FLOWERY BRANCH -- Former Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder, who was 44-6 as a starter and guided the Bearcats to the College Football Playoff last season, was selected by the Falcons in the third round (74th overall) of the NFL draft Friday.

“We stayed true to the integrity of the board,” Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot said.

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Ridder lasted until the third round because he’s considered a developmental prospect.

“We liked his skill set,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said. “We like his leadership qualities.”

Ridder led the Bearcats to the Peach Bowl against Georgia on Jan. 1, 2021. The Bulldogs needed a Jack Podlesny field goal from 53 yards out with three seconds left to beat the Bearcats 24-21.

The Bearcats posted a big win over Notre Dame last season their way to a meeting with Alabama in the Cotton Bowl in a CFP semifinal.

“He was very consistent,” Smith said.

The Falcons traded long-time quarterback Matt Ryan to the Colts for a third-round pick. Ridder and Marcus Mariota, who was signed to a modest two-year contract, and Feleipe Franks are the quarterbacks on the roster.

Ridder believes he’s a good fit for the Falcons’ offense.

“I think it’s something that I fit really well into,” Ridder said virtually Friday. “They had picked up Marcus Mariota, as a lot of people know, I compare myself to. I’m really excited to be there and get there with him. He was a great quarterback at the college level.”

By taking Ridder, the Falcons elected to pass on Liberty quarterback Malik Willis, who was selected 12 picks later by the Titans.

During Ridder’s prolific career at Cincinnati, he completed 810 of 1,304 passes (62.1%) for 10,239 yards, 87 touchdowns and only 28 interceptions. He finished with a passer rating of 145.8.

Ridder projected to go late in the first round or early in the second round.

“Sitting there obviously last night and not expecting where I was going to go, then obviously only seeing Kenny (Pickett) get picked up,” Ridder said. “Kind of had me, like we are going to go tomorrow. No early tomorrow, we get to the second round and we are waiting, waiting, and we don’t get anything.”

Ridder started texting Willis.

“I was like, ‘what’s going on?’” Ridder said. “‘They don’t like us or what?’ He was like, let’s just sit and wait, be patient. God is going to do his thing. But you know, it was just a lot. I’m blessed to be a Falcon. I’m excited to get down there and work.”

FRIDAY DRAFT PICKS

» Getting to know Penn State DE Arnold Ebiketie

» Getting to know Montana State LB Troy Andersen

» Getting to know Cincinnati QB Desmond Ridder

» Getting to know Western Kentucky DE DeAngelo Malone

Ridder played in the Senior Bowl, and that’s where he first meeting some of the Falcons. The Falcons went to Ridder’s Pro Day.

“Basically brought the whole staff with them and had a good about hour-and-half, two-hour meeting,” Ridder said. “Some of it was broken up into film and other parts of it was broken up into conversations. I think the interactions between the both of us and coach (Dave) Ragone and (Fontenot), they all went really well. I think we hit it off really well.”

Things went so well that the Falcons didn’t feel like they needed to invite Ridder in for one of their 30 private visits.

Former Penn State outside linebacker Arnold Ebiketie, who has the self-anointed nickname Dr. Pass Rush, and former Montana State linebacker Troy Andersen were selected by the Falcons in the second round.

With the third-round pick they picked up in the Ryan trade, the Falcons selected Western Kentucky defensive end DeAngelo Malone, who played at Cedar Grove High.

“We added four good football players,” Fontenot said. “We added size, speed, athleticism, toughness, makeup, football IQ. Everything we value, we added to this team in all three phases.”

The Falcons, who ranked last in the league with 18 sacks last season, traded up to land Ebiketie. The selection of Andersen will be controversial because the Falcons elected not to pick former Georgia linebacker Nakobe Dean, who won the Dick Butkus award as the nation’s top linebacker. Dean wasn’t selected until the 83rd pick (in the third round).

The Falcons gave up the 43rd and 114th picks to the Giants to pick 38th overall. Ebiketie, who is 6-foot-2 and 250 pounds, led Penn State with 18 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks and 62 tackles last season.

“Actually, I gave myself the nickname,” Ebiketie said. “A lot of people ask me why I call myself a doctor, I don’t know why. I believe I’m a doctor of pass rushing, and I’m going to stick with it for a little while.”

Ebiketie believes he fits in the Falcons’ 3-4 defensive alignment.

“I’d say my versatility, I’m someone who could do a little bit of everything,” Ebiketie said.

The Falcons moved to a 3-4 defense last season under defensive coordinator Dean Pees.

“As a twitchy, explosive athlete with outstanding first-step quickness and a non-stop motor,” wrote NFL.com draft analyst Bucky Brooks. “Ebiketie is a high-end developmental prospect with intriguing upside. The Penn State product is a boom-or-bust pick who could pay huge dividends.”

Ebiketie is a native of Cameroon and did not start playing football until his sophomore year in high school.

“Well, I’ve been an athlete my whole life,” Ebiketie said. “So for me, it was just a matter of doing what I’d been doing and just learning the game a little bit more.”

He was 12 when his family moved to Maryland. He played soccer and basketball before turning to football.

He started his career at Temple before transferring to Penn State.

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Andersen was an unanimous All-American and the Big Sky defensive player of the year and first-team All-Big Sky last season.

He played quarterback as a sophomore before moving to linebacker.

“I would love to be perfectly polished and refined,” Andersen said.

He grew on up a cattle ranch in Dillon, Montana, and vowed to work to refine his linebacker skills.

“Andersen is an explosive athlete with the size, length and strength to be effective as a run or pass defender,” Brooks wrote. “The Montana State standout displays the instincts and awareness to control the middle of the field as a designated playmaker in an aggressive scheme.”

In the second round of the NFL draft, the Falcons helped the league honor the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) as part of the league’s Salute to Service initiative.

The Gadsden family, lifelong Falcons fans from Fort Walton Beach, Fla., joined commissioner Roger Goodell on stage in the second round to help make the Falcons’ pick for Ebiketie.

The night of the pick, April 29, is the same date that 2nd Lt. Clifford Gadsden Jr. was killed in Iraq. Through the TAPS partnership the NFL seeks to offer care to people grieving the loss of a military loved one.

The family was honored by the Falcons during their annual TAPS weekend in 2017 and again in 2020.

The Falcons have three remaining picks on the final day of the draft. They have a pick in the fifth round (151st overall) and two in the sixth round (190th and 213th).

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