmond Ridder is a flawed prospect with high-level traits
Desmond Ridder had a fascinating college career. He was a productive dual-threat quarterback throughout his time at Cincinnati, but he didn’t become an elite quarterback until his senior year when he was 22 years old.
There’s no doubt that he was a good player every season of his collegiate career, including his redshirt freshman season when he was just 19 years old. However, the fact that he didn’t break out and become an elite quarterback until his fifth year out of high school raises questions regarding his level of talent.
This isn’t the end of the world, as we’ve seen quarterbacks who broke out later in their college careers go on to have success in the NFL, including Joe Burrow of the Cincinnati Bengals. There were other issues with Ridder’s profile, though, like his inability to throw the ball accurately.
Ridder’s accuracy rate was pretty similar throughout his college career, as he had an accuracy rate of around 73% for three of his four seasons. It dipped below 70% in 2019, but that appears to be an outlier. An accuracy rate of 73% is quite low for a quarterback prospect. Most top quarterback prospects consistently have an accuracy rate of over 75%, so Ridder was clearly sub-par in this area.
He also took a lot of sacks, sporting a career pressure-to-sack rate of 24.3%. During his junior and senior seasons, his pressure-to-sack rate rose above 25%, which is incredibly high. Avoiding sacks is a highly valuable skill for quarterbacks, and this was a consistent issue for Ridder in college.
Although he had some major issues as a prospect, there was a lot to like about his game. For starters, his physical tools are very good, as he is an elite athlete with above-average arm strength. At the 2022 NFL combine, he had elite testing numbers, recording a 36-inch vertical and a 4.52 forty-yard dash. Both of these marks are above the 95th percentile among all quarterbacks who have attended the NFL combine since 1982.
He also produced at a high level as a runner throughout his college career. Combine this with his elite athletic testing numbers, and you have a quarterback who could potentially be a great runner in the NFL someday.
His best quality as a passer was his ability to handle pressure. In 2020, he had a PFF grade under pressure of 42.1, which is very poor. However, his PFF grade under pressure rose to 67.1 in 2021. This may seem like a low number, but that is actually pretty good because all quarterbacks perform worse under pressure than when the pocket is clean. Ridder’s mark of 67.1 is similar to Bryce Young’s during his final season, and Young was great under pressure at Alabama.
Another great quality Ridder had was his ability to throw deep balls. During his senior season, he was an elite deep ball thrower, sporting a PFF passing grade of 96 on these throws. He also had zero turnover-worthy plays on deep ball attempts, which is insane.
Desmond Ridder has a wide range of outcomes in the NFL. His athleticism and rushing ability give him a very high floor in the right offense. If the Falcons weaponize his rushing ability, he could turn into a Daniel Jones-type quarterback who provides a lot of value as a rusher and decision-maker.
He also has serious upside because his arm strength is good, he can perform under pressure, and he is a very good deep ball thrower. If these skills translate, he could become a plus starter in the NFL.
His issues are pretty significant, though, as he struggles to throw the ball accurately and takes a ton of sacks. If he doesn’t improve upon this, he could be a below-average quarterback for his entire NFL career.
Thankfully, Desmond Ridder is in a great situation. The Atlanta Falcons have a great offensive line and a plethora of talented, young skill position players like Drake London, Kyle Pitts, and Bijan Robinson.
He also has a smart head coach in Arthur Smith, who has experience leading strong offenses, which he did as the offensive coordinator for the Tennessee Titans from 2019 to 2020. Situations are extremely important for quarterbacks, and Ridder is in a great place to develop into a quality starter. He may never reach his ceiling due to his problems as a passer, but he won’t fail because his situation is unfavorable.
The 2023 NFL season will be huge for Desmond Ridder and the Atlanta Falcons
The 2023 NFL season will be extremely important for both Desmond Ridder and the Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons were extremely active during the offseason, and they have made it abundantly clear that they are trying to compete right away. If their defense improves and their passing attack is more effective than it was last season, they could be a sneaky good team in the NFC. Their ceiling as a team will likely depend on how well Ridder performs.
For Desmond Ridder, this will be his best chance to prove that he is a starting-caliber quarterback in the NFL. If he plays well this season and impresses the Falcons’ coaching staff and front office, he will likely be their guy moving forward. If he struggles, the Falcons will probably look to make an upgrade, whether it be through the draft or a huge trade. Hopefully, he shines because this upcoming season could determine his future in the NFL.