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Rookie Review: Desmond Ridder's trajectory in Atlanta unclear after rookie season

It was obvious that Ridder improved every time he took the field in 2022. But did he do enough to be named the starting quarterback in 2023? It's too soon to tell. 

Editor's Note: The Falcons Rookie Review is a series of stories that analyze the rookie seasons of members of the Falcons 2022 Draft class. We take a look back at their 2022 production, as well as a look ahead to what 2023 could hold for each individual. Up first is Desmond Ridder.


FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – When Terry Fontenot and Arthur Smith approached the table to begin their end-of-season joint press conference, the very first question asked of them was about Desmond Ridder.

The question: Did Ridder do enough in his four-game stint as the Falcons quarterback to be designated the starting quarterback in 2023?

The answer: It's too soon to tell.

"We're still early into the offseason but we are certainly encouraged by the progress that he's made," Smith said. "There is a lot of work ahead of us before we are ready to declare anything like that right now."


This was the correct response, too. It doesn't close the door on anything, which is exactly the position the Falcons want to be in. They have money – quite a bit of it, in fact – in salary cap space. Yes, they have a lot of needs outside of the quarterback situation, but if the Falcons find one whether via a trade, free agency or even the draft, they are not pigeon holding themselves to a comment made three days after the 2022 season ended.

So, what does this mean for Ridder? Well, depends on how you look at it.

The Falcons were always going to have to prioritize the quarterback position in 2023. Marcus Mariota's future with the team is murky at best. Logan Woodside was brought in as a security blanket in the final month of the season to be Ridder's backup. The only name of the three that you can actually count on to be in Atlanta beyond this offseason is Ridder. This means, though, that the Falcons have to fill the room around him.

How they do so (most notably with who they decide to bring in) will give us a solid answer to what they think of Ridder being the starter in 2023.

For the time being, though, we're left with questions about Ridder's trajectory in Atlanta. Will he be given the reigns of the offense from the get-go? Will he have to compete for the starting spot in training camp? Or will the Falcons drop a lot of money on a veteran quarterback, essentially playing their hand as to what direction they're heading in franchise quarterback discussion?

At this time, we just don't know, and all of these questions involve Ridder. So, with this in mind, let's analyze where 2022 left him.

A look back: Mariota started the first 13 games for the Falcons in 2022. After the Falcons Week 14 bye week, though, Smith made the move to start Ridder in the final four games of the season. It was a move that showed those on the outside that this coaching staff and front office wanted to evaluate what they had in Ridder after using the No. 74 overall pick on him in the 2022 NFL Draft.

Over the next four games, Ridder took a few steps in a positive direction. Ridder's final stat line after four games included a 63.48 completion percentage. He completed 73 passes on 115 attempts for a total of 708 passing yards. He ran for 64 total yards on 16 carries. Though Ridder had just as many lost fumbles as he had touchdown passes (2), he didn't throw a single interception during that four-game stretch of starts.

A specific stat that displays Ridder's growth lies in his quarterback rating, which nearly doubled from 59.3 in his first start in New Orleans to 108.2 in his fourth start at home against Tampa Bay. When considering his QBR average through those final four games of the 2022 season (94.4), Ridder ranked No. 8 among starting quarterbacks in league during that time.

What Ridder learned in 2022: Comfort in the pocket.

Ridder would be the first to say he was a bit too jittery in the pocket in that first start against the Saints in Week 15. In the days following the game, Ridder himself said that he 1) had more time in the pocket than he may have thought in the moment and 2) needed to give his receivers a bit more time to get to a certain point in their route progressions. Over the next three starts, it was evident that Ridder become more and more comfortable in what he was being asked to do and how he could execute the plan. By the time Ridder took the field in the second half of the Tampa Bay game, the happy feet were long gone.

When asked specifically what he felt like he learned most through four starts, Ridder said this: "Just be patient. Take what's there. Don't try to do too much. Don't try to force anything. You're going to have guys open. You're going to see guys. Just make it there."

And Smith? He said he'd argue that as the games went on, Ridder got better. It's not an argument, though. That improvement was obvious.

Areas for improvement: Something Smith has always said about Ridder from the moment Ridder joined the organization is that he likes what the young quarterback is made of. In training camp, Smith said from the neck up Ridder is lightyears ahead of where young quarterbacks usually are in their development at that point in time.

The intangibles have never been an issue for Ridder. Communication pre-snap? Solid. Leadership? He's got it. Poise? He's got that, too.

So, for areas of improvement? It has to do with all of the pieces coming together: The mental, physical and emotional. Ridder saw exponential growth in just four games in 2022 in all three areas. Continued growth is what Ridder needs to display. That growth should equal more production. Smith said last week he wants to see this offense become more explosive in 2023. Even though that's an offense-wide area of improvement, if Ridder is the starting quarterback, that explosion would run through him first.

In January 2023, the Atlanta Falcons kicked off the new year with the opening of a new studio space, Ticketmaster Studios, at their headquarters in Flowery Branch. The facility boasts professional studio spaces for broadcast, photo, and podcasts, plus control rooms, edit bays, and the newly-minted Jimmy Cribb Media Room. With this new facility, the Falcons have a ticket to endless creative possibilities for years to come.


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