FLOWERY BRANCH — I was all in favor of the Falcons drafting quarterback Desmond Ridder in the third round. He won a lot of games as a four-year starter at Cincinnati. Ridder’s main weakness, passing accuracy, can be improved. His plus athletic ability at the position is valuable. Ridder is a high-floor guy with room to grow.
I also think it’s best for Ridder and the Falcons if he doesn’t start as a rookie. The Falcons don’t have much talent on the roster. College prospects who were much more polished than Ridder struggled in similar circumstances. The best outcome for the Falcons is for Marcus Mariota to play well in 2022 while Ridder learns how to be a pro.
That’s the big-picture view. Right now, Ridder is getting into the details of playing QB in the NFL. The process started at rookie minicamp last week. It continues this week with voluntary OTAs. They “aren’t real practices,” coach Arthur Smith said Thursday, but they are part of the “teaching and development stage.”
No one has more to learn than Ridder. He’s a rookie playing what probably is the most difficult position in professional sports.
“There’s a lot,” Smith said. “Obviously, this is a new offense for him. Desmond is a very bright, young player, and he’s handling it. But what we are trying to do is catch all those (quarterbacks) up. ...
“You get those reps over and over again and (then) when it is live, and we can go compete (in pads), we feel like he’s further along in the playbook.”
It’s no surprise to hear that Ridder is learning fast. Every pre-draft report cited his maturity, confidence and intelligence as strengths. If Ridder doesn’t make it as an NFL quarterback, it likely won’t be because he doesn’t get it or work at it. That’s another reason to like the pick for the Falcons.
Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com
Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com
Ridder helped Cincinnati become the first Group of 5 team to make the College Football Playoff. A few months later Ridder was at Flowery Branch leading his fellow rookies.
“Desmond is what we thought he was going to be,” Falcons quarterbacks coach Charles London said. “He’s got great leadership. He came here for the (rookie camp), and it’s hard. He’s got players who are undrafted free agents, street free agents that have never been together before, and I think he did a really good job of rallying the group.
“He’s got a long way to go, but he gets a little bit better each day.”
Maybe Ridder is good enough by September that Smith decides he gives the Falcons a better chance to win than Mariota. I doubt that happens. Mariota is an eighth-year pro with a playoff victory on his resume. London said Mariota also has a “head start” because he played seven games with the Titans in 2019 with Smith as offensive coordinator.
My belief that it’s better for Ridder’s development to sit as a rookie is informed by the history of these things. It’s rare for a rookie quarterback to join a bad team and make it better. It’s much more common for them to struggle. Sending Ridder out to play QB for this Falcons team risks setting back his development.
Perhaps you believe it’s better for Ridder to play because the Falcons are going nowhere, anyway. Let him learn on the job while they lose. But think of all the rookie QBs who struggled with bad teams and then never fulfilled their promise. Also consider how playing a QB who isn’t ready would hurt Smith’s credibility with his veteran players.
There are so many variables with quarterback development that it can be difficult to compare outcomes. But it’s a fact that the best quarterbacks drafted over the last decade all joined teams with talented rosters and recent success.
The Seahawks had a great defense when they selected Russell Wilson in the third round of the 2012 draft. Dak Prescott, a fourth-round pick for Dallas in 2016, always has played with an effective offensive line and good skill players. The Chiefs won 12 games the season before they drafted Patrick Mahomes. Josh Allen (Bills), Lamar Jackson (Ravens) and Deshaun Watson (Texans) all were drafted by winning teams.
Five quarterbacks were selected in the first round of last year’s draft. Three of them had the misfortune of going to losing teams with dysfunctional leadership: Trevor Lawrence (Jaguars), Zach Wilson (Jets) and Justin Fields (Bears). Mac Jones, the No. 15 overall pick by New England, was lucky to join one of the NFL’s best organizations. He was runner-up for NFL rookie of the year.
We don’t yet know what kind of program Ridder is joining with the Falcons. Smith is in Year 2 as a head coach. Year 1 featured a lot of off-field drama and a talent-depleted roster. The roster turnover for this season includes quarterback Matt Ryan getting traded to the Colts.
We do know that Smith helped quarterback Ryan Tannehill revive his career in Tennessee. Falcons offensive coordinator Dave Ragone tutored Mitchell Trubisky as QB coach in Chicago. The Bears let Trubisky walk after he had three bad seasons out of four. Smith, Ragone and London are charged with helping Ridder become the long-term answer for the Falcons at quarterback.
It appears Ridder will have a good working relationship with Mariota. Mariota essentially is playing on a one-year contract. He’s still just 28 years old. Mariota is trying to prove he’s still a starting-caliber quarterback in the NFL, and Ridder is his main competition. Mentoring the rookie is “not his job,” London said of Mariota, “but he’s done it.”
Said Smith: “He’s a good teammate. You’ve got to have the right people in that (meeting) room so it’s not toxic.”
Ridder won’t be under pressure to carry the Falcons as a rookie. Some all-time great quarterbacks learned as backups before getting their chance.
Mahomes waited his turn behind Alex Smith. Tom Brady sat for a year behind Drew Bledsoe. Aaron Rodgers was Brett Favre’s backup for three seasons in Green Bay. Drew Brees stayed on the bench as a rookie for the Chargers even as Doug Flutie struggled during the twilight of his career.
I think Ridder has the potential to be very good starter for the Falcons. I just think it’s best for him, and the Falcons, if he gets his chance after next season.