Even before trading 36-year-old Matt Ryan to the Indianapolis Colts in March, the Atlanta Falcons had a quarterback problem. With Ryan’s time in Atlanta seemingly nearing the end and no clear succession plan in place, there were big questions surrounding the future of the position.
For a moment, it appeared Deshaun Watson would be the solution. However, when he was traded to the Cleveland Browns, it became glaringly obvious that Atlanta and Ryan simply couldn’t re-unite.
Deshaun Watson and Matt Ryan
While the trade of Ryan made the present a bit more uncertain, it essentially forced the team to commit to bringing in younger players. The Falcons acted quickly after moving Ryan, signing veteran free agent Marcus Mariota to start the season.
Mariota is largely viewed as a bridge quarterback, and his two-year contract certainly implies that the Falcons see him in that role, as well. So, the question remained: Who would general manager Terry Fontenot and coach Arthur Smith get behind as the next franchise quarterback?
Enter third-round pick Desmond Ridder.
With an impressive 44-6 record as the starter at Cincinnati, Ridder closed his college career as the third-winningest quarterback in NCAA history. And then there is the the kind of person and leader Ridder is.
His intangibles were arguably the best in his draft class, and his work in pre-draft meetings largely impressed teams. On the football field, Ridder is an athletic (4.49 40-yard dash), intelligent, strong-armed passer who has total control of the offense.
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The biggest knock on Ridder coming out of Cincinnati was his accuracy. While that’s difficult to substantially improve on, if he can reach a point where it’s manageable, he’ll be just fine.
Perhaps the biggest thing working in Ridder’s favor is his confidence. After getting the draft-day call from Fontenot, Ridder said, “They done f'ed up, I ain't even gonna lie. It shouldn't have taken this long." The 22-year-old rookie will enter the NFL with a chip on his shoulder and the work ethic to match it.
Because of his physical tools and intangibles, Ridder has the raw talent needed to become a starter in the league. His competitiveness and motivation will give him a fair shot of developing that talent into a legitimate player at the next level.
Whether or not he's the Falcons’ long-term answer at quarterback remains to be seen, but is clear Ridder will do everything humanly possible to reach his ceiling. With this talent and drive, it's easy to see why the Falcons took a chance, especially in the third round.
He appears to be a “face of the franchise” player. His on-field style is an ideal fit for what Smith wants to do offensively.
Now, it’s up to Ridder to prove that his post-pick assertions were true, and that the league really did make a mistake letting him slip.