Dynasty Dilemma: Desmond Ridder
The University of Cincinnati is slowly and subtly beginning to make a name for itself as a school that can consistently produce NFL-caliber football players. With names such as Brent Celek, Jason and Travis Kelce, and Connor Barwin in years past, to more recent draft picks like Sauce Gardner, Cobe Bryant, and Alec Pierce, the program is certainly trending in the right direction as a developer of on-field talent. They have just had 12 players selected in the last two drafts alone.
After completing their first full season of the post-Matt Ryan era with less than ideal play from the QB position, Atlanta Falcons’ fans now look to another former Cincinnati Bearcat with the hope that he can be the answer to their QB woes. Enter Desmond Ridder. Ridder took over for Marcus Mariota after the Falcons fell out of the playoff race, with mixed results. Despite that fact, the Falcons organization has already named him the 2023 starter and is seemingly doing everything they can to provide the support Ridder will need to develop into what they hope he can be, their next franchise QB. But will that be enough to get Ridder to where he needs to be? Let’s look at some of the pros and cons for rostering Desmond Ridder in the 2023 season and beyond.
REASONS TO BUY
The best QB in the game, without any help, can only take a team so far. It’s a story we’ve seen play out time and time again, from Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers’ final years with the Patriots and Packers respectively, to the development of some of today’s young, elite QBs like Josh Allen before Diggs and Jalen Hurts before AJ Brown. This clearly isn’t lost on the Falcons. The 2023 offense is, on paper, loaded with highly athletic playmakers that should help make Ridder’s life in the pocket a lot easier.
Step one to having a successful offense in the game of football is making sure you can run the football effectively. Luckily for Ridder, he has received the keys to one of the NFL’s best rushing attacks from last season. In 2022, Atlanta ranked 2nd in the league in rushing rate, behind only Chicago. What’s more, they finished 3rd in total team rushing yards with 2,214 and 4th in team yards per rush attempt with 4.4 per carry. This rushing attack should only be expected to improve in 2023 with the addition of the 8th overall pick Texas RB Bijan Robinson, one of the best RB prospects the league has seen since the likes of Saquon Barkley or Reggie Bush. He joins an RB group that includes the versatile and ever-dangerous Cordarrelle Patterson and Tyler Allgeier, who just posted a 1,000-yard season as a rookie. Atlanta also boasts what projects to be a top-10 offensive line for the coming season. All this adds up to the type of formidable run game that can take the weight off Ridder’s shoulders, set up some great play action passing opportunities, and ultimately move the ball downfield consistently.
Turning to the pass catchers now, it is hard to argue with the athleticism and explosiveness of Drake London, Kyle Pitts, and newly acquired TE Jonnu Smith. All three players can create serious mismatches in the passing game for opposing defenses attempting to combat Atlanta’s rushing attack. In Ridder’s only four starts of 2022, London saw his best four-game stretch of the season, averaging 9 targets and 83 yards per game over that span. Pitts missed Ridder’s four starts last season but has shown flashes of exactly what made him a former 4th overall pick. Jonnu Smith rejoins head coach Arthur Smith in Atlanta after two disappointing seasons in New England. In 2020, with Arthur Smith as his OC in Tennessee, Jonnu posted 8 TDs as one of the Titans’ best red zone threats, with a highlight reel full of contested catches and plenty of yards after the catch. With all things considered, this sure seems like a supporting cast that will help the Falcons get the most out of Desmond Ridder.
COACHING & SCHEME
While Arthur Smith has certainly had his fair share of criticism and head-scratching decisions, his ability to produce a functional offense at the NFL level is clear. From the Falcons’ superior rushing attack last year to his 2020 Titans team that ranked 4th in scoring offense and 2nd in total yardage, his play calling ability should be evident to those not turning a blind eye. What might be less evident, though, are the parallels between that top-5 2020 unit, and his 2023 offense in Atlanta. An elite RB1 in Derrick Henry and Bijan Robinson, a prototypical alpha WR in AJ Brown and Drake London, a reliable and athletic TE in Kyle Pitts and Jonnu Smith, and finally a game manager style QB in Ryan Tannehill and Desmond Ridder round out both units. The 2020 Titans offense utilized personnel packages with two or more TEs more than half of the time, and this is something I think we will see Smith revisit. This, in addition to some 2 RB sets which the Falcons should be incentivized to use given the talent at that position, should help give Ridder some extra protection in the pocket and some outlets to get the ball out of his hands quickly. For a QB who takes care of the ball well through the air but not as much when it is in his hands (0 INTs 3 fumbles in 4 starts), keeping him off his back and getting the ball to his playmakers quickly is crucial to him taking the next step.
REASONS TO SELL
Lack of College Competition
Since going into the NFL draft process, Ridder hasn’t exactly had a lot of hype. In fact, you might say he had the opposite of hype. While Ridder’s college tape speaks for itself, his opposing defenses’ does not. Playing in the AAC, Ridder and the Bearcats were able to run through a schedule of weaker opponents in a way that might be described as stat padding. Their first true test came against Alabama in the 2021 Cotton Bowl, and man was it ugly. Ridder and company were barely able to move the ball. They failed to find the end zone, went 2-12 on 3rd down (0-3 on 4th down), and totaled a meager 218 yards of total offense. That isn’t exactly a performance that inspires confidence in Ridder against an NFL-caliber defense, in what was the toughest test we’ve seen him face up to that point.
NFL Career So Far
Moving on to the NFL. This may seem like a strange point to highlight; as I mentioned Ridder has only started four NFL games so far in his career, a small sample size to be sure. Life in the NFL for Ridder so far hasn’t been all smooth sailing, though. He started the year unable to beat out a very uninspiring veteran in Marcus Mariota for the starting job. This led to a lot of speculation as to whether Ridder would actually be able to eventually succeed in the NFL. If you kept up with the Falcons last season, you would’ve watched Mariota turnover after Mariota turnover which gives merit to a lot of that speculation. “You mean to tell me he couldn’t beat out this guy?!” was a very valid point after watching Mariota struggle his way through the season. When Ridder did eventually take the reigns to the offense though, his play didn’t scream “we got our guy!” like Falcons’ fans would have hoped. While throwing 0 INTs is a plus, only throwing for 2 TDs in 4 games is definitely not. His metrics in those 4 games are below average, with poor analytics across the board in accuracy (63.5 True Comp pct and 74.8 catchable pass rate, 30th among qualifying QBs), efficiency (-3.8 EPA, 58th among qualifying QBs), and QB rushing (16 yards per game, 26th among qualifying QBs). In addition to this, he offset the positive of 0 INTs by putting the ball on the ground 3 times in those 4 games. While the sample size is extremely small, this is not the kind of start to a career anyone wants from their prospective franchise QB.
While the negatives surrounding Desmond Ridder inspire a lot of doubt, and understandably so, the positives are worth the risk in my opinion. The Falcons providing as much skill position help as possible, the offensive pass rate going up through Ridder’s four starts to end the season, the commitment to Ridder as the starter despite signing Taylor Heinicke, and Arthur Smith’s public comments about a “positionless offense” full of versatility imply the organization and coaching staff want to give Ridder every opportunity to succeed as the leader of this offense. If the very capable football minds in Atlanta want to seemingly endorse Ridder as their guy, who am I to think that I know better and shy away from that. And the best part is, Ridder can be bought for a huge value compared to his upside if everything works out. According to the Dynasty Pros Trade Calculator (check it out if you haven’t yet, it’s a great tool), the cost of acquisition on a potential long-term starter at QB is a 2024 early-to-mid 3rd, D’Onta Foreman, Michael Gallup, etc. These are all prices I would gladly pay to take a shot at an upside player that has the support of his coaching staff and is surrounded by all the help he can get. Look at it this way, would you pass up on a 23 year old QB with the potential for several top-15 seasons and the tools to help him do it just to keep a 3rd round pick or a player that is unlikely to crack your starting lineup? No, I didn’t think you would. I wouldn’t either. Buy Desmond Ridder before he hits his ceiling.
As a long time NFL and NCAAF fan, dynasty fantasy football just seemed like the fantasy format for me. Every conversation about fantasy football from start/sit decisions to trade debates to the upcoming rookie class got me more and more hooked, and eventually writing about dynasty has become a passion of mine. When I’m not writing articles to help your fantasy team or deep in trade negotiations of my own, you can find me with the headphones on working on audiobooks, hanging with my family and my dog, or at the felt deep in a game of poker.