You've already read about how the Falcons decided on Drake London with the No. 8 overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. But what about the rest of the draft class? How did the Falcons find them? How did they land on them? Through conversations with area scouts and position coaches, those stories unfold. Every Tuesday for the next seven weeks (Wednesday this week because of the Memorial Day holiday), we'll attempt to tell those stories for every 2022 draft pick by the Falcons.
Arnold Ebiketie and Troy Andersen's stories were already told last month. To begin the month of June, we zero in on one of the most intriguing storylines of the 2022 Atlanta Falcons: What does a post-Matt Ryan era look like in Atlanta? How does Desmond Ridder fit into that story? Before we answer that question, though, we must first answer another: How did the Falcons decide on Ridder in the 2022 NFL Draft?
By Tori McElhaney
Terry Fontenot asked a simple question to Desmond Ridder when the former Cincinnati quarterback answered his cell phone: "How're you doing?"
It's a simple enough question, one anyone and everyone asks when they pick up their phone. However, it was a normal question for a not-so-normal moment as Ridder answered said call surrounded by friends and family on the second night of the 2022 NFL Draft.
Fontenot was calling to tell Ridder the Falcons were taking him with the No. 74 overall pick. After Kenny Pickett was taken in the first round by Pittsburgh, Ridder was the next quarterback off the board. He was heading to Atlanta. So, even though Ridder's answer to Fontenot's simple question was a just-as-simple, "I'm doing well," his voice shook, heavy with the emotion of the moment.
"It shouldn't have took this long, Coach," Ridder said with his new general manager on the other line. "They done (expletive) up."
It's a clip many saw in the coming days and weeks after Ridder was drafted. It was the first look many got of the newest quarterback to come to Atlanta in the post-Matt Ryan era, the Falcons having signed Marcus Mariota the day after trading Ryan to Indianapolis. And even though it's the first glimpse Falcons fans may have gotten of Ridder, perhaps it's the best way to ultimately describe Ridder himself, as a player and person. It was an introduction that showed just who Ridder is, how he views himself, and maybe even what drew the Falcons to him in the first place.
The Falcons like players who have a chip on their shoulder, something to prove to themselves, or even to the league at large. Ridder is that type of player.
"This kid has a big chip on his shoulder and a lot to prove," Falcons assistant director of college scouting Dwaune Jones said.
Jones has been keeping a watchful eye on Ridder for the last two years. With Ridder's accolades at Cincinnati longer than a CVS receipt it's not difficult to see why Ridder caught his eye. But catching an eye and keeping it are two different sentiments.
"There's a lot of work that went into Desmond Ridder," Jones said.
It's work that started for the Falcons as they pulled up the film and began looking over said stats and accolades. Through four years at Cincinnati Ridder threw for over 10,000 yards and scored a total of 115 touchdowns (87 via the pass, 28 via the run). He was the AAC Rookie of the Year in his first season under center, and was a two-time AAC Offensive Player of the Year in his final two college seasons. Ridder captained a Bearcats team that was the first non-Power 5 program to reach the College Football Playoffs. He finished his career with 43 wins as a starter. More so, he never lost a game at home.
"Winning is contagious and Desmond Ridder's a winner," Jones said. "It permeates the whole building because he's a guy who's going to have command of the entire locker room. He's going to demand respect as well. A guy like that, he's going to do his absolutely best to hit his ceiling."
As the evaluation process continued, the Falcons wanted to know more about that ceiling, and they did so by traveling a rather large group to Cincinnati's pro day. Everyone was there, Jones said. The "whole scouting staff was there, the whole front office." By Jim Nagy's count, the Falcons representatives in attendance totaled 12. That number included Falcons quarterback coach Charles London.
Thinking back to that day, London said he wasn't surprised by what he saw in Ridder.
"It was the same thing you saw on tape: a very athletic player, good arm, good anticipation," London listed. "A lot of the stuff we had seen on film his pro day confirmed it."
It was what London said next, however, that the Falcons really valued.
"He's a leader, though. You can tell that," London continued. "You can tell when he's around his teammates that he's a leader... You can tell he's a guy who wants to compete."
After the workout, Ridder met with the Falcons. He went through a film session with the group. To say it was a promising meeting is probably putting it too lightly.
"We fell in love with the kid," Jones said. "It was a guy where we walked away (from him) impressed."
The Falcons knew at some point they had to add to the quarterback room. It couldn't just be Mariota and former undrafted free agent Feleipe Franks at the position. London said that based on "the way things fell" for the Falcons in the third round of the draft, they "were really fortunate to land Desmond" at No. 74.
Fast forward a few weeks after the draft had concluded, and the fortunate feelings didn't really subside. Ridder took control of rookie minicamp in May, with his fellow rookie class members giving him high praise, sometimes unsolicited.
John FitzPatrick called Ridder a leader. Tyler Allgeier said the quarterback is a genius in the playbook. Drake London said he's someone players gravitate towards, someone guys want to be around, someone he wants to be around. Charles London said what Ridder did during rookie minicamp was noteworthy.
"He came in here during rookie camp, and it's hard, he's got players who are undrafted free agents and street free agents who have never been together before," London said. "I thought he did a really good job of rallying the group and getting everybody going in the right direction."
Ridder was, London continued, everything the Falcons thought he would to be when they were evaluating him, when they were drafting him.
Now, Ridder finds himself surrounded by veterans as the Falcons offseason programs continue. He finds himself in a room with Mariota, with both saying they're respectfully vying for the spot now vacant for the first time in over a decade with Ryan's departure.
When asked what people can expect from his position group in 2022, London shrugged like the answer was pretty obvious.
"You have a group that's hungry," London said.
That description makes sense, too, as Ridder - as an individual - has never acted like he's not. The Falcons don't expect him to start now.
The 2022 rookie class has arrived in Flowery Branch, and they got right to work.
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