• A look back at 2022: After a shaky couple of games to start his NFL career, Ridder turned it around to close out the season, earning a 76.7 grade over his last two contests.
• Promising signs: One of the Cincinnati product's calling cards coming out of college was his smarts. He played with great anticipation and always seemed to know what the defense was throwing at him.
• Areas of improvement: It wasn't all roses for Ridder in his rookie season, as he struggled to get comfortable in his first two games, which showed with some of his decisions. He tended to make the easy plays hard.
Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
The NFL quarterback landscape has undergone a major transformation for 2023.
Tom Brady has finally — and permanently — walked into the sunset, Aaron Rodgers got his wish to play for the New York Jets and Derek Carr decided to sign with the New Orleans Saints. Jimmy Garoppolo moved across town to suit up for the Las Vegas Raiders. Baker Mayfield is competing for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' starting job. And then there is Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud and Anthony Richardson, who look set to start for their teams in their first year in the league.
With so much change, it's easy to forget about the players who will be hoping to build on their performances last year with the same team. And one of the most intriguing quarterbacks in that category is the Atlanta Falcons‘ second-year man, Desmond Ridder.
A look back at Ridder's 2022 season
Ridder was the second quarterback off the board in the 2022 NFL Draft, which in a “normal” quarterback class, would have meant that he had heard his name called on the first night. But nothing was normal about the 2022 class of signal-callers: Kenny Pickett was the only QB drafted in the first round, and Ridder wasn't selected until the 10th pick of the third round — 74th overall.
That basically summed up how the NFL felt about the 2022 class. There was no clear surefire quarterback as there was in years past, and each guy came with several question marks, which is why so many quarterbacks fell in the draft.
Ridder had to wait until Week 15 to get his first NFL start, and it was far from the perfect debut every rookie quarterback dreams of: He went 13-of-26 for 97 yards — that's just 3.7 yards per attempt — for no touchdowns and no interceptions, though he did record two turnover-worthy plays. He ended the game with a 43.4 PFF grade and looked nothing like the player who led the University of Cincinnati to their first-ever appearance in the College Football Playoff.
However, he turned it around for his final two starts, and the numbers show it. He bounced back, which is why the Falcons organization and its fans are excited about his future.
|PFF passing grade (rank)
|Adjusted completion percentage (rank)
What Ridder did well
One of the Cincinnati product's calling cards coming out of college was his smarts. He played with great anticipation and always seemed to know what the defense was throwing at him.
I like this play mostly because of the replay. You can watch him manipulate players with his eyes. He starts by holding the safety to his right, then works back across and freezes #23 before throwing it over his head and behind him with perfect accuracy pic.twitter.com/Yp0cvreWu7
— Nick Akridge (@PFF_NickAkridge) March 8, 2022
In his first year, we saw that anticipation slowly transfer to the NFL. In the play below, you can watch Ridder move off his first read to the left and work back-side to the dig route from Drake London. He threw this ball the second the defender turned his back, knowing he'd have no chance to recover.
In the next play, you can watch him quickly figure out what route will be open based solely on the coverage.
Here, the Buccaneers came out in a single-high look and rotated to a Tampa-2 coverage post-snap. But he quickly saw the middle-of-the-field safety rotate to a deep half position, flipped his head to the back-side, and identified the linebacker playing as the “Tampa” defender. He then fired a perfect ball down the seam once that linebacker turned his back.
My favorite part of Ridder's game coming out of college was his ability to work within and manipulate the pocket to give himself throwing lanes.
I think he is the best in the class at working within the pocket and playing on time.
For example: deep crossing route against cover 3, slight movement in the pocket gives himself room to make this throw with great anticipation and accuracy to protect his WR. pic.twitter.com/rilDBw10LH
— Nick Akridge (@PFF_NickAkridge) March 8, 2022
He seemed to master a skill that takes some NFL vets years to figure out. While it was shaky at the start, he clearly became more comfortable in an NFL pocket and started to deliver throws on time.
This is one of my favorite throws from this past season, as he knew exactly where the pressure would be coming from and knew that he needed to slowly drift to his left in order to get the throw out on time. He then fired a near-perfect ball 55 yards in the air, which fell incomplete only because of a great play by the defensive back.
Below is another example of him drifting away from pressure while keeping himself in a good position to throw. The Falcons quarterback threw this before London clears the zone defenders, knowing that their momentum is taking them the opposite way of the route.
What he needs to improve
It wasn't all roses for Ridder in his rookie season, as he struggled to get comfortable in his first two games, which showed with some of his decisions. Put simply, he tended to make the easy plays hard.
In the play below, the pre-snap motion paints a pretty clear picture of what coverage the Saints were playing. And with the defensive back following that motion, he should have known the route would not be open. But he threw it anyway, and he was a dropped interception away from a 95-yard pick-six.
The next play shows a similar problem. There was no need to force this throw into such a tight window — it was first down, and he could have easily just taken the two or three scramble yards given to him. Instead, he threw an interceptable ball that was ultimately called incomplete after review.
Ridder's biggest problem coming out of college was his accuracy. In his final college season, 24.2% of his throws were charted as uncatchable and inaccurate, the highest among the quarterbacks drafted in the 2022 class.
Those accuracy concerns carried over to his rookie season. Just as it was in college, his problem wasn't making the incorrect decision; it was about getting the ball where he wanted it to go.
In the play below, you can see that he knew exactly where to go with this ball after the play-action. It was a nice, quick decision that failed because the pass was so far behind the receiver.
Here is that same issue again: Hard play-action fake, eyes were up, and he knew exactly where he wanted to throw it. But another wildly inaccurate throw resulted in an incompletion.
Outlook for 2023
The Atlanta Falcons have built an entertaining and talented offense. Their top two pass-catchers, Kyle Pitts and Drake London, are former top-10 picks who have already graded above 80.0 at the NFL level.
In the backfield, they have Tyler Allgeier, who earned an 86.7 overall grade that ranked sixth at the position in 2022. And in the first round of the 2023 draft, they added Texas' Bijan Robinson, arguably the most talented running back prospect in recent memory.
Editor's note: The Falcons offensive line came in at No. 7 in our preseason rankings, while the running back room ranked No. 2. Click here to read more…
And then there is the offensive line, led by Chris Lindstrom, who earned the highest run-blocking grade in the NFL last season at 93.1 and allowed just nine pressures on the year.
All of that talent is why the Falcons can make some noise in a weak NFC South, but that doesn't happen without a consistent Desmond Ridder. As with most teams in the NFL, the quarterback play separates the effective offenses from the talented ones.
He's shown he can process at a high level, and he knows how to work within the pocket to give himself better throwing lanes. It all comes down to how consistently accurate he can be.
An accurate Desmond Ridder makes the Falcons offense a very dangerous outfit.