For a long time, though, it looked like general manager Terry Fontenot and head coach Arthur Smith would overlook football’s most important position. They used three prominent picks on other positions, wide receiver, edge-rusher and inside linebacker.
It appeared as though Fontenot and Smith were content to trust Mariota with the post-Ryan reins this season. Things changed when the Falcons made their first selection in the third round, the 74th pick overall.
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That was the moment the Falcons finally added to their quarterback room. They chose a signal-caller with 43 wins as a starter, a QB confident enough to have already promised to deliver a Super Bowl to Atlanta.
Mariota’s Competition Makes Bold Promise
The dust had barely settled on the Falcons’ decision to take him off the board, but Desmond Ridder wasn’t shy about talking up his chances of winning a championship. He quickly promised a Super Bowl, per ABC WCPO 9’s Caleb Noe: “They’re going to get a Super Bowl out of me.”
That’s a bold statement. Especially since Ridder has joined a franchise that has been to the playoffs just once since losing Super Bowl LI to the New England Patriots in heartbreaking fashion, following the 2016 season.
The Falcons have been perpetually stuck in rebuild mode, exactly where they are now on the watch of Fontenot and Smith. Their first year at the helm yielded a 7-10 record in 2021 before bringing down the curtain on the Matt Ryan era.
Ryan was under center from 2008, but the Falcons sent him to the Colts for a third-round pick back in March. Mariota was quickly added as a stop-gap, probably on the strength of his experience working with Smith, who was his offensive coordinator with the Tennessee Titans in 2019.
There’s a certain amount of irony here because Ridder admitted he has traits in common with Mariota, per Josh Kendall of The Athletic:
It could be unfortunate timing for Mariota, who is no doubt hoping to revive his career with the Falcons. Drafted second overall by the Titans in 2015, Mariota eventually lost the the starting job to Ryan Tannehill four years later, before spending the last two seasons as backup with the Las Vegas Raiders.
Mariota seems to still have a lock on the starting job in Atlanta, at least for the moment, but there are ample reasons to think Ridder will take it from him sooner rather than later.
Ridder Has Strong Chance to Become Rookie Starter
For now, Smith sounds content to leave Mariota in pole position to become the Falcons’ QB1 this year, per Kendall:
If you’re looking for one obvious reason why that might change, it’s simple. Ridder is a winner.
He went 44-6 during four seasons as a starter at Cincinnati. Ridder stayed healthy and delivered results, priceless intangibles for a quarterback.
They are also some of the many qualities of Ridder’s game highlighted by The Athletic‘s Dane Brugler:
Brugler’s colleague Ted Nguyen thinks “Ridder has the smarts to start day 1.” Yet, not everybody is as enamored with Ridder’s traits.
Among his detractors, Chris Simms of NBC Sports is critical of Ridder’s “below-average throwing that needs major tweaks (motion, velocity, bad feet in the pocket).”
While technique can be corrected, Ridder’s knack for finding ways to win can’t be taught. He’s also joined an offense with some intriguing playmakers at the skill positions.
Tight end Kyle Pitts was dynamic and record-breaking as a rookie, while Cordarrelle Patterson can impact defenses on the ground and through the air. They should both have more freedom to work after Fontenot used the Falcons first-round pick this year to select USC wide receiver Drake London.
If Ridder backs up his confidence with the right performances this offseason, he’ll be the one throwing passes to fellow rookie London once the real action begins.