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Can This Second-Year Quarterback Silence the Doubters?

The Atlanta Falcons face a major question of whether Desmond Ridder can step up and silence his doubters in his sophomore year.
Desmond Ridder Sophomore Year

Going into the 2023 NFL season, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder is looking to silence his doubters and improve in his sophomore year. Yet, in 2022, Ridder showed sufficient improvement in his four starts to solidify his position as the team’s starter for next season.

After the Falcons made significant upgrades to their roster this past off-season, Ridder and Head Coach Arthur Smith will be under more pressure to lead the team to the playoffs, especially in a wide-open NFC South division.

Can Desmond Ridder Silence His Doubters in Sophomore Year?

Desmond Ridder and Atlanta’s Doubters

Despite roster improvements, such as the addition of dynamic rookie running back Bijan Robinson and defensive veterans Calais Campbell, Jessie Bates III, and Bud Dupree, most NFL experts and analysts are not giving serious credence to the idea that the Falcons are serious playoff contenders. These doubts seemingly hinge on the belief that Desmond Ridder does not have the tools to succeed in the NFL.

For instance, NBC analyst Chris Simms had Ridder as the 40th ranked quarterback, out of 40 spots, on his annual quarterback ranking list.

Simms’ ranking is testament to the mood. This off-season, many insiders and fans implored the team to move on from Ridder. They urged the team to acquire superstar quarterback Lamar Jackson, or another veteran option, such as Ryan Tannehill.

Considering the history of third-round starting quarterbacks alongside Ridder’s own play in 2022, the doubts are understandable. However, there is still optimism that Ridder has the skills and support to guide the Falcons back to the playoffs for the first time since the 2017 season.

Can Desmond Ridder Silence Doubters in Sophomore Year?

While fans and analysts around the league are questioning the decision to stick with Ridder as the 2023 starter, Atlanta believes that he possesses the necessary qualities and skills to succeed in the NFL.

While Ridder made several errant throws and mental mistakes in his starts last year, he demonstrated improved poise, accuracy, decision-making, and processing abilities as the season went on. As a result, Ridder’s quarterback rating improved in each of his four starts to close out his rookie campaign. This included a Week 18 victory against the Buccaneers in which Ridder had a perfect 158.3 passer rating on third and fourth downs in the first half.

Moreover, Ridder displayed more anticipation and passing ability than former starter Marcus Mariota. This change at quarterback resulted in greater statistical production for rookie receiver Drake London, whom the team selected with the eighth overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. When Ridder started, London caught 25 passes for 333 receiving yards. This was a significant improvement from the 47 receptions and 533 receiving yards he had in 13 games with Mariota.

Last week, Ridder said that he feels more comfortable than last year, stating:

“This time last year, my head was spinning. Obviously having a year under my belt and a whole offseason, it’s become a lot more comfortable. Now we’re just trying to work the intricate details of it, just working the ins and outs, and knowing the exact whys of why everything is going on.”

Will Ridder Succeed with his Supporting Cast?

There is belief that Ridder can develop and grow alongside Atlanta’s young group of skill players. Notably, there is optimism that Ridder can continue to develop and improve the potent connection he shared with London.

Additionally, there is hope that Ridder can forge strong chemistry with the uber-talented tight end Kyle Pitts, who struggled with inconsistency and injuries last season despite being primed to break out. Pitts did not see any game-action with Ridder after a season-ending knee injury a few weeks before Ridder debuted.

The Falcons doubled down on Ridder by drafting Texas running back Robinson, whom many draft evaluators considered to be one of the best overall players in the 2023 Draft. Coach Smith has stated that he plans to use Robinson’s dynamism and explosive playmaking abilities all over the formation next season, both as a runner and catcher. Robinson joins a backfield with sophomore Tyler Allgeier, who rushed for over 1,000 yards last season, and Cordarelle Patterson.

To supplement their young talent, the Falcons signed veteran receivers Mack Hollins and Scotty Miller during free agency. They also traded for tight end Jonnu Smith, who is familiar with Smith’s system.

With the mix of skill position players surrounding him, the Falcons have certainly provided Ridder with enough weapons to have an explosive and efficient offense, especially now that they are in the third year of Smith’s tenure.

Will Ridder Hold Off Heinicke?

While Ridder will be happy with the additions the Falcons have made, there will inevitably be increased pressure and scrutiny on him to succeed. This pressure only intensified when the team signed former Washington Commanders quarterback Taylor Heinicke to a two-year, $14 million contract in March.

Given that the Falcons signed Heinicke to a lucrative backup deal, it is clear they are expecting Heinicke to compete for the starting job. Although this signing may signal that the Falcons are not fully invested in Ridder as their long-term starter, the increased competition may play in his favor.

With Ridder’s fierce competitiveness, having Heinicke in the building every day can serve as a reminder and as motivation for him that he still has to make significant progress to cement his place as the starter.

2023 Falcons Dependent on Desmond Ridder’s Improvements in Sophomore Year

Although many fans and analysts raised reasonable doubts about Ridder’s potential and ability to succeed, there are several reasons to believe that he can take a leap in his sophomore season. The Falcons, with their young, talented, offensive nucleus of Robinson, London, and Pitts, have set Ridder up with a stronger support system than what he had last season.

Considering Ridder’s improvements in 2022, it should be no surprise to see Ridder play well next season now that he can develop during another off-season under Smith’s tutelage. For the Falcons organization and their fans, the hope is that Ridder can step up to the challenge and lead the Falcons back to the playoffs for the first time in six seasons.

Main Photo: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports


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