Jamal Anderson thinks one member of the Atlanta Falcons’ 2022 NFL draft class is already special. Anderson, whose rushing efforts powered the franchise to its first Super Bowl appearance following the 1998 season, has been won over by a rookie who is showing poise and talent beyond his years.
The Falcons had better hope Anderson is right because this first-year player can become the key figure in this rebuilding project. He has the potential to transform the offense and add stability at a position decimated by recent developments.
Super Bowl RB Loves What He’s Seen From Rookie
Anderson tweeted his appreciation for how good Desmond Ridder has looked this offseason:
The running back who gained a career-best 1,846 yards on the ground in ’98, praised Ridder after the quarterback played in his third-straight preseason game. Ridder didn’t waste his time on the field, throwing three touchdowns during positive showings against the Detroit Lions, New York Jets and Jacksonville Jaguars.
There were some erratic moments, like when Ridder hit on just 10 of 22 passes against the Lions. Or when he tossed a pair of interceptions against the Jags.
Overall though, this year’s third-round pick put up starter-level numbers, per PFF College:
It may have only been exhibition football, but Ridder showcased calmness under pressure, quick decision-making and the ability to spread the ball around. Those traits are positive enough to convince people he’ll be the Falcons’ QB1 sooner rather than later.
Buzz for Starting Ridder Already Building
Ridder proved he can deliver under pressure when he connected with Jared Bernhardt to beat the Lions:
Ridder went 10 of 13 against the Jets and protected the football. His accuracy was on point at times against Jacksonville, when Ridder completed 14 of 21 attempts.
Efficiency through the air is what the Falcons are trying to replace after trading Matt Ryan to the Indianapolis Colts this offseason. The franchise passing leader’s skills deteriorated somewhat in recent seasons, but Ryan was still better than most NFL starters.
Falcons head coach Arthur Smith is rolling the dice Marcus Mariota can take the post-Ryan reins early, but it’s a risk. Mariota played for Smith with the Tennessee Titans in 2019, but the dual-threat signal-caller ultimately lost his job to Ryan Tannehill and spent the last two seasons backing up Derek Carr for the Las Vegas Raiders.
Understandably, some believe Ridder will be given the keys to Atlanta’s offense as a rookie. Former Colts’ QB Dan Orlovsky is one of his biggest fans and applauded Ridder during an appearance on the Ross Tucker Football Podcast for his “maturity” and “ability to own the line of scrimmage.”
Orlovsky’s words echo a growing sentiment Ridder looks more like an experienced pro than a fallow, first-year player trying to find his way. Anderson sees the same thing and so does Smith, who credited Ridder with being “light years ahead from any other rookie quarterback.”
Making the right reads and accurately attacking voids in coverage will determine which quarterback makes the job his own after Ryan’s departure. Mariota gets the first chance and he has experience with the Smith playbook, along with enduring explosive athleticism, on his side.
For all his advantages, Mariota still looks like a stop-gap solution at football’s most important position. Ridder offers the excitement of the unknown and what could be, something the Falcons have lacked at quarterback since Ryan was selected third overall back in 2008.
The plan for Ridder might be to let him bide his time behind Mariota and steadily develop. Yet if Anderson and Orlovsky are right, Ridder is already ahead of schedule and that’s no bad thing for the Falcons.