NFL Evaluators Reveal Potential Upside of Falcons QB Desmond Ridder

Desmond Ridder Falcons

Getty Atlanta Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder.

The Atlanta Falcons are riding with Ridder.

Desmond Ridder, chosen by the Falcons in the third round of the 2022 NFL draft, will make his first career start in Week 15 against the division rival New Orleans Saints, with the chance to keep Atlanta’s flickering NFC South hopes alive.

The former Cincinnati standout replaces Marcus Mariota — who is currently not with the team according to head coach Arthur Smith on December 13 — at the helm of a passing offense that ranks 31st in the NFL, averaging just 155.7 yards per game, and has been forced to make do without Pro Bowl tight end Kyle Pitts.

“Desmond is a solid but unspectacular quarterback,” a rival personnel executive told Heavy.

Atlanta enters Sunday with a 5-8 record, but with a very navigable path to the postseason, trailing the division-leading but fading Tampa Bay Buccaneers by just one game, and a remaining slate of contests against the Saints, Baltimore Ravens, Arizona Cardinals, and Buccaneers. Not exactly a gauntlet.

Ridder, 6-foot-3 and 207 pounds, completed 62.1%of his passes for 10,239 yards with 87 touchdowns to 28 interceptions across three seasons as the starter at Cincinnati.

Tony Racioppi worked with Ridder at the Manning passing camp, and believes he has the skill-set and intangibles to make his college production translate to NFL success.

Some inside the league believe while Ridder is a bit of an unknown whether he’ll succeed at the NFL level, his ceiling is lofty.

“He’s a tall and athletic thrower,” a long-time AFC evaluator told Heavy. “He made the plays you need to win college, but he’s not a consistent passer in terms of reads and ball location just yet.

“He’s a worthy developmental prospect because of his height, athletic ability, and arm. Plus, he has every character trait and intangible you look for. If Jalen Hurts can do what he’s done in this league, Desmond has a chance.”

Hurts has become a runaway favorite for the NFL MVP in his second season as the starter, leading the Eagles’ Corvette of an offense to a 12-1 start. Ridder won’t have the benefit of Hurts’ supporting cast, nor his offensive line — Mariota was sacked 28 times in 13 games. But, Ridder does have the soft landing spot of facing the Saints’ No. 27 ranked defense in his pro debut.

Ridder gets the benefit of making his debut coming off the additional time to prepare during Atlanta’s Week 14 bye. But, Smith may need to make some wholesale changes to help his young quarterback.

“They’re going to have to keep it simple,” an NFL offensive coach told Heavy. “If he’s going to have any chance.”

Much of the Falcons’ postseason hopes are tied to Ridder playing up to and surpassing expectations.

Matt Lombardo Column

Week 15 NFL Power Rankings

1. Philadelphia Eagles (12-1)

2. Cincinnati Bengals (9-4)

3. Kansas City Chiefs (10-3)

4. Buffalo Bills (10-3)

5. San Francisco 49ers (9-4)

6. Dallas Cowboys (10-3)

7. Baltimore Ravens (9-4)

8. Minnesota Vikings (10-3)

9. Miami Dolphins (9-3)

10. Los Angeles Chargers (7-6)

Quote of the Week: Tom Brady on Signing Ball Intercepted by 49ers’ Dre’ Greenlaw

“It was s*** for me, to be honest. It was complete s***. But I try to be a gentleman. No, actually, I mean, look, it was a great play he made. I’m happy he’s got the ball. I wish I didn’t throw it but I’m trying to be a good sport. Because a lot of times, I’m not a good sport. I can be a pretty bad sport. In the moment when they get me in the right frame of mind, I’m actually a good sport.”

Let’s be honest, this was elite trolling on Dre Greenlaw’s part, even if it wasn’t intended to be.

Cameras caught Greenlaw telling Brady, “You’re the greatest … I’ve been watching you since I was 2 years old, man,” so, obviously having Brady’s signature on the football he pulled down his first interception off Brady is going to be quite the souvenir. But, as Brady points out, putting pen to pigskin was a step out of character for the seven-time Super Bowl champion.

Brady is in the midst of the worst statistical game of his career, and Sunday’s 35-7 blowout loss to the San Francisco 49ers led by Mr. Irrelevant, Brock Purdy, had to be among the more humbling experiences of Brady’s career.

To someone as relentlessly competitive as Brady, capping the day signing a football he threw an interception on had to feel like dumping salt in a gash wound.

Final Thought: Jeff Saturday Getting Colts to Buy In

Jeff Saturday has made it clear that his goal is to be the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts beyond the team’s Week 18 finale against the Houston Texans.

Despite the results, limping to a 1-3 start since taking over for the deposed Frank Reich and limping into Indy’s bye, Saturday has accomplished one pretty significant thing. He’s gotten his players to buy in.

“Obviously we already have respect for him,” Colts linebacker and captain Zaire Franklin said on the December 13 episode of Heavy Sports’ The Matt Lombardo Show. “He’s obviously a Colts legend, and, I think just with that pedigree, I think you can really tell just how much he really cares about the team. And, how much he cares about the organization”

Saturday’s hire was met with a chorus of criticism, even in this space, for the unorthodox nature of Colts owner Jim Irsay overlooking an entire staff of experienced assistant coaches for someone who had never coached at any level. There has even been a belief that Saturday’s hiring was merely a placeholder for a potential Peyton Manning as general manager scenario to bring in his guy this offseason.

Franklin and his teammates blocked out the noise. Saturday garnered the Colts’ respect by how he carries himself throughout the building throughout the week, as much as on Sundays.

“Jeff, you know, so he’s a former offensive lineman,” Zaire pointed out. “So you know those guys, they like they got the stories … They like to push your limits, you know what I mean? He knows how to challenge you. He knows how to do little things to kind of get you rolling and get you fired up.

“I think that’s just (credit to the) type of guy he was when he was on a team obviously. Really just getting back to competing and just instilling that that factor to say, ‘We’re gonna compete every play. We’re gonna compete in every single scenario.'”

The Colts are going to need to be more competitive down the stretch for Saturday to get the opportunity he desires to be Indianapolis’ long-term answer, but he’s clearly winning over his players.

Heavy In The Trenches is a weekly Wednesday column by Heavy’s NFL insider Matt Lombardo, bringing you insight on the latest storylines and rumblings around the league. You can follow Matt on Twitter @MattLombardoNFL.

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