ATLANTA — We don’t know what will become of Desmond Ridder’s career. After all, the list of third-round picks turned franchise quarterbacks is brief. But if he isn’t the Falcons’ answer, it won’t be because he doesn’t “get it.”
Third-round quarterbacks aren’t expected to be the solution. Otherwise, they would go the first day. For every Russell Wilson, there are a bunch of Brodie Croyles and Mason Rudolphs. In fact, unearthing a Mike Glennon or Josh McCown can be considered a success. Two former Falcons backups, Matt Schaub and Chris Redman, were third-round choices. There’s nothing wrong with that level of career. Very, very few players hang around the NFL for a decade.
Ridder is aspiring to be an exception. He wants his name next to Wilson, not Rudolph or Glennon. This is a player who won 44 games in his college career. “Yeah, at Cincinnati.” Would you feel better if he were losing games on a worse team at Missouri?
The NFL cast doubt on Ridder when he fell out of the first round. This quarterback class was lamented for months, and the draft echoed that sentiment when only one, Kenny Pickett, went in the first round (No. 20). The Falcons then took Ridder at No. 74.
“At the end of the day, I was the second quarterback taken off the board,” Ridder said. “Obviously wanted to be the first one but kind of saw how this draft went. Saw that everyone was slipping, a lot of wide receivers taken, whatever it may have been. I’m just blessed to have this opportunity to be out here, play this game I love in a beautiful city, a beautiful place, beautiful facility. So, yes, I am going to take it and use it as (a) chip. But, no, it’s not something I’ll think about every single day.”
Ridder shouldn’t need any extra motivation. Striving to become the face of an entire operation should be enough to get him out of bed each morning. Apparently, it is. And he’s not quiet about it.
“I told Desmond, don’t be so loud in the morning,” said tight end John FitzPatrick, a Georgia Bulldog-turned-Falcon who was one of Ridder’s roommates at rookie minicamp last weekend. “He’s like jumping around the room. He said he’d work on it. … He just wakes up early, and he’s just loud. It’s like a bull in a china shop, I don’t know how to describe it.”
Shortly after FitzPatrick spoke, Ridder talked with reporters for the first time since rookie minicamp opened. There were a few highlights, but the overarching takeaway was his maturity. Ridder wasn’t a top recruit. He didn’t attend Alabama or LSU. He wasn’t a first-round pick. He’s never taken a snap in the NFL. One wouldn’t know any of that listening to him.
Ridder has perfected towing that fine line of confidence vs. arrogance. He believes his leadership style already has resonated with teammates. He said he has the playbook “down pretty good,” which makes him a resource for teammates on offense, one means of developing relationships with one another. Ridder understands the magnitude of the quarterback’s responsibilities. He seems to have a big-picture view, knowing that he plays a role in others’ growth.
“As a quarterback, that’s kind of your role, naturally, it’s time to be that leader,” Ridder said. “So to do that naturally without making it forced or making it too hard on other guys, I think that’s what comes easy for me.”
What stood out most to this writer: A reporter asked Ridder how he balances learning from veteran Marcus Mariota while also trying to take his job. Ridder, surely knowing a question of that ilk awaited him, didn’t hesitate in his response.
“Respect, I think that’s the biggest thing,” he said. “Coming out here, Marcus is a guy that’s played a lot of games in the NFL, had, obviously, a tremendous college career. You have to give respect where respect is due, and that’s one guy that I have to. So just being able to come out here and learn. But shoot, it’s obviously a competition or else we wouldn’t be here. And at the end of the day, it’s not up to us who makes that decision. It’s up to the coaches.
“So if we go out here, and we both put our best foot forward, and we leave it out of our hands — we’re working not only to better ourselves but to better each other in everything we do.”
Ridder’s perspective and demeanor have enabled him to surpass expectations his entire football life. In high school, he outdueled two seniors to start as a junior. In college, he took the starting job from a senior as a redshirt freshman, paving the way to 50 collegiate starts over four seasons. He went 44-6, losing only two games across his final two seasons — to Georgia and Alabama.
College wins over a longer sample size don’t translate to NFL success. Kellen Moore (50-3 college record) and Colt McCoy (45-8) weren’t franchise quarterbacks. Andy Dalton (42-7) quarterbacked some talented Bengals teams, but he never won a playoff game. Peyton Manning (39-6) is the college signal-caller with the most wins (using a larger sample) who had NFL success.
Yet that history, much like the track record of third-round quarterbacks, is irrelevant. What happens next is up to the individual.
The Falcons might make Ridder wait his turn. Mariota, familiar with coach Arthur Smith from their Tennessee days, is an ideal bridge quarterback. But the guess here is that Ridder unseats him quicker than some might expect. Not only because he’s done it everywhere he’s been but because of the NFL’s nature. If Mariota is starting, and the season begins in a rocky manner, history tells us patience is discarded. Ridder will get his chance.
Who knows how that will turn out? All we know is he’s spending every minute preparing for it. No one will declare Ridder the answer right now, but he seems to have the qualities necessary to outperform his draft status. That’s a good start.
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This story was originally published May 18, 2022 2:30 AM.