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Inside Tori's Notebook: On Desmond Ridder, the juxtaposition between his 2022 path and Kenny Pickett's

Ridder and Pickett were on similar paths when their rookie years began. They have since diverged. Will the Falcons make a decision to run those paths parallel again? 

Inside Tori's Notebook is a weekly series where Tori re-opens her game notebook to look back at her notes, questions and observations from the Falcons most recent game. Tori breaks down her thoughts and gives her analysis on what happened, and why it's notable. Inside Tori's Notebook is sponsored by Microsoft Surface.


PENSIVE -- The juxtaposition of the paths of the first rookie quarterback taken in the 2022 NFL Draft and the second was not lost on me as the final minutes of the Falcons loss to the Steelers ticked by on Sunday evening.

Kenny Pickett, taken by the Pittsburgh Steelers with the 20th overall pick of this year's draft.

Desmond Ridder, taken by the Atlanta Falcons with the 74th overall pick of the year's draft.

Though Pickett was a first round selection and Ridder didn't come off the board until the third round, their early days as professional players were spent identically. Both were learning a new offense, signing their rookie deals, attending rookie minicamps, OTAs and - later - training camp. By September and the start of their first NFL regular season, both were named the backup quarterback for their teams. Pittsburgh would start the season with Mitchell Trubisky under center. Atlanta would give the reins of the offense to Marcus Mariota.


For a few weeks, Pickett and Ridder's paths followed parallel to one another. It wasn't until Week 4 of the season that their paths diverged.

Week 4 was the week Pickett made his NFL debut, coming in during the second half of the Steelers loss to the Jets. Trubisky was benched, and it was time to find out what Pittsburgh had in its first round draft pick. Pickett wasn't fantastic in the loss. He threw three interceptions. But there were flashes of what he could be. So, by early October, Pickett was officially named the starter moving forward.

Since then, Pickett has looked like a rookie quarterback. He's made rookie mistakes. All the while, though, you can see his maturation. There's still a ways to go for the former first round pick, but he's shown potential. As Forbes contributor DJ Siddiqi wrote at the end of November: "It may have taken some time, but Pittsburgh Steelers rookie Kenny Pickett is starting to show he's a franchise quarterback after all."

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett (8) runs with the ball against the Indianapolis Colts, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett (8) scrambles under pressure during an NFL football gameMonday, Nov. 28, 2022 in Indianapolis. (Todd Rosenberg via AP)

The Falcons - on the other hand - cannot say this about Ridder. They cannot in good faith say they know what they have in him as he has not commanded or controlled an NFL offense since the preseason. As Pickett worked his way to - some would say - franchise-worthy sparkle even in losses, Ridder has stayed in the background, running the scout team throughout Falcons practices.

Let's get one thing straight here, too: Listing all of this is not me knocking the Falcons decision-making. I have said from the moment Ridder joined Mariota in this quarterback room that 1) it made sense to start Mariota, who had not just league experience but experience in Arthur Smith's offense, early, and 2) there is a big difference in a first-round pick's rookie year trajectory for a quarterback than that of a third-round pick.

And while we're at it, think about this, as well: In Week 4, the Falcons were at a .500 record. They were coming off a win against the Browns, who at the time had one of the most productive offenses in the league. No, Mariota wasn't perfect through the first four games of the season, but he was doing enough. By Week 6, Mariota was the NFC Offensive Player of the Week because of his performance in the Falcons win over the 49ers.

At this time, the Falcons were riding a high. So, it made sense at the time that Ridder - and any discussion of him - went to the back burner as Pickett was just heating up.

Things have change, though, and the Falcons have lost four of their last five games. As we discussed after the loss on Sunday, Smith's comments about the quarterback position has changed, too. The back burner, where Ridder currently simmers, is heating up.

And after the loss on Sunday, I couldn't help but think that the juxtaposition of Pickett (and what the Steelers now know about him) and Ridder was too significant to overlook.

Do the Falcons deserve a chance to figure out what they have in Ridder? Have we reached that point?

My personal feeling is that if it doesn't happen now - with the Falcons heading into their bye week - it's not going to happen at all in 2022.

Smith said after the loss on Sunday that evaluations and potential changes were coming, and yes, that could include the quarterback position. In an ideal world, the Falcons will complete these evaluations during the bye week and make a public decision about the quarterback by next Monday, prior to the start of practices ahead of the Saints game. I - personally - would like to see Smith announce a decision (one way or another) during that Monday press conference.

Say publicly what the Falcons plan is at the quarterback position, and explain how and why the football staff came to that decision. If the decision is to start Ridder, say it and explain it. If the decision is to stick with Mariota, say it and explain it.

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder #4 warms up prior to the game against the Chicago Bears at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia on Sunday, November 20, 2022. (Photo by Kathryn Skeean/Atlanta Falcons)

The Falcons are at a fork in the road with the quarterback position right now. One path puts Ridder back in step with Pickett and the Falcons on track with the Steelers to figure out if the future of the quarterback position is already on their 2022 roster. The other path takes Ridder further away from Pickett. If the Falcons decide to start Mariota against the Saints in two weeks' time, it would be an indicator to me that Ridder is not ready.

Regardless, the Falcons have a decision to make.

As a reminder, I do not get paid to make that decision. All I can do it present you the facts as I see them. I can give you my opinion, too, which is what this entire notebook always is (don't forget that).

Again, the Falcons are at a fork in the road. In my opinion, the direction they choose to take will tell us a lot about what they think of the quarterbacks they have in Atlanta. Will that path lead Ridder back to being parallel with Pickett? Perhaps.

All I know is that the juxtaposition of Ridder and Pickett's paths in their rookie year was too interesting for me to overlook.


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