What Desmond Ridder did in his NFL debut, and where he can improve
Malik Willis was not the only quarterback making his debut this weekend.
Atlanta Falcons passer Desmond Ridder took his first NFL snaps on Friday night, and helped guide the Falcons to a win in the closing minutes over the Detroit Lions.
The third-round selection completed 10 of 22 passes for 103 yards and a pair of touchdowns, including the game-winner with under two minutes remaining. He flashed some of the traits that led evaluators to believe he was perhaps the most pro-ready quarterback in the previous draft class, but also showed some areas where he could stand to improve.
We can start with the positives. One of the arguments for Ridder as the top quarterback in the 2022 NFL draft class began with his ability to decipher defenses and break them down with his mind. Anticipation throws, adjusted expectations when the defense rolled their safeties, and smart decisions with the football were staples of his career at Cincinnati.
This early completion, from the second quarter, is a prime example:
This concept is very similar to how Kyle Shanahan and other teams run their Dagger design, with the inside receiver running a through route instead of a straight vertical, and the outside receiver banding his dig route by angling outside a bit before cutting towards the middle. Ridder reads this concept perfectly, as the Lions drop into a two-high coverage. He knows a linebacker is going to try and match the through route, getting underneath the first receiver to split the middle of the field, and as such he brings his eyes and his feet to the dig route, making an anticipaiton throw as the linebacker sticks on the through route.
On this throw from the third quarter, Ridder makes another anticipation throw as he delivers the curl route on-time and in-rhythm:
Anticipation throws like these are great signs that a quarterback is reading the field well, diagnosing what is happening in the secondary, trusting his eyes and reads and letting it rip. This was a trait of Ridder’s in college, and it is great to see such throws early in his NFL career.
An area of his game that gave some evaluators pause was his ball placement. To be fair, this is a part of his skill-set that improved during his final year in college, but there were still some missed throws — particularly early in games during his final collegiate season — that gave some scouts concern.
There were some misses on Friday night as well, against coming early in the contest. On this throw, Ridder makes the right decision with the football by throwing the glance route, but he leaves the throw high, and the Falcons miss an opportunity for a decent gain:
Later in the game, Ridder and the Falcons had a chance for a big play when fullback John Raine was matched up against a linebacker on a wheel route. Raine has a few steps on the linebacker, but Ridder’s throw slows the fullback up, allowing the linebacker to recover and prevent the big play:
Anytime a quarterback completes less than fifty percent of his passes in a game, ball placement jumps to the top of the concerns. However, not all the incompletions were on Ridder. In fact, one of his best throws of the night was one that went down as an incompletion in the box score:
Atlanta calls for a play-action boot concept, with Ridder having a Smash concept on the left along with a shallow crosser working across the field. He makes the right read to throw the corner route, and puts this ball in a good spot for the receiver to make a play. What also stands out beyond the decision, is the technique. This is a tough throw for a right-handed quarterback, which requires the passer to really involved that lead shoulder by getting it turned towards the target, so you can generate the necessary torque in the body, leading to velocity on the ball. Ridder does that extremely well on this play.
You saw something on this near-touchdown in the first half, as Ridder targets the wheel route after carrying out a run fake and rolling to his left. Again, watch as he involves that left shoulder, pointing it at the target leading to the torque in the upper body as he makes the throw:
We can close with the game-winning touchdown. While the throw has a bit of a YOLO element to it — Atlanta is trailing late and facing fourth down — the ability to escape and extend you see from Ridder is impressive, especially when you consider the situation:
Ridder hangs in the pocket, in the face of a pair of blitzing linebackers, as long as he can before escaping and extending. He then gives his receiver a chance to make a play, which given the situation and circumstances is about all you can ask for.
In all, this was a solid debut from the young quarterback. Ridder showed that some of his strengths as a passer were translating well to the NFL game, and while the inconsistent ball placement flashed again on Friday night, he also made some impressive throws with solid mechanics. If he can continue to improve, do not be surprised if you see him on the field in the regular season…sooner rather than later.