Desmond Ridder isn’t wasting any time impressing teammates and onlookers connected to the Atlanta Falcons. The team’s third-round pick in the 2022 NFL draft, Ridder is expected to compete with Marcus Mariota for the starting quarterback job.
It’s a competition Ridder should win, at least according to one observer, who sees similarities with another third-round QB who took the NFL by storm as a rookie.
Fox 5 Atlanta’s Miles Garrett shared some highlights of Ridder’s work during the Falcons’ rookie minicamp and immediately compared the young signal-caller to Russell Wilson: “Getting wayyyyyy too ahead of myself but Ridder is giving me 2012 Russell Wilson vibes.”
It’s a lofty comparison, but surely exactly what the Falcons are hoping for from the player best placed to be Matt Ryan’s long-term successor.
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Ridder Already Making his Mark
Wilson entered the league as the 75th-overall player drafted, one pick after Ridder was taken a decade later, and soon won the starting job with the Seattle Seahawks. Wilson’s rookie season produced an 11-5 record, a postseason berth and a playoff win.
Ridder will find it tough to emulate Wilson’s spectacular rookie campaign, but the Falcons’ new passer is already making his mark. Specifically, Ridder won over his fellow rookies with his vocal authority during minicamp.
The Falcons’ top draft pick, wide receiver Drake London, was among those most impressed. London, who is expected to become the go-to target for Mariota or Ridder, took note of the latter’s no-nonsense, demanding approach, per Josh Kendall of The Athletic: “He pulled us over (after Friday’s practice) and was like, ‘We messed up a lot today.’ That’s part of being a rookie and Day 1, but he brought us over there and was like, ‘We’ve got to get this s–t together.’ Excuse my language, but that’s just the leader he is.”
Ridder and London will need to build a rapport if they are going to instantly transform a passing game that mustered just 218.4 yards per game last season. There were brief signs of a Ridder and London connection being forged at Flowery Branch:
London isn’t the only member of the Falcons pleased with Ridder’s willingness to let everybody on offense know how he feels. Head coach Arthur Smith feels the same way, per Kendall: “If he got here and was mute, I’d be a little concerned. I guess he passed Day 1.”
It’s another strong endorsement of a player expected to take the reins sooner rather than later.
Ridder Tipped to Start as a Rookie
More than a few analysts believe Ridder will see off Mariota and become the Falcons’ starter post-Ryan. The latter was traded to the Indianapolis Colts in March after 14 seasons under center in Atlanta.
Ryan’s exit has naturally left a void at football’s most important position. It’s a gap Mariota may struggle to fill after spending the last two seasons as backup for the Las Vegas Raiders.
Mariota played for Smith when the latter was offensive coordinator of the Tennessee Titans. Yet, Smith was still calling the plays when Mariota lost the starting job to Ryan Tannehill in 2019.
There’s a clear path to Ridder becoming a first-year starter, and it’s a route ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. believes he can take. Kiper “wouldn’t be surprised if he started a handful of games as a rookie and wrested the job away from Marcus Mariota.”
Ridder has other fans, including Pro Football Focus, with the analytics site rating his “real starting potential,” thanks to “the best processing of any of this year’s quarterbacks.”
While he can win the job ahead of schedule in Atlanta, Ridder won’t be surrounded the same level of talent Wilson found in Seattle. The Seahawks had a burgeoning defense ready to mature into the fearsome ‘Legion of Boom,’ while the offense relied on prolific power back Marshawn Lynch and experienced wideouts Golden Tate and Sidney Rice.
The Falcons are rebuilding at every position, so Ridder would have to grow alongside key teammates like London and second-year tight end Kyle Pitts. He’d also need a defense that allowed 459 points a year ago to pick up the slack and not force a rookie passer into a shootout every week.