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Ridder vs. Mariota: Good Problem for Falcons?

Marcus Mariota is the projected starter, but a rebuilding Atlanta team wouldn't hurt from throwing rookie Desmond Ridder into the fire.

Rookie quarterback Desmond Ridder could bring a new element of excitement to the Atlanta Falcons this season, even if the starting job isn't his just yet. 

Marcus Mariota, who enters his eighth year in the league, is the more experienced signal-caller and projected to be the starter in Week 1. But the gap between him and the 22-year-old isn't substantial. 

Both were stars in college. Mariota won a Heisman in 2014 and led the Oregon Ducks to an appearance in the inaugural College Football Playoff the following season. Ridder, who compiled an impressive 44-7 record at Cincinnati and helped the Bearcats become the first non-Power 5 program to reach the Playoff, staked his claim as one of the most successful collegiate quarterbacks of the past decade. 

The two quarterbacks have similar, dual-threat skillsets, though it remains to be seen how Ridder will fare against NFL competition. His first competition, however, isn't a defense at all, but against Mariota. Pro Football Network recently released its backup quarterback rankings for all 32 teams and has Ridder at No. 25, but admits that Mariota's spot is far from secure. 

Of all the players on this list, Ridder might have the best shot at replacing the guy in front of him ahead of Week 1. Marcus Mariota threw one pass last season, and he is being propped up as the Falcons’ likely starter. Ridder was a program-changer at Cincinnati, and his maturity and football IQ could push him ahead of Mariota in a fair competition. That said, the third-round pick is a projection as well.

Ridder is one of two rookies on this list, as his low ranking is justified when looking at some of the Super Bowl-winning and experienced veterans that reign at the top. 

But PFN's logic for Ridder's low spot on this list is puzzling, considering the fact that the ranking description says he could "push ahead" of Mariota. If that's the case, Ridder's potential as a borderline-starter should prop him near the top of list without question since most of the other 32 backup quarterbacks won't sniff a shot at starting, barring something unforeseen from the QB1. 

Regardless, this competition between two similarly-skilled quarterbacks is a good problem to have for the Falcons and coach Arthur Smith. There's multiple options to choose from in a season where the winning expectations are low. 

Plus, the playbook can be opened up as well. The Las Vegas Raiders often used Mariota in random wildcat formations last season, something the Falcons could incorporate with both signal-callers at the same time given their mobility. The defense won't know which to focus on. 

And if Mariota has to sit due to injury at some point, the idea of pushing Ridder into the spotlight is good for the direction of the franchise. Even if he struggles, the rookie will be getting the positive development necessary that could help someday turn him into the franchise quarterback.